BMW ConnectedDrive turns your car into a smartcar

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As the smartphone is to the mere phone, so BMW’s new ConnectedDrive system turns a car into, well, a smartcar. That’s the message from the German auto manufacturer, which launched ConnectedDrive in South Africa today.

At the event Edward Makwana, the manager of group automotive communications for BMW South Africa, took the media through the seven new services that will form the ConnectedDrive offering on BMWs manufactured from the 1st of July 2014 (which could be available for purchase from as early as August this year should they come from the company’s Rosslyn plant in South Africa). Some of the services will be included free of charge on all new BMWs while other will be paid-for optional extras for all but the very top of the range BMW models.

Intelligent emergency (Standard on all vehicles)

Of all of the services announced the Intelligent Emergency service is by far the most promising in terms of bettering the lives of BMW users by virtue of the fact that it may one day save their lives altogether. The service, which calls the BMW emergency call centre, can either be activated manually, using either a button underneath the rear view mirror, or automatically after an accident by the on-board computer that analyses data from the car’s sensors. At the beginning of your call data from your car is sent to the call centre agent so that they can assist you. The data includes the type of collision (single, multiple, front end, rear end etc.), the vehicle’s current location and heading and even its mileage and serial number.

In a live demonstration the call took around 20 seconds to connect the call centre in Berlin who was then able to assist the driver. Should you need emergency vehicles dispatched the call centre in Berlin will liaise with the one in South Africa which will then handle the dispatch of the necessary emergency services.

Teleservices (Standard on all vehicles)

The on-board computer will be able to monitor the status of several of its components and will be able to tell you when they need to be replaced, you can then select whether you would like to manually place a call to schedule a service at your local dealership or have the car book one for you. Teleservices will also allow for remote diagnosis of any car issues that you may be experiencing without the need to head into a dealership. Data transmitted from your car to the dealership/call centre is done over an encrypted connection to keep your data safe.

Remote services (Optional extra, standard on high end models)

Remote services lets you use either your Android or iPhone to monitor the status of your vehicle and even control certain of its functions without needing to be inside of the car. You can flash the car’s lights or honk the hooter to find your car in a parking lot or even use GPS to locate the car on a map if you forgot where you parked it. You can even set the climate control while you’re on the way to your car to make sure that it’s just the right temperature for you when you arrive.

RTTI – Real Time Traffic Information (Optional extra, standard on high end models)

ConnectedDrive vehicels will have an optional real-time traffic monitoring system built into the navigation system of the car. In much the same way that Waze works other ConnectedDrive vehicels as well as data from Netstar’s fleet of trackers will keep you updated on the traffic conditions of both national and regional roads (residential roads are not monitored). RTTI costs R1 900 initially and gives you a three year subscription to the service with an additional three year subscription costing R1 300.

Connected Drive Services (Optional extra, standard on high end models)

For R4 500 the ConnectedDrive experience will be upgraded to include the ability to be productive during the dead time that is driving in traffic. With BMW Online you can have the news and weather read out to you while you drive and even read, and dictate replies to messages and email on connected BlackBerry,  Android and iOS smartphones.

Internet (Optional extra, standard on high end models)

Access to the internet in your car might seem like a stupid idea, but having the ability to find the phone number of the restaurant or hotel you are on the way to without having to pick up your phone has the potential to keep your focus directed more to driving than your dinner plans. The feature can only be used at 7km/h or less to ensure that you aren’t paying attention to the wrong thing while behind the wheel.

The data is powered by the Vodafone SIM and is completely unlimited with no monthly data fees just an annual subscription of R1 300. Just be aware that video streaming is not supported because of the high bandwidth and data usage associated with it. Your BMW will also not be able to create a portable hotspot using the SIM card which BMW say is intentional to keep you from using other distracting devices like your smartphone.

Concierge service (Optional extra, standard on high end models)

One quick call to the good people in Berlin will give you the ability to ask for information without having to reach for a browser to Google it yourself. The Concierge service will search for points of interest including restaurants, ATMs, BMW dealerships, petrol stations and more and automatically send the location to the car’s built in navigation system. You can choose to find points of interest nearest to the current location of your vehicle or even at your destination to plan for dinner after you’ve arrived at your holiday destination for instance. The Concierge service comes in at R3 200 for a three year subscription.

And that’s the highlights of ConnectedDrive. One rather major stumbling block, however, is that all of the in-car cleverness requires an active mobile data connection to work. This is provided by a built-in Vodacom modem and SIM card, but does rely on being in range of a Vodacom signal – which is far from guaranteed here in South Africa. On the upside, however, at least the SIM doesn’t need to be RICA’d. It can’t be used for voice calls – only VOIP – and therefore slips through the communications legislation net.

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