Monday 15th July 2019

Autonomous vehicles and data as the fuel of the future

Published on June 13th, 2019

The automotive industry is starting to recognise that data is quickly becoming the new ‘fuel’ for the sector.

And, says Charles Eagan, chief technology officer, BlackBerry, forward-looking automakers envision a future where they will be able to combine and analyse various pieces of information from different vehicle systems. The data accessed will reveal things such as driving habits, frequently visited locations, tastes in music and numerous other insights into consumer behaviour.

On the other hand, assuming consumers are open to it, there are a number of benefits that can come from providing ready-made access to their data. From being alerted to potential maintenance issues via remote vehicle diagnostic monitoring to automated calling for emergency breakdowns or targeted offers and infotainment content designed to enhance the overall travel experience, there are no shortage data-enabled use cases that focus on providing drivers and passengers new features and services.

However, as a 2017 McKinsey & Company Car Data Monetisation Survey reports, “No matter which features car data can make possible, capturing value from them is not feasible if consumers do not see the benefit” and, most importantly, “customers must trust that the data they share will be held and used responsibly.”

As John Chen, CEO and executive chairman of BlackBerry, previously said; “The inevitable implications of a data-driven economy are right in front of us and we now stand before a moral, ethical and public policy crossroads. How we collectively decide what the rules of the game for this new data-driven economy is, I would argue, one of the most important issues facing global policymakers today.”

Charles Eagan

In the near future, drivers may be able to buy or rent software-powered services for the weekend, such as enhanced navigation capabilities, blind spot detection or even engine management to prep their high-performance car for a racetrack or road trip. Car makers will receive a great deal of data in real-time, from their vehicles out in the field which will help them improve their future models, right down to what buttons to swap out of the dashboard as no one uses them. Surprisingly, today, manufacturers know little about their vehicles once they’ve left the dealership. With connected vehicles, software updates will be made in real-time as data constantly flows back to automakers.

Putting data to work

The future could see data from sensor-packed and connected vehicles packaged and shared with cities. For instance, data showing a lot of cars braking on a cold morning may alert city officials to a dangerous patch of black ice that requires salt.

In all ways, automakers will look to leverage the data that vehicles produce. And that amount of data is rising exponentially as software and electronics become the key differentiators among like classes of cars. Lux Research reveals that, by 2030, electronics and software will account for 50% of car costs, increased from about 30% today while the software opportunity in autonomous cars will grow from less than one billion to $25 billion (€22 billion).

Many modern luxury cars are already marvels of software and electronic engineering, containing over 100 million lines of code and six to eight operating systems. Interestingly, just one connected car will generate more revenue than ten conventional ones. Additionally, eight in ten auto industry executives believe data will fuel future automotive business models, with 83% maintaining they will make money off that data.

Cybersecurity risks mount

Despite the exciting opportunities connected cars present, we cannot ignore the fact that they are at an increased risk of cybersecurity threats – a challenge that must be met for autonomous vehicles to reach their full potential.

Attack surfaces are constantly being added to vehicles by elements such as sensors, automated steering wheels, brakes, accelerators, infotainment systems, mobile apps and wireless key fobs. Similar to any other product or ecosystem, as the number of connected ‘things’ rises within a vehicle, so does the attack surface and therefore, the threat potential. In recent years, nearly every OEM has experienced some sort of hack. This demonstrates the reality that security cannot be an afterthought or bolted on, but instead has to be baked into vehicles and their components at each stage of the process. That means securing the supply chain, using only trusted components, in field monitoring and responding quickly to issues.

The author is Charles Eagan, chief technology officer, BlackBerry

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