More Than A Smartphone
The connected car has been called a “smartphone” on wheels. Unfortunately, that phrase became outdated almost before it was invented. While the initial vision may have been for a better way to integrate our electronic devices with our vehicles, technology has rapidly pushed way beyond that.
Current and projected features associated with the connected car now include telematics, safety alert systems, autonomous driving, and automobility. Further connecting will occur when the IoT (your home’s security system, appliances, entertainment system) really begins to expand.
While the connected car offers many promises for a safer, more efficient and productive world for billions, we shouldn’t break out the bubbly just yet. Many challenges lay between the vision and the reality and below are a few of the most pressing ones.
The Coming Data Deluge
IHS estimates that the typical connected car will produce 30 terabytes of data per day. Global estimates are for 152 million connected cars by 2020 and 2 billion connected cars by 2025 (allowing for older cars to be retro-fitted with aftermarket connected devices).
Even if those estimates are overstated, we are looking at a tremendous amount of data that must be transferred, analyzed, packaged and distributed to parties that will make use of it.
Just as the automotive industry is coming to grips with “Big Data”, the onslaught of data caused by the connected car has the potential to overwhelm the current data systems. Big Data must be ready to be transformed into “Fast Data”. Big Data is designed to ingest large amounts of information from multiple business sources and either warehouse it for future use or use it for historical analytics/BI. Of note is neither of these functions confer any sense of immediacy.
Fast Data takes this to the next level. Fast Data allows car manufacturers to access the pool of big data, process, and correlate it and distribute it in real time. This “freshness” makes Fast Data potentially very valuable. This increase in velocity requires new data architectures to handle this torrent of ever changing data. This new architecture will extend from the vehicle, to the telecoms, and to the manufacturers and dealers. If we take telematics as an example, consider the real time monitoring of vehicle performance, predictive failure analytics of vehicle systems and the ability to automatically determine which dealer nearby has the correct parts in stock and then schedule your service appointment. Think of the repercussions for the OEM supply chain, dealer inventory management, and dealer repair scheduling. Now multiply this by millions of vehicles.
This simple example illustrates the need for much more advanced integration strategies and systems than currently exist within most of the industry. While most manufacturers are working on some combination of these features (Volvo for example), if this feature was universally available today, how many dealer systems are truly capable of this level of real time integration? Automakers are desperately in need of a complete data infrastructure that doesn’t break.
Data Ownership and Privacy
In many cases, various companies will be willing to pay for access to connected car data. In essence, data is fast becoming a new form of currency. Just as we have a global financial system to instantly transfer and account for financial capital, a system must exist for transferring and accounting for all of this data.
Possible purchasers of this data could include insurance companies, marketing companies, retailers, and car companies themselves. These transactions would depend upon the still evolving question of who actually owns the data. Legal and ethical issues relating to privacy will also need to be addressed. These are certainly not inconsequential details and they have yet to be fully answered.
Automakers are partnering with mobile data providers to transfer the data generated from connected vehicles. Various relationships have already been forged. As the connected car ramps up, cellular providers will experience significant challenges. While total bandwidth capacity may not be an immediate problem, other issues are likely to arise. The most critical is that during peak traffic times, towers located near high traffic areas will be overwhelmed by the data flowing in from all of the cars in the vicinity.
Additionally, while the mobile standard GSM is nearly universal outside of the United States, some carriers still use CDMA technology. Eventually, all carriers will be using LTE, but complete adoption is years in the future. Keep in mind that it is much easier to switch phones than vehicles (at least until auto mobility becomes more widespread).
The Best Thing About Standards Is That There Are So Many To Choose From
Each connected car will require an operating system to manage all of the interactions (entertainment, IoT, navigation, telematics, etc.). Currently, there are three major initiatives tasked with developing data standards: the Open Automotive Alliance (Google), Apple CarPlay and SmartDeviceLink. Some manufacturers are hedging their bets as there is significant overlap as to which brands will be using which standard. Another possibility is support for multiple standards, but that could be expensive to implement and maintain. One thing that is certain is all of the OEMs and software players will need to work together to ensure the highest amount of interoperability. Even if this interoperability is achieved, we must make sure that there is also a data standard for integrating with the increasing amount of dealer systems. Vehicle use patterns, warranty issues, and consumer preferences are vital information that must make its way into a dealer’s system and be integrated with the OEM and other 3rd parties. Possibly the industry should consider creating an industry standards organization similar to STAR, which would provide a set of standards without limiting creativity and flexibility. Genivi is one possibility.
And what about a consumer that owns vehicles from different brands? Shouldn’t they expect a seamless experience as they move between vehicles? The primary purpose of the connected car is their capability to interface with their environment, multiple devices and to each other with minimal human interaction. As an industry, we have to make sure that we avoid the OS wars that have plagued the PC industry from the beginning, and continue to do so. Connected cars will need to be “platform agnostic” or the dream of connectivity will begin to lose it’s luster.
Make no mistake, the connected car has a truly transformative global potential. In the +100 years of the automotive industry, we certainly have seen nothing like it. If we learn from past mistakes (ours and others), increase co-operation, and never lose sight of the prize, we should be in for one exciting journey.