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A view of the in-dash display after ordering $20 in fast food. Barcelona, Spain – You think you know what a connected car is and then you actually experience one and it’s something else altogether. 

That was my experience at Mobile World Congress after taking the driver’s seat in a concept vehicle based on an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) platform that supports VoLTE and Rich Communications Services (RCS). Summit Tech brought the stack to Alcatel Lucent’s (ALU) IMS platform, resulting in a vehicle that showcases the possibilities inherent in an all-IP world.  

Whereas AT&T has said that its technology path envisions the smartphone as the hub for the connected life, the model Summit and ALU are following sees the car and the home, among an array of other items, as secondary devices that can function autonomously. In other words, the car becomes a smartphone with wheels. 

While RCS can sometimes come across as a rather dry video conferencing and HD voice solution for the enterprise, it proves its utility within the context of a car. What I saw on the show floor included a heads up display, gesture controls, remote locks controlled from the smartphone, video conferencing that includes giving an incoming caller access to a camera mounted on the car’s front bumper, and rich messaging capabilities. 

Perhaps the most interesting use case demonstrated Wednesday was the use of the system to order food at a drive-thru by leveraging a Bluetooth Beacon. The driver can be automatically linked to the drive-thru attendant through a smartphone using an HD audio call, instead of the crackly drive-thru speakers.  After the order is placed, confirmation and an electronic invoice are displayed on the car's in-dash display.  The driver can then complete a mobile commerce transaction to pay for their meal. All that’s left is to pick up the grub. 

The solution is built on BlackBerry’s QNX platform, which is used in the vast majority of in-car systems. As a result, very little tinkering is needed to upgrade an existing QNX head unit to Summit and ALU’s system. 

The potential use cases are really endless, from using VoLTE to authenticate shared car programs to truly innovative parking solutions, this feels like the Jetson’s car of the future. 

There are still some bugs to iron out, not the least of which could be how you instruct new car buyers on using this kind of system. The Summit spokesman I talked to said the thought is that most of it would be common knowledge, similar to the way people have figured out how to pair their phones to the Bluetooth-enabled systems we see today. 

I'm moderately skeptical that that will be the case and can only imagine my mother driving down the road trying to figure out how to answer a call using a heads-up display and a swiping gesture. 

But these are minor details in the overall picture. This is a connected car that goes beyond simple connectivity and voice commands. What I saw on the show floor today has changed the way I will think about the connected car going forward. 

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