By Lloyd Marino
Here’s some good news: new car sales are through the roof. According to Business Wire, U.S. consumers and businesses are buying new vehicles at a rate exceeding 18 million units annually, and maintaining a “sales pace that hasn’t been replicated since before the Great Recession,” writes Bill Visnic on Forbes.com. In fact, there are over one billion cars, trucks, and buses in operation around the world
Not surprisingly, the average new car is loaded with expensive technology, including some 2000 mechanical components, and upwards of 100 million lines of software code (more than a jet plane), what MIT Technology Review calls “automobile OS.” The connected car market is predicted to exceed $46 billion by 2020 according to marketsandmarkets.com. In fact, it’s estimated that 80% of all cars sold in 2017 will be connected.
Today’s “connected car” is the poster child for providing a wealth of information about the driver, the car itself, the surroundings, and any connected devices. Cars, in particular, lend themselves to data science innovation. According to Datafloq, a single hybrid plug-in vehicle will generate data up to 25 gigabytes, and that’s just in an hour! The Google self-driving car generates approximately 1GB of data every second. To put things in perspective, consider that on average Americans spend around 600 hours in the car annually. If everybody drove a connected car today that would amount to approximately 2 Petabytes of data per car per year, says Datafloq.
While the volume of available data is growing rapidly, it’s not being properly maximized in my estimation, and is mostly stored as useless heaps of information. Indeed, extracting meaningful information from this mass of mixed data is no easy endeavor. The challenge is not only collecting the information, but properly analyzing it and then taking the right action to ensure profitability. If achieved, the connected cars could provide a wealth of data on vehicle movements, condition, wear and tear; and weather and traffic conditions, creating tremendous value for all players in the ever-evolving automotive ecosystem.
Optimizing fleet performance while improving road safety, or reducing the number of accidents and improving traffic flow through advanced driver assistance systems are just some of the ways that Big Data can be leveraged. One especially promising development is in the area of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, which the Obama administration began pushing back in 2014. It’s thought that by 2020, cars will communicate with each other and alert drivers to existing roadside hazards. Imagine if your car could maintain an internal map of all surrounding vehicles with their speed and direction, making it much easier for your car to provide guidance as to when it’s safe to change lanes, speed up or slow down, or merge. Though the first generation of V2V systems would warn the driver but not take control of the car, future incarnations would improve braking or steering around obstacles and eventually merge with self-driving cars.
Even more exciting is the development of vehicle-to-everything systems (V2X) that would include existing infrastructure like traffic lights, stop signs, and construction sites. Cars that connect with these elements of the driving landscape can warn drivers long before they comes into view. When workers begin repairing a stretch of highway, they could set up a beacon that broadcasts speed reductions or lane closures to incoming vehicles. The cars then feed that info to their drivers, who can slow down and shift lanes far in advance, saving time, and reducing traffic and accidents.
Along with improving safety features, Big Data analytics tools are already helping automakers detect and correct problems earlier, even allowing them to issue recalls sooner, thus limiting the pool of disenfranchised customers. Connected cars could potentially deliver much better entertainment to their passengers, streaming content over the Internet by connecting to any number of wireless hubs.
That’s not to say that nothing is standing in the way of connected cars. As we’ve seen again and again, any Internet-connected device is vulnerable to hacking attacks. Researchers have already demonstrated the ability to hack into a connected car and remotely turn on the brakes.
Still, the automotive industry has no choice but to move in the connected car direction. As Dirk Wollschläger, IBM’s General Manager of the Global Automotive Industry, wrote on Forbes.com, car makers are under the gun like never before, with cost pressure, competition, globalization, environmental concerns, market shifts, and economic volatility all increasing at a rapid pace. Fortunately, Big Data, used properly, offers manufacturers previously unimagined possibilities—and profits—for tackling these and many other 21st century challenges.