Like the Borg, smartphones and their related technology are slowly assimilating cars. The push for smartphone connectivity has led to the development of more complex infotainment systems, and tech companies like Apple and Google establishing beachheads on car dashboards. Chinese tech company Alibaba plans to take things a step further.
The company claims to have built the first “internet car” with an integrated operating system that allows the vehicle to act like a smartphone on wheels. While it looks like an ordinary SUV, the car uses a version of Alibaba’s YunOS operating system that allows it to become part of the “Internet of Things” and interface with other smart objects.
“Just as software programs have made the phone smart today, YunOS will make cars an even more indispensable part of human life in the future,” Alibaba CEO Jack Ma said in a statement.
Using YunOS, the driver and passengers can pay for things like tolls and fuel without reaching for a wallet. The car can also access online services like booking and navigation to plan trips. It can even make recommendations for things like destinations, music, and climate-control setting based on data from past trips. During a demonstration, Ma said the car could also automatically control a drone without any human intervention.
The car itself is a Roewe RX5 crossover, built by Chinese automaker SAIC. Roewe was created from the remains of venerable British carmaker Rover, which SAIC bought in 2005. Alibaba says the YunOS-equipped version is currently on sale in China, priced between 99,800 yuan ($14,910) and 186,800 yuan ($27,907). Don’t expect it to go on sale in the U.S. anytime soon, as SAIC has no immediate plans to sell cars here.
A similar concept may be applied to a U.S.-market car eventually, though. The rumored “Apple Car” would almost certainly emphasize connectivity and smartphone-like features, given that those technologies are in Apple’s wheelhouse. Faraday Future has also hinted that its electric car will boast more extensive connectivity, and backer LeEco views cars as yet another potential outlet for internet content.