You've heard of the Google car, but what's next in the realm of automotive innovation? Car-to-X communications seems to be the next frontier, if an investment from Cisco and NXP Semiconductors offers any hint.

Cisco and NXP are working to advance intelligent transport systems (ITS) and car-to-X communications with a significant investment in Cohda Wireless. Cohda is a specialist in wireless communication for automotive safety applications.

The companies are banding together to make Cisco's Internet of Everything vision a reality for the automotive industry. The end result aims for a safer and more enjoyable driving experience while improving traffic flow. But the possibilities are seemingly endless.

"We believe that amazing things can happen when you connect the previously unconnected, and smarter vehicles are one of the many ways in which we will fully experience the Internet of Everything," said Maciej Kranz, vice president and general manager of the Connected Industries Group at Cisco. "The onboard solution is one element of an end-to-end architecture that integrates with Cisco's offboard network infrastructure."

Safer Highway Driving

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Car-to-Car (C2C) and Car-to-Infrastructure (C2I) communications enable active safety systems that can affect 81 percent of all crash scenarios. That, in turn, helps reduce fatalities and injuries.

As Cisco, NXP and Cohda see it, this progress in traffic management and road safety can be realized with the help of applications that warn of hazards such as the potential of a collision ahead, alerting if a nearby vehicle is losing control, or of coming traffic congestion, and others.

By allowing vehicles to reliably interact with each other when traveling at high speeds, each vehicle can give drivers warnings about potential hazards and allow them to avoid accidents, or even automatically respond to changing driving conditions faster than typical human reaction times. Warnings about traffic blockages ahead also allow early rerouting to avoid traffic congestion.

"We make Car-to-X work for the moving car. Our patented technology enhances radio reception; the car can see around corners or through obstacles when needed," said Cohda Wireless CEO Paul Gray. "Combining our special expertise in wireless automotive communication with that of long-established automotive companies like NXP and a global player like Cisco is a logical next step to further grow our reach into the automotive industry."

Ad-Driven Cars?

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research, said this is one more example of Cisco continually looking for the next big thing -- and he called the investment a logical next step to Connected Buildings.

"With this technology, you could almost create ad-driven cars. So if you were running low on fuel, the vehicle understands where the next few gas stations are along the route you are taking and points you to your preferred brand," Kerravala told us.

He also offered a scenario in which the car could be programmed to order lunch at a nearby drive-thru. The driver could pull up to the window and pick up his prepaid lunch without missing a beat. The implications of a connected car are vast, he said. It's just a matter of imagination.

"When you look at Cisco, a lot of people have been calling for the commoditization of the network and moves that would devalue Cisco. I just don't think it's there," Kerravala said. "Most of Cisco's peer group -- the traditional networking companies -- build good networking technologies but they don't offer the so-what of it. Cisco is offering the so-what."