Technology inside automobiles has made quite the journey. Volkswagen was the first manufacturer to include some type of onboard computer system in 1968. Then in the 1970s, Ford installed engine control units inside its vehicles according to Chips Etc. This device monitors and controls the engine system by collecting data from a number of onboard sensors. Overall, the ECU is responsible for managing the fuel economy and other functions.

Computers have shown to be such integral parts of automobile designs that in 1996, the U.S. government mandated manufacturers include onboard diagnostic systems in every model. The history of computers in cars is important because the industry is entering new territory by incorporating more technology to increase a car's safety and improve the driving experience for motorists. Some of this technology is made possible because automakers are taking advantage of the benefits of cloud computing.

Current pioneers
To understand best how the cars of today and tomorrow implement cloud services, look no further than Tesla. The current flagship model of Elon Musk's company is the Model S. One of the vehicle's big attractions, aside from its clean energy use, is its constant connectivity to engineers who may be hundreds of miles away. According to ZapThink Tank contributors Dov Levy and Mark Levy, the car stays connected to the cloud by means of a 3G link, sending useful diagnostic information to development and engineering teams. For example, if multiple drivers start experiencing the same problem, Tesla can implement updates and push them to the car through the cloud. The ease of updates is not just limited to problems either. The car's functionality may change over time, such as drivers wanting a new button to control the air-conditioning. The cloud substitutes the need for physical changes by letting Tesla push out incremental updates.

A strong cloud solution helps Tesla keep up with the growing demand for its vehicles. During the first quarter of 2015, the company reported a record 10,045 vehicle deliveries. The cloud offers the flexibility to efficiently increase the infrastructure to handle every car's diagnostic information, for instance.

However, Tesla is not the only automaker implementing cloud services in automobiles. Ford, Honda, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, Toyota and Mitsubishi are all partnering to develop an innovative two-way communication system that would be used in plug-in electric vehicles. In essence, the cloud will help cars communicate with utility companies while plugged into charging stations. When the car is charged, it will be told to stop consuming electricity. The hope is, is that as electric cars gain popularity, the cloud will help alleviate grid overloads, according to CleanTechnica.

Future uses of the cloud
Manufacturers are still discovering news ways to use the cloud and may be able to help solve some big limitations working against them, such as the development cycle of cars. In 2012, Raul Mangharam published a study with the National Academy of Engineering saying software and electronics make up 30 percent of a car's cost with that percentage expected to grow. Manufacturers can be put in a bind because development cycles are long, meaning the brand new technology implemented when the car was first designed can become obsolete. It is not out of the question to think the cloud may be able to alleviate this issue. Companies, like Tesla, will be able to update software due to a cloud delivery system.

It should be no surprise automobile manufacturers have implemented the cloud in some way, such as collecting useful information or to help run sophisticated dashboard computers. The real excitement is surrounding future developments. Mangharam and his research team at the University of Pennsylvania identified areas the cloud and automobiles can work together by 2020. Some challenges faced in the early 2010s, like in-vehicle diagnostics, have already been addressed.

In another five years, there is no telling what the cloud may bring to the future of cars. The only known variable? The cloud will be used.