Autonomous cars get a lot of attention for driving themselves, but can they get into parking lots and pay for gas on their own?
It’s a question that big technology companies are trying to address with networks that they say will add conveniences and create opportunities for businesses associated with driving.
First up is parking. German software giant SAP is developing a system that will allow drivers to enter a navigation destination on their car’s touchscreen or smartphone and then preselect an available parking spot in the area.
As with similar mobile apps that allow for preordering of everything from fast-food meals to coffee, the system will automatically take payment from a stored credit card. The driver will either get a code that can be scanned for automatic entry upon arrival, or the lot or garage gate will automatically open upon their vehicle’s approach, depending on the setup.
“It’s totally hassle-free,” says Timo Stelzer, head of connected vehicles research and development. “This is how connected cars will become more relevant.”
SAP is partnering with parking lot aggregators such as Miami-based Parken, which is using the German company’s Vehicles Network cloud software to track and manage available spots. Parken says on its website that it has more than a million parking spots in thousands of garages in North American cities, including Toronto and Edmonton, in its inventory.
On the vehicle side, Stelzer says SAP is working with automakers – he declined to say which ones – to implement the necessary connectivity. To cover older vehicles or those without built-in wireless connections, the company is also partnering with after-market dongle software makers such as Vancouver-based Mojio.
Mojio effectively adds wireless capabilities to vehicles through an LTE-connected device that plugs into the on-board diagnostics port, which is typically found beneath the steering wheel. The device relays a swath of information to the driver’s smartphone, including vehicle health, location and trip history.
The company, which sells its services in Canada through Bell and Telus, says it plans to launch an automated parking capability within the next quarter.
“We love it and think it’s going to have good take-up and engagement from the consumer,” chief executive Kenny Hawk says. “It really takes the hassle [of worrying about finding parking] away.”
Next up will be gas. SAP is testing automated payments – where drivers would unlock the pump from inside their car and have the charge automatically applied to their credit card – with several gas station chains, including Rotten Robbie in the San Francisco area and Tamoil in Germany.
The implementation could also open up new possibilities for the stations, Stelzer says, by allowing them to offer goods and services based on the data being generated by cars.
The car could effectively tell them, for example, that a driver has been on the road for many hours or that there are four buckled seatbelts inside, which could indicate a hungry family looking for something to eat. Assuming the user has opted into sharing such data, the gas station could then offer food or drink promotions.
“All of a sudden that vehicle data becomes meaningful data for the gas station,” Stelzer says. “It’s value for the gas station owner.”
SAP isn’t alone in trying to add such capabilities to cars. IBM, in conjunction with General Motors, launched a similar e-commerce dashboard feature in the United States in December. The function, which was automatically uploaded to 1.9 million model-year 2017 and later vehicles, allows for in-car table reservations and ordering ahead at restaurants including TGI Fridays, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks.
GM said at the time it will continue to add apps, including parking and gas options, with plans to have the capability in four million U.S. vehicles across the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands by the end of this year.
Industry analysts say the field is a veritable Wild West right now. Automakers and technology firms have spent much of the past decade puzzling out how to properly connect cars and get them to generate information.
Now, it’s a question of figuring out how to make money from all that connectivity and data.
“The models are almost unlimited,” says Mark Boyadjis, global connected car lead for analysis firm IHS Markit. “Who’s going to win out? I say it’s going to be the consumer, at least in the early days. It’s going to drive a more convenient and connected experience.”