Driving Data


Automobiles are becoming more infused with electronics with each new release. Gone are the days when you could open the hood and fix a problematic ‘noise’ with a standard socket wrench. Cars nowadays are stuffed with electronic sensors checking the tire pressure, tire grip, and temperatures of everything from the weather outside to how warm our butt cheeks are.

Today’s vehicles are generating tons of data and are increasingly being connected to our electronic devices. Built-in GPS units are old news; it’s now all about the connection with our phones’ apps. The next step is to implement communication between the cars themselves. This form of connection means cars will adjust speed simultaneously while avoiding obstacles, which will guarantee greater safety. And with new technology and an abundance of sensors, cars will begin communicating with traffic lights, roads, toll booths, and emergency services. That’s a lot of data to store. It is estimated that an autonomous vehicle (AV) can generate 1GB (Gigabyte) of data per second. That amount of data would have the average iPhone at capacity in about 30 seconds.

Who is interested—and why?

McKinsey recently came out with a report stating that the global automotive data industry could be worth up to EUR 600 billion by 2030. They foresee that within two years, automakers could be pulling in more money selling vehicle data than they do by selling cars—currently a EUR 1.6 trillion market. Some predict that by 2030, the ‘autonomous taxi’ market alone could be worth a whopping EUR 8 trillion— five times more than the current value of all automotive sales today per year. That gives merit to the theory that data is the new oil.

With automobile accidents costing over EUR 200 billion/ year in the US alone, industry analysts predict not just significant monetary savings—which could then be re-invested into smarter infrastructure, causing a virtuous circle—but the immeasurable saving of human lives. Currently, nearly 20% of new cars sold globally are internet connected, according to BI Intelligence; by 2020, that is expected to reach 75%. GM, the leader in this field, is expected to have some 12 million internet-connected vehicles on the road by the end of this year.

This trend is upending the entire industry, affecting the auto-supply chain, and forcing OEM manufacturers to incorporate more electronics and communications software. It is also expected to change manufacturers’ business models: for example, Cisco-Jasper, a leader in IOT solutions, believes that automakers who currently charge monthly data fees much like your ISP does—which can be especially steep for cars—will move to monetizing the service by selling data. This allows the internet costs to be split among various data users who want to connect to the cars, like insurers, music providers, or your local tax authority.

As it stands now, manufacturers allow end users to ‘sign up’ to different service plans and data packages to suit their needs. For instance, with the $34.99/month GM OnStar Guidance Plan, GM will automatically call emergency services after a crash, track and slow down a car if it’s stolen, and provide hands-free calling. By eventually making it free for the driver to ‘share’ his or her car’s data, more drivers would sign up. Think Facebook on wheels.

Because not all cars are made from the same parts, there is also a need to create novel data-sharing standards. If every manufacturer—and their supply-chain partners—made investments into bespoke systems, costs would spiral out of control. And there are many companies already competing to become the ‘manufacturer-agnostic’ data platform of choice.

Otonomo, an Israeli company, claims to be “dedicated to enabling the onset of the connected car ecosystem,” and their platform “powers the first Connected Car Data Marketplace.” The company has developed an ‘agnostic data-collection’ aimed at acting as a broker between automakers and third parties. This is attractive to automakers because Otonomo’s platform ingests and aggregates data from multiple manufacturers, providing a one-stop shop for comprehensive data for interested third parties and thereby allowing to forgo the time and money required to integrate their raw data for every interested party.

Much like the PC industry’s attempts at settling on a single data cable to connect any and all peripherals at high speed, Valens is developing the technology to speed up data transfer within vehicles up to six times faster than current technology allows.

But can we trust them with the data?
The legal ramifications and privacy concerns regarding data sharing are much the same–if not more delicate–as with social media. Is it simply ‘car event data’, or should it require the owner’s consent? Current cars often have “black boxes”, which capture a vehicle’s crash information. That ‘event data’ is usually considered private; to gain access, the police and insurers either need a court order, or the driver’s consent. No laws address data being transmitted from the car to third parties via the internet.

It’s clear that the future is data-oriented, and cars are only one source of our behavioural information. Our personal driving data reveals consumer trends and is therefore extremely valuable. Yes, it can be used to decrease insurance rates, improve AV safety, or help the police find a stolen vehicle. It can also be used to inundate us with ads while driving by a shopping mall. Whether the pros ultimately outweigh the cons is debatable. But companies across all industries are scrambling to capitalize on this data revolution, and it’s rapidly changing the industrial landscape.