How guesswork could make the connected car smarter

It is a bit of a massive understatement but if you had to sum up all the challenges facing the connected-car industry into a single bullet-point, it might be how best to shepherd it from where it is now over to the point where it gets integrated with the as-yet-undeveloped IoT.

We're living in a moment when all the futuristic Buck Rogers goodies that they'd been promising us for the last eighty years seem finally at hand. Last week somebody flew around the Statue of Liberty in a jet pack, which is being offered to the public for a mere $150,000. Driverless cars are also almost at hand and are now being tested on highways all over America, as well as on Google's corporate campus. In 2017 Volvo, which prides itself on leading the connected-car charge, will unleash a hundred driverless vehicles onto the streets of Gothenburg as part of their much publicised Drive Me programme. 

But, what nobody is asking, is how big is that corner going to be? Because the fact is, no one actually knows. Yes, development of ADAS technologies keeps charging ahead in an absolutely breath-taking way. It's now less a question of developing new systems as much as it is figuring out how to integrate all the different sensors with the automated decision-making software. It's so close now that driverless cars operating on American highways are now busily racking up their second million miles. When it comes to driverless cars, there might be no doubt on the outcome but there is a very big question mark when it comes to the timeframe. The reason for this is that until, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications are up and in place, real driverless cars will remain little more than a nifty toy. Just as importantly, the connected-car will remain a half-realised and, even worse, a non-monetised, idea.

However, it remains to be seen how the V2I will get implemented. That's because the responsibility for setting it up is, largely, out of the industry's hands and rests squarely on that of governmental bodies. Yet, there is so little driving governments to start setting up V2I systems that none of the self-driving pilot programmes even have it as an element. “Car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure is not directly part of the Drive Me project,” admitted Volvo spokesman Sascha Heiniger. He did note that Volvo is experimenting with these technologies with other initiatives but would not venture to guess when they all might be implemented into a real-world experiment like their Drive Me effort.

What can the industry do to spur V2I on and guide it forward? According to Martin Rosell, general director, of WirelessCar, a Swedish telematics services provider, the most important thing is not just to increase the number of connected cars but to change attitudes.

“It's really more about changing processes and behaviour,” says Rosell. “Connected cars is an eco-system, so you can't really pick out one.” In other words, it's not just about changing drivers' relationship with their vehicles. It's also about changing the way carmakers view their function from just making cars to creating products of a digital revolution. 

“It's not enough for cars to be connective. They also need to be predictive,” says Rosell. “There's nothing magic about your car breaking down or needing a service. It's predicted by mileage and has nothing to do with the status of the car. Why don't we take that information and change the product service from static to dynamic and predictive? That's changing the experience of the product itself.”

Rosell believes the industry needs to start coming up with good predictive proof-of-concept pilots and services which can be put on the market. Unfortunately, most of the programmes that come out are the traditional services focusing on driving safety and security. Not that there is anything wrong with this. But, Rosell says, data led prediction would take it much further. “They're estimating a trillion dollars is being spent every year repairing damage and injuries caused by driving accidents. Any increase in predictive technologies would reduce systems failure, prevent costly breakdowns and product recalls but, more importantly, reduce accidents and save lives. 

But predictive technology goes beyond this. It's also simple things like having the car connected to weather conditions so that it will know that on cold days to start warming up its interior a half hour before the driver gets in to go to work.

“The real value of telematics comes when you dig into the product, increase the experience of the product and continue doing so through the life cycle of the product,” says Rosell. “This is not only the technology, because we can do the technology. We've already proven that. It's more about changing the processes and behaviour.”

We already have the vision and the technology to make it happen. What we don't have yet is a workable business case to link the two.  One of the ways to do this is to increase aftermarket sales by proactive selling and paying close attention to building customer loyalty and engagement. We know service planning creates return customers and helps establish and build relationships with a vehicle's second owners. Most importantly, it will also go a long way to building up the numbers of connected-cars and fully-engaged connected car drivers.

When that happens, the V2I networks will be brought to life all over the globe and driverless cars will stop being Buck Rogers science fiction and become simple daily reality.


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