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BMW’s research project “Virtual marketplace of the future” offers personalized services such as traffic alerts, parking assistance, and other location-based services. (BMW)
BMW’s research project “Virtual marketplace of the future” offers personalized services such as traffic alerts, parking assistance, and other location-based services. (BMW)

Tech Talk

Connected cars: WiFi on wheels Add to ...

Editor’s note: Formerly the author of the Ask Joanne column, Joanne Will begins a monthly column about technology and cars.

In Europe, cars are being equipped with WiFi-enabled dashboard monitors, so drivers can tap into weather reports and traffic patterns. Passenger vehicles in Canada, too, are slowly becoming mobile technology platforms. This year we’ll see vehicles with embedded mobile capability, able to support a host of devices.

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“What we’re going to see in 2014 in Canada is new vehicles arriving with WiFi hotspots in the vehicle. So the vehicle will have its own cellular connectivity, its own identity in the network which is very important, and the ability to provide passengers with anything that they can get on their phone they can now get on let’s say a WiFi-enabled pad as opposed to needing an LTE-enabled pad,” says Bob Burrows, CEO of Ontario’s G4 Apps Inc.

Not only do connected cars signal change for passengers with access to infotainment; they can also mean a significant change in the driver experience – from assistance with locating a parking spot to increased fuel mileage via traffic monitoring. Connected vehicles may also help to enhance or enable a host of crash-avoidance technologies. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), connected vehicle technology has the potential to benefit around 80 per cent of crash scenarios involving non-impaired drivers.

However, what is possible in the world of applications developers and what will be available to motorists in Canada may be incongruous, say experts. This is not because driver-accessible WiFi-enabled screens are specifically prohibited (they’re not), nor have provincial transportation authorities adopted guidelines or updated regulations for Canadians to follow in embracing this new technology.

Provincial regulations govern distracted driving and the use of aftermarket or personal devices in vehicles, and federally, Transport Canada regulates technology and safety on new and imported vehicles. Inquiries to Transport Canada on the permissibility of connected car technology are referred to a set of guidelines formalized south of the border last year.

“One of the watershed things that happened in the past 12 months is NHTSA – a division of the U.S. Department of Transport [DOT] – released guidelines for driver interaction, and this was on everything that you see from air conditioning control to navigation and other things,” Burrows said.. “Basically what they’ve said is the driver cannot have access to or see anything that does not have anything to do with the operation of the automobile. So that ad where there’s a driver who switches to watch Facebook on his control? That would not be allowed under the guidelines.

“The guidelines are very prescriptive in what you can do, and to me there’s a strong benefit in that. If the agencies responsible in Canada in provincial jurisdictions were to say, ‘We like these so much we’re going to incorporate them into our driver distraction guidelines,’ it would give applications providers and fleets and even individuals a far more comfortable playing field for what is acceptable to put on screens visible by the driver,” Burrows said.

“What they did is put it out to car manufacturers because that’s where they have jurisdiction, but in the end they said we hope that anybody developing applications for vehicles will follow the same guidelines. They’ve done a very thorough job. What they’ve done is gone through a lot of driver workload stuff, and they have a basic philosophy that they don’t want to allow anything that would take the driver’s attention away from the road for more than three seconds,” Burrows said.

By the time provincial government regulations have caught up to connected cars, the technology may have evolved to autonomous vehicles. In fact, until Feb. 24, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation has invited comments on a proposal to allow the trialling of autonomous vehicles on Ontario roads.

Click here for a list of the laws and penalties for distracted driving across the country.

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