Building Open Data Systems to Benefit Road Networks

The proliferation of connected vehicles and sensors embedded into road infrastructure offer manifold possibilities to collect and analyze data to improve road safety, direct maintenance efforts and guide equitable mobility programs.

Creating of open data systems, where the gathered information can be safely and affordably stored, analyzed and shared, could help better transportation networks on city or even national levels. Incentivizing automakers to provide their data for the public good is only one of many challenges that must be mastered before these open data networks become a reality, however. In addition to data privacy and protection issues, the technical infrastructure, from data storage to cloud-based networking systems, must also be approved and funded.

“In the near term there are some technical challenges, and the biggest one, broadly, is the fact that everything is formatted differently,” said Brian Rhodes, research and analysis manager for connected car and vehicle experience at IHS Markit. “Automakers are even struggling today with multiple generations of telematics units, not to mention competitive platforms and those of suppliers weren’t developed together in any way. This is a fundamental issue.”

A second issue involves how to aggregate the data collected from sensors, which first requires determining how many aspects of the vehicle’s data lifecycle organizations are looking to collect. “Do you have a backend infrastructure to be able to map all of that? It’s one thing to have a sensor on the car that can do something, and it’s another thing to be extracting that data from it and storing it and mining it,” Rhodes said. “These are very expensive propositions, and they require significant use cases before automakers are going to want to put the money down.”

That need for investment points to a third hurdle: open data networks need a lot of data to provide sufficient insights, which means some automakers are going to have to step up to get the ball rolling. “It’s difficult, to be honest, to incentivize being first from an OEM perspective when it requires five more OEMs to follow, and then for those vehicles to sort of be on the road for a little while,” Rhodes said. “But I do still think one of the benefits we have here is that it would be a safety investment.”

From his perspective, finding a platform that allows for certain data to be shared and certain data to be kept proprietary is going to be the way this type of initiative moves forward. Elias Arnestrand, coordinator at Open Mobility Data in the Nordics (ODIN), a project that aims to help coordinate a unified market within the mobility sector in the Nordics, called for commonly agreed standards and formats to publish data and services consistently across the region. “The goal within this network, is about harmonizing and making data more useful for external actors, he said. “We want to create a kind of Nordic market setting where it’s easy for external actors to tap into data for mobility services of different kinds.”

The project is coordinated by RISE ICT Viktoria (Research Institutes of Sweden) and funded by the Swedish Transport Administration and the Swedish Innovation Agency. “We need to find the right intersection between the public offerings and the public key data sources and services in this field, and private actors,” Arnestrand said. “That’s the tricky question. “We want to create an ecosystem where you have a smooth way of sharing data when it’s relevant, and also to lower the costs of integration in different parts of this ecosystem.”

He said it will be more important for automakers to understand how their vehicles can share data and be ready for a plug and play approach to this new ecosystem of actors. “It’s important to work in this direction where you have open standards and open interfaces and create the possibilities for third parties to get into the car and to then connect this car to a wider ecosystem of actors in different ways.”

From his perspective, standardizing the data layer is the foundational element from which all other technologies, including advanced data analytics powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, can be built upon. As Arnestrand mentioned, building open data networks will also require partnerships between public and private organizations to build financially viable data sharing capabilities. “When it when it comes to their opening up of vehicles to more open ecosystems like Google and other operating systems, it may mean doing things in a slightly different way than the traditional industry,” he said.

From Rhodes’ perspective, building an open data network requires buy-in from both the automotive industry and local and national governments, as well as the help of international standards organizations. “I think there’s two levels to this. There’s the local level where encouragement for investigation and discovery test cases needs to happen, which is what you see places like Denver or LA, which have been doing this for many years,” Rhodes said. “A big aspect of it at a local level.”

However, he thinks for a truly holistic data network to form, guidelines at the level of a body like the United Nations is probably required. “This is where you build the types of working groups where bring companies in to discuss what needs to happen,” he said. “This is the most realistic way forward because you certainly want to avoid something different happening in in Germany, Japan and the US Some kind of basic foundation like what we’re discussing in cyber-security, which we could build upon in a relatively global landscape.”

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