The Internet of Things Comes for Your Car

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The connected car has been a tech-world theme for quite a while: nine years ago, Ford showed off its Sync communications-and-entertainment system at the Detroit International Auto Show. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, though, it’s clear that the cars of the future will interact with a greater variety of devices and software—provided there’s a market for it, of course.

Ford and Chinese technology company DJI (which manufactures drones that specialize in aerial photography) used the spotlight of this year’s CES to announce a developer challenge: if you’re a tech pro who wants to win $100,000, figure out how someone in a Ford vehicle can use the dashboard touch-screen to launch (and land) a drone from the back of a pickup. The software in question is either the Ford-built AppLink or OpenXC technologies.

The challenge is framed as a “search-and-rescue system for the future,” according to the associated Website. “The aircraft must autonomously enter the ‘disaster area’ and gather information on the location of the ‘survivors,’ and transmit it back to the computing device in the vehicle,” read the requirements. “Having captured all necessary information, it must then automatically return and land on the moving vehicle.”

Drone control from a moving vehicle has a lot more applications than search-and-rescue, of course. In 2014, Renault designed a concept car that came with a small flying drone controllable via tablet or preset GPS waypoints. In theory, this “flying companion,” launched from a retractable hatch in the roof, could prove especially useful at scanning the road ahead for possible traffic jams. But Renault hasn’t yet announced a production model of the car.

Ford is also devising ways to link its cars to Amazon Echo, the latter a wireless speaker and voice-activated “assistant” that people usually place in their homes. If it succeeds, it could open the door to other carmakers to integrate their vehicles’ onboard systems more tightly with various devices. Imagine telling your car to tell your house to raise the temperature before you arrive.

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) was one of the big buzzwords of last year, and it shows no signs of abating in 2016. Most tech pros see the Internet of Things in the context of home technologies and the so-called “Industrial Internet.” But given the ubiquity of cars, and the increasing sophistication of sensors inside those cars, those interested in the IoT space might consider the automobile industry when considering their next gig.