Big Data and the Auto Industry: Driving to Less Distraction

Big Data and the Auto Industry: Driving to Less Distraction

Part II: Fewer Repairs While Improving Driver Safety

By Lloyd Marino

Who invented the car? Seems like a simple enough question. But ask 10 people and you might get 10 different answers. The history of the automobile dates back to the 15th century when Leonardo da Vinci started tinkering with designs and models for transport vehicles.

Lots of folks would just assume give props to Karl Benz, who is credited with creating the first true automobile in 1885. However, there is a number of other automobile “firsts,” According to Leonard Bruno’s book Science and Technology Firsts, as well as‘s History of the Automobile. There’s Frenchman Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, who built his country’s army the first steam-powered, self-propelled road vehicle, which had just three wheels and traveled at a blazing 2.5 mph (you could walk faster). In the early 19th century, Scotsman Robert Anderson created the world’s first electric carriage. A German pair, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach came up with the first four-wheeled, four-stroke engine, which became known as the “Cannstatt-Daimler.” Yet, it is Karl Friedrich Benz who is largely credited as having introduced the world to the first motorcar in 1886—a gas-fueled vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine.

Benz goals for his new invention were simple enough: Get people from point A to point B faster than they could by horse and buggy.  Cars have certainly come a long way in the intervening 130 years. They’re bigger, faster and safer. Most interestingly, cars have moved from vacuum-based carburetors to oxygen sensors for better fuel economy, meaning they’ve transitioned from 99 percent hardware to just 60 percent hardware. The remaining 40 percent consists of software. The software in most modern vehicles had translated to good times for manufacturers, who are using the data collected in their connected autos to build better cars.

How much better are these vehicles? Thanks to modern technology, cars can find their own parking spaces, avoid collisions, and maneuver past construction, and even drive themselves. Indeed, what would’ve seemed like pure fantasy to Benz or any number of the other pioneering automakers is now very much the reality. As I said in last week’s blog, Big Data has positively impacted every aspect of the auto industry, but let’s look at two specifically.

Fewer Repairs, Bigger Savings

We all dread the moment. You’re driving along when suddenly that notorious red “check engine” light sign appears on the dashboard, usually an early warning that something’s gone awry. Historically, only the driver sees the red warning sign and then only after something funky has been going for quite some time.  Time to visit the repairman and call your insurance carrier, both of which add up to lost time and money. The other issue about repairs has to do with trust. Indeed, the trust gap among repair shops and insurance carriers has never been wider, according to a recent survey by AudaExplore, which found that almost half (48%) of consumers believe that repair shops rarely (and sometimes never) provide great customer service. And insurance companies don’t fare much better, with only 22% of folks surveyed saying that companies did anything to allay their stress level after a car accident. Not surprisingly, 74% of customers said they’d like to better understand the work their repair shop is doing and be better informed of the progress of their repairs.

While it might seem like a stretch for some shops to invest in new technology and employee training to repair the repair process, such an investment would quickly pay for itself. Indeed, just a small commitment upfront would be far less costly than trying to fix problems later. Both repair shops and insurance companies would benefit from software that enhances the accuracy of estimates and the inclusion or exclusion or parts; apps that allow consumers to watch real-time vehicle repair and communicate with their service advisors; and automated messaging services with continual updates. AutoMD, a webapp that serves as a repository of text, photo, and video DIY repair guides, helps drivers diagnose problems with their vehicle, guides them in finding a reputable mechanic, and advises on repair cost, is an example of the sort of software that is slowly revolutionizing the car repair business. Moreover, since technology now exists that allows cars to connect wirelessly to dealerships and manufacturers, millions of cars could automatically report, as an example, that a certain engine or transmission part needs replacing after a certain number of miles, enabling builders to design future cars without such a flaw. This technology would also improve customer satisfaction and trust.

Safety First

Could we ever get a point where the auto accidents were reduced to zero? The answer is “no,” but it’s a goal worth pursuing. Though traffic fatalities fell slightly in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS), 32,675 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in 2014, a 0.1-percent decrease from the previous year. However, an estimated increase in the number of deaths during 2015 (final numbers still aren’t available), “reveals a need to reinvigorate the fight against deadly behavior on America’s roads,” said the NHTSA in a prepared statement. Once again, Big Data appears to be the key to reducing and even preventing car crashes.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about smart cities and their role combating traffic accidents and congestion. Today, street signs, traffic lights, construction vehicles, and even buildings can communicate with each other while sending vast amounts of information to a central transportation hub. From this collected data, cities can identify problem traffic areas and help reduce congestion by controlling stoplights, or alerting drivers to the location and severity of an accident. Considering additional factors, such as time of day and weather conditions, cities can even send out alerts to drivers as they start their daily commute, telling them what alternate routes they should take to avoid heavy traffic. By decreasing congestion, cities can improve everybody’s safety and prevent more car crashes.

Predictive analytics software can even help forecast accidents before they occur. Some police departments have implemented a program called Crash Reduction Analyzing Statistical History (CRASH), which analyzes loads of data, including weather patterns, crash history, daily traffic flow, area special events, and even the location of prime liquor retailers to determine where the most likeliest places for crashes are and when they might happen. Once the police pinpoint these locations, they can send officers out to manage traffic conditions and keep drivers safe. And even if an accident does occur, the police are on hand to offer assistance or immediately radio for help. There may be no way to reduce the number of car crashes to zero, but this promising new Big Data-fueled technology can make a huge dent in the overall number.

Big Data is a welcome player in these recent developments, and automotive manufacturers are seizing on this opportunity to deliver better products than ever before. The industry will only continue to improve as more and more Big Data is processed and analyzed while all of us become accustomed to the auto industry’s ever-changing face.

Image By: Ryan Pouncy

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