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Your Car Sucks Data

Your Car Sucks Data
by Roger C. Lanctot on 08-07-2017 at 12:00 pm

 “Cars Suck up Data about You. Where Does It All Go?” This was the ill-informed headline in the NYTimes last month. The headline echoes the thoughts of Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich (“Just one autonomous car will use 4,000 GB of data/day” – NetworkWorld) and Barclay’s Brian Johnson (“An ‘ocean of auto big data’ is coming, says Barclays” – CNBC) who asserted that a single autonomous car will be gathering 100 GB of data per minute.

“Cars Suck up Data about You. Where Does It All Go?” – NYTimes –

“Just one autonomous car will use 4,000 GB of data/day” – NetworkWorld –

“An ‘ocean of auto big data’ is coming,’ says Barclays” – CNBC –

There is a big difference between normal cars and autonomous cars and that difference is an enormous gulf today representing a sea of expensive hardware and software that will separate the average car from autonomy for many more years. But there is a difference between collecting data and storing and transmitting data. In the average car today precious little data is gathered, less is stored and even less is transmitted anywhere.

This reality is good and bad. There is an ocean of value in the puddle’s worth of data currently collected by automobiles on the road. The data that is gathered is important and sometimes sensitive – but there isn’t a lot of it…yet.

Cars are increasingly equipped with event data recorders tuned to store vital parameters related to crashes – but you have to crash into something for this information to be recorded AND stored and thereby become useful to anyone. If you drive a GM vehicle and have a crash – and have paid your OnStar subscription – your car will automatically call for assistance and share your location and the vehicle vectors relevant to determining the severity of your crash. That’s a good thing.

(Conversely, over the years spouses have been known to call OnStar – and BMW Assist and Mercedes Embrace etc. – for help locating their car – when what they really want to know is where their significant other is. We are also by now all familiar with law enforcement use of vehicle location information – ie. Boston Marathon bombers et. al.)

Your smartphone connection in the car is likely storing your most recent calls and your contacts – which might be interesting to other people who use your car or subsequent users of your rental car. This is a privacy vulnerability that not all car makers have corrected, but it’s relatively minor.

Your previous destinations are stored on your embedded navigation system – which might also be interesting to significant others or law enforcement depending on what you do with your car. If your car is equipped with a telematics system you may be transmitting your location periodically to a traffic information service when you are using the navigation system. Your car may also send a relatively small payload of data every time you start your car communicating vehicle health and performance data which might translate to a service notification for an oil change or tire rotation.

Whatever data your car is gathering is likely covered in the fine print in your purchase, lease or rental agreement. It is likely that you have long ago signed away control of that information.

There are companies, like Otonomo and IBM, that are helping car companies to create smartphone like opt-in customer controls in the form of on/off sliders. In the future, these controls might be enabled via smartphone app or Web portal connecting to the car.

If you are connecting your smartphone in your car, that device may be communicating far more information about you, your location, your musical tastes and your driving behavior. It is likely that much more information is transmitted via your connected phone than is communicated by your car.

While autonomous vehicles (currently consisting of slow moving shuttle buses or prototypes) are indeed capable of collecting and analyzing in real-time substantial amounts of data, little of this information is transmitted wirelessly – though much is stored for later analysis. This is the BIG difference between autonomous vehicles and existing vehicles.

Today, car companies still have a tortured relationship with data collection and wireless connectivity. Car companies like General Motors are currently fixated on reselling wireless access in the form of Wi-Fi and/or selling subscriptions to telematics services. What car companies have not yet grasped is that the real value lies in the vehicle data itself.

The opportunity lies in the vehicle performance data – which is something with which the average car driver/owner is not really concerned. The point is that car companies ought to be collecting vehicle performance data – a relatively low bandwidth activity – and selling it to suppliers to be analyzed.

If car companies paid closer attention to vehicle data they’d be more likely to avoid debacles like ignition switch failures, unintended acceleration and failing airbags. If car companies paid closer attention to vehicle data they’d be better equipped to save lives and money and avoid embarrassing appointments with the U.S. Congress…or the EU.

Suppliers should be paying for access to vehicle data from OEMs and thereby consumer/vehicle owners shouldn’t have to pay for telematics subscriptions. So the issue isn’t really a question of intrusive personal data gathering. The issue is the responsibility of the car makers to gather vehicle data to better track and manage the health and performance of their vehicles on the road.

It doesn’t do anyone any good to create a boogie man out of vehicle data collection. I want my car company to be monitoring the performance of my vehicle. When something goes wrong I want my car company to know and to be obliged to inform me.

It is even less helpful to suggest that the collection of gigabytes or terabytes of data is relevant to current drivers of everyday passenger vehicles or, worse yet, to suggest that this mass of vehicle data will be transmitted wirelessly in real time. The massive amounts of data collected by prototype vehicles is for development and machine learning purposes – it’s part of the incremental process inherent in designing autonomous driving systems.

There is one exception. Veniam, the creator of commercial vehicle connectivity systems using Wi-Fi, asserts that connected trucks and buses in Porto, Portugal using its system will transmit 1 TB of data/vehicle/day using its technology. What will make this possible, efficient and affordable is the use of Wi-Fi in the form of a city-wide mesh network thereby avoiding exorbitant wireless charges.

Veniam executives believe that a fully or partially connected autonomous fleet of cars will transmit a similar volume of data regarding status, heading, destination and speed among other things including video, a true data hog. Only time will tell if Veniam’s vision will come to pass. In the meantime, it’s time to stop worrying and love the data collection. It’s not about you. It’s about your car.

Roger C. Lanctot is Director, Automotive Connected Mobility in the Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics. More details about Strategy Analytics can be found here: https://www.strategyanalytics.com/access-services/automotive#.VuGdXfkrKUk

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