Within the next couple years your car will come equipped with an "application store" where you'll download apps to tweet your car's performance, check your emissions and order a hamburger. Below, the first 20 apps you'll download to your car.
This isn't far off science fiction as most of the technology already exists today. The modern car is a bundle of sensors with 60-to-70 electronic control units (ECUs) monitoring approximately 80,000 data points and linked through an in-car network connected to a main engine control unit. This data is already being monitored by automakers with systems like GM's OnStar and Mercedes' mbrace systems.
"[T]he concept of a connected car, a car as a mobile edge device, is one that's time has come," Erik Goldman, President of Hughes Telematics, responsible for designing the mbrace system, told us in an interview. "It's a legitimate vision and all the right pieces are in place."
The biggest pieces, technologically, are the embedded communications system and the link to the car's on-board network, both of which already exist but in an incredibly underutilized form. The next piece is a way to interface with an in-car "app store," and on-board touch screen and voice-recognition systems have advanced to this point already. The last piece is automaker willingness, so all of the future "apps" rely on companies encouraged to implement them.
Click on any of the images to see the first twenty possible apps we think you might download, what they'll do, and how far off they may be. All of these are based on current popular apps, industry trends, concept cars, and discussions with developers and therefore subject to change.
20. Find-Me-Pizza App
What It'll Do: Hungry for a slice? Just tell your car and it'll spit back the wait time for pizza at certain establishments, access coupons, read menus and order your pizza all using your voice without touching a button.
How It Works: Using services like OpenTable and Yelp, as well as GPS and Internet search, the system determines what the nearest pizza restaurants are and aggregates online data about the establishments. More restaurants are offering online ordering, this would plug into that system.
How Far Away It Is: Less than two years; Audi is already combining many of these services into their new Google-powered MMI.
19. Pay-As-You-Drive Insurance
What It'll Do: Don't drive much? Why should you pay the same amount to insure your car as someone who commutes 100 miles every day? With usage-based insurance you only pay for what you use.
How It Works: Your car tracks the miles you rack up and uploads it to your insurance company who bills based on this data.
How Far Away It Is: Present; Progressive already offers this service with a separate plug-in device called MyRate.
18. Wireless Emissions Checks
What It'll Do: Rather than wait in line at an emissions testing center, your car constantly monitors itself and only reports if there's a problem, thereby avoiding having to take your new car to an inspection station when it's highly unlikely it's actually violating the law.
How It Works: On-board sensors already calculate how efficiently your engine is running and make adjustments based on this data. The system only flags you if you're in violation, otherwise the state is notified you're in compliance and they send you the approval certificate.
How Far Away It Is: Less than two years; California is currently in the middle of a pilot program testing this system for fleets offered through a third-party company.
17. Custom Car "Tunes"
What It'll Do: Allow you to remove the electronic speed limiter on your car, improve your mileage, or increase your acceleration and power output with the click of a button.
How It Works: Aftermarket companies and dealers already "reflash" on-board computers to adjust the vehicle's tuning. This is essentially rewriting the on-board software wirelessly.
How Far Away It Is: More than five years; while close to technically feasible there are serious issues with litigation involved in letting someone download 30 more HP to their car. When aftermarket shops do this now they're going around the wishes and protections of the automaker so we can envision a future where someone has to "brick" their car.
16. On-The-Go Service Checks
What It'll Do: If your car is acting funky you can notify a service rep at your preferred dealer, who can then describe the problem and let you know if a repair is urgently needed.
How It Works: The first thing most mechanics will do when you bring in a newer car is plug in an OBDII code reader to determine what your car thinks the problem is. Why not just do this remotely and save yourself the hassle?
How Far Away It Is: Present; OnStar already tracks certain high-level data and will alert you if you've got an issue.
15. Custom Data Dashboard
What It'll Do: Customize your dashboard so you get readouts on exhaust gas temperature and tire wear flanking the tachometer and weather in your gauge cluster instead of just speed and fuel consumption. Maybe a Twilight theme?
How It Works: Systems like Ford's SmartGauge already offers a few choices for customizing your gauge cluster. Of course, this only works in a car with an LCD-equipped cluster.
How Far Away It Is: Less than three years; a Linux-based cluster has already been designed though lacks implementation.
14. Valet App
What It'll Do: Worried the valet is going to take off, Ferris Bueller's Day Off-style, with your new Ferrari? Set it so your car disappoints them.
How It Works: Whether by cutting off fuel at a certain speed or deactivating cylinders, you can turn your fire-breathing V8 into a wimpy little fourbanger.
How Far Away It Is: Less than five years; similar to a "custom tune" this system already exists as a plug-in choice. Making it wireless seems like a no-brainer and isn't as risky as giving drivers more power.
13. Personalized Route Assistance
What It'll Do: Based on current traffic conditions, historical data and your own expressed preferences the car will alert you as to the route you should take before you even ask.
How It Works: Using location-based information and either aggregated or satellite traffic data, the car decides which of your normal routes you should take to get to work in the morning. This information will be beamed to your smartphone so you know if you need to leave early or can sleep in.
How Far Away It Is: Less than two years; certain NAV systems can learn your route preferences and will select the best path based on traffic. Linking this system to your other devices is novel but not particularly difficult.
12. In-Car Music Streaming
What It'll Do: Rather than rely on your phone or satellite radio to choose the music for you, a service like Pandora can stream your songs and song preferences directly into your car.
How It Works: Either through your in-car touchscreen or webportal on your home computer, you can stream music from your home or digial library. iTunes or Pandora for your car? You can get it everywhere else, right?
How Far Away It Is: Less than a year; this service already exists with Pandora over the current 3G network. When LTE and other services come on board it'll be even easier. It's also expected to be a part of SyncLink.
11. RSS News Reader
What It'll Do: What better way to listen to Jalopnik car news than to have it read to you by your car?
How It Works: Much like the RSS reader you probably use to get much of your news, you'll download this "newsreader" app to your car and it'll snag whatever news you select and reproduce it in a spoken way based on your settings. Can we get Mary Louise Parker to read our car reviews?
How Far Away It Is: Less than two years; the RSS news gathering is probably less than a year away on a grand scale (some nav systems share satellite news), and we have text-to-speech in a limited form already. It's the Mary Louis Parker part we may have to wait for.
10. Recall & Service Updates
What It'll Do: Did the maker of your car program a bug into the system? Just download the newest patch and itll fix itself right up.
How It Works: Nearly 10% of car recalls are now software based, and the new system can also download patches or upgrades to your in-car commuter so you don't have to go into the dealer. This saves time and money.
How Far Away It Is: Less than three years; automakers are exploring this issue. Once security and protocol is set look for this in one of your future cars.
9. Electric Car Grid Manager
What It'll Do: Managing demand across an electric grid is already difficult without thousands (or millions) of electric cars running from one place to another demanding energy. An electric car energy app tracks your usage, destination, and charging times.
How It Works: Using location-based data as well as your electric car's energy needs and your schedule, the system will only charge your vehicle when it deems power as needed and cheapest. Being connected to the grid will allow the system to better manage it when cars drive from spread-out suberbs into one location.
How Far Away It Is: Less than two years; GM is developing a similar system with an mobile app for the Chevy Volt that allows consumers to choose when to power on their vehicle. Connecting it to the grid is the next step, but this management system already is being tested for homes and cars on a pilot basis.
What It'll Do: Passengers wanting to watch more than canned TV or cartoon shows will be able to snag shows from Hulu and stream them into the on-board entertainment system.
How It Works: If you use video watching service Hulu, the system already knows your preferences. Using the on-board broadband connection the information will be streamed in just like on a home computer.
How Far Away It Is: Less than two years; both Sirius and FLO TV broadcast video into cars in many major markets, though not on-demand. While in-car Hulu puts too much strain on the 3G network, the next generation network is being designed to be able to handle this much data in major cities.
What It'll Do: Whataburger is delicious, but ordering food is a hassle because you still have to scream into the little box to order your food. Why not bring the menu inside the car and let you pay digitally?
How It Works: Download the Whataburger app and it'll add the menu for all the restaurants. As with the JetBlue food touchscreens at some airports, select the food you want while you're in line and it'll broadcast the menu to the "chef" inside who'll make your Whatachik'n with jalapenos and grilled onions without you ever having to roll down your window.
How Far Away It Is: More than three years; as mentioned with the Pizza app, the technology exists but it hasn't been rolled out yet for this delicious purpose.
6. Custom Horn
What It'll Do: Just like you can download custom ring tones to your phone, this system will allow you to embed custom horn sounds into your car as a complete novelty.
How It Works: If you have a more modern, computer-controlled alarm tied into your horn the system would download, within certain parameters, a control for pitch, tempo and strength. How about La Cucaracha?
How Far Away It Is: Three years; many cars still use the old horn system so this may not be widespread but could be a fun additional tool offered by a playful automaker.
What It'll Do: Sites like fuelly let you track your car's MPG and compare it to others. This will let you do it automatically.
How It Works: Currently, you key-in your mileage as you fill-up your car, this would send the mileage data to the site as often as you like.
How Far Away It Is: Less than two years; fleets already use similar data tracking to see how well their vehicles are performing, they just don't share it with their friends.
4. Recommended Drives
What It'll Do: Just as artists and celebs put together custom iTunes playlists, famous drivers (like Jalopnik's Wes Siler) or foodies (Anthony Bourdain) will offer special route guidance to leisure travelers.
How It Works: Using the car's GPS and broadband conneciton these routes can be selected and downloaded straight into the car.
How Far Away It Is: Present; Suzuki's TRIP system is based on a Garmin device and allows users to send routes to their car. Adding a celebrity component is only a matter of imagination, not technology.
3. Carbon Footprint
What It'll Do: The eco-concious will know how big or small their carbon footprint is as they drive and refuel the vehicle.
How It Works: By following fuel consumption and tracking how the vehicle is gassed-up or recharged and number of passengers, it'll make a calculation for how big the carbon footprint is for an individual or family.
How Far Away It Is: Less than one year; this system is already in development and most hybrids already indicate the level of eco-driving.
2. Travel Reimbursement Tracker
What It'll Do: Rather than save reciepts like a caveman, or enter data onto your phone, your car will automatically chart your travel receipts and determine your reimbursment.
How It Works: Based on many similar applications for computers and smart phones, the reimbursment tracker automatically snags mileage and fuel purchases and sends it to your accountant or company.
How Far Away It Is: Less than two years; big fleets track mileage using GPS and onboard systems and mobile devices already collect this data. Combine the two and create a "feed" for it and you're done.
1. Twitter Performance Updates
What It'll Do: Set a new 0-to-60 MPH record in your car? Lay down an awesome quarter-mile time? Let your friends know via Twitter.
How It Works: Some of those tens-of-thousands of data points cars pull down allow them to determine how fast a car is going in terms of speed. When certain parameters are met (less than 5 seconds) it'll send it to your twitter account.
How Far Away It Is: Three-to-five years; cars spit this data out easily and the Twitter API is easy to work with. The only roadblock seems to be litigation from people crashing while showing off.