If you think your car is smart and connected now, just wait

How connected is your car? There’s a good chance you’re already using your Bluetooth smartphone with your vehicle so you can continue your conversation in hands-free mode. And that you’re using that same phone as a hub for your traveling entertainment center. But that’s just the beginning.

Newer models are also more tied into other cars or to outside infrastructure and to the ubiquitous cloud than you might think, according to speakers at GigaOM’s Roadmap Conference on Monday. In that scenario, cars are just one more set of “things” that are part of the “internet of things” scenario. The only issue with that is that cars — the ultimate mobile devices — can go 90 mph and there are obvious concerns about how connectivity effects that. Distractions flowing in from the outside world, or a cloud, are just not a good idea.

In short: Infotainment is one thing. Safety, efficiency and traffic management are another, Paul Mascarenas, CTO and VP of research and innovation for Ford(s f) said on a Roadmap panel about the connected-car-as-computing-platform.

“From the Ford perspective, there are different levels of security in the vehicle — there’s partitioning around the power train and safety systems because it does concern our customers,” he said.

It’s great to think of the ability to stream down real-time traffic information or send up car diagnostics to the car maker, but that stream, obviously, has to be segregated from the music and podcasts that the driver or passengers are streaming or downloading to entertain themselves.

“Streaming content is cordoned off from the other systems — Ford has to control the apps and make sure it knows what’s doing on,” said Kevin Dallas, GM of Microsoft’s Windows Embedded effort. The two panelists said this is the fifth anniversary of the Ford/Microsoft collaboration on Sync which brings voice control to some automotive control functions. More on Sync here.

Over time, there might be ways to rationalize all that connectivity. “Right now, the connectivity with Sync is through your mobile device, so you’re using your regular data plan for that but I like the idea of the car being another device on a shared data plan. That might give us flexibility to provide a user experience where your car is like your second home or second office where you seamlessly share content,” Mascarenas said. That scenario would involve a single data account tied to a person rather than to a device or a vehicle.

The key to all of this is simplicity and safety.

If, you’re like many people these days, you’re putting a lot of your content into the cloud, where you can access it from your tablet, phone or PC. “There’s no reason your car should be any different,” said Dallas.

Check out the rest of our RoadMap 2012 live coverage here, and a video recording of the session follows below: