Is the connected car industry ready to succeed?

The industry was grappling with some mature issues at the Telematics West Coast 2015 conference. As consumers begin to accept and even demand connected vehicles, and penetration increases, so will threats, regulation and competition.

When executives gathered in San Diego for the second day of the conference, security and regulation were top of mind. That afternoon, the US Senate passed CISA, the controversial cybersecurity Bill. CISA is supposed to be a voluntary framework.

Alex Manning, senior government relations director of the law firm of Arent Fox, noted: "By the time you get a law or rule in place, it will be out of date. Most people in Congress know you need some kind of voluntary, nimble framework."

Still, the Bill could have a very tangible impact on the auto industry, according to Michael Spierto, director of federal affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He noted that the auto industry was been working to set up an information security and analysis centre (ISAC) where partners could share information about cyber or physical threats to vehicles – and possibly share it with the government. "The auto industry is only one to have done this prior to a real-world attack," he said.

Robert Gee, head of product management, software and connected solutions at Continental, said that having voluntary standards is useful, because they can be pushed down the supply chain but security standards in themselves are not a total solution, he added. First, the same security checklist can't be implemented across suppliers. Moreover, he said, most vulnerable areas are the result of coding errors that would not be identified simply by checking off boxes.

This voluntary approach is better for the industry, according to Geoffrey Manne, executive director of the International Center for Law & Economics. He said: "The biggest threat to connected car is almost certainly the government – not hackers or the market."

Congress has suddenly become perturbed about automobile hacking, even though the first car hacks were demonstrated in 2010, according to Craig Smith, CEO of security consultancy Theia Labs. Despite academic papers coming out regularly, the auto industry consistently ignored the threats until this year, he said.

In fact, the vulnerable areas and attack surfaces of connected cars are not, for the most part, that different from those of phones and embedded systems, according to Mathew Solnik, senior security researcher at Azimuth. When it comes to OTA software updates, his advice is to make them optional and let car owners control them. "If I want an update, I turn it on, receive the update and then turn it back off. The concept of always-on is scary," he said.

Following up on yesterday's talk by Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, Gail Gottehrer, a partner in the law firm Axinn, presented two current class-action lawsuits that seem to have sprung from the recent Jeep hack.

Walker said: "Manufacturers will probably be liable when vulnerable areas are exploited to cause harm even if those areas are unavoidable. Judges and juries will make analogy to product liability."

Indeed, that has already happened, as Gottehrer pointed out. A class-action suit in the Northern District of California and another in the Southern District of Illinois are both suing carmakers for damages because cars could be susceptible to hacking.

Gottehrer said that whether or not the threat is real, the perception could have a negative impact on innovation.

What do consumers want?

This remains a question without an easy answer. Most consumers don't find that their cars fulfil the expectations they have of their phones, according to Richard Rowe, software development manager for Jaguar Land Rover. He said consumers want:

  • Multimodal HMI
  • Telematics, connected navigation and app stores
  • The ability to manage their media online and locally
  • Regular updates and additions

"We have to focus on user-centric design. We have to constantly test – and speed is everything," he said.

Ben Stanley, global automotive research lead for IBM's Institute for Business Value (IBV), presented research his organisation did among industry executives and also provided an advance look at consumer research to be published in 2016.

For the first study, Automotive 2025: Industry without Borders, IBV spoke to 175 executives in 21 countries. When asked what were the most important external forces influencing the automotive industry today and what they would be in 2025, technology progress was the top, at 66% for 2014 and 68% in 2025. The impact of consumer expectations was second.

When consumers were asked which features of cars they were most interested in, the top pick at 59% was "self-healing," that is, the ability of the car to monitor and fix its performance and health. Stanley noted that this differed by country, with consumers in emerging markets more interested in self-driving rather than self-healing cars.

Connected cars will allow carmakers to directly quantify what consumers do in their cars, according to one panel. Toshiro Muramatsu, director of the vehicle information technology division, Silicon Valley, Nissan, gave a compelling example. For its electric vehicles, Nissan assumed that most users would charge their cars once a day, or about 1,000 times in three years. But usage data showed that most were charging twice that much, so Nissan needed to upgrade its equipment to stand up to twice the usage.

Brendan O'Brien, chief evangelist and cofounder of Aria, and Rob Martin, operations director for Octo Telematics, agreed that drivers will be willing to have their driving tracked and quantified if they understand the value of its being done and receive value themselves.

Rich Shannon, telematics division manager for Honda North America, laid out a hybrid approach for mapping data that he thinks will best suit consumer desires while providing utility. "As we come closer to autonomous vehicles, we will require a robust embedded base map system that will accommodate secondary layers," he said.


wejo, a company that tracks driver behaviour using an app, announced the release of wejo Rewards that provides drivers with discounts and freebies in return for safe driving. It also announced partnership with Consumer Intelligence to engage in a real-world trial of smartphone telematics.

Hortonworks, a provider of Apache Hadoop for enterprises, released a white paper titled Automotive Transformation on the Data Superhighway. It detailed the issues and opportunities for using big data in automotive:

  • Traditional R&D organisations can't keep up with the pace of data growth
  • Data in siloes impedes innovation
  • Automotive transformation needs a single view of data

Grant Bodley, general manager of global manufacturing for Hortonworks, said: "Hadoop merges the Internet of Things and traditional data for new insights."

Innovation in speed

Brandyn Bayes, director of IT and marketing for the North American Eagle project, ended the conference with a talk about how his team of volunteers plans to break the World Land Speed Record in a 56-foot-long jet car going 800mph.

The project demonstrates just how far you can push car design if there is no market, regulatory or safety barriers – aside from trying not to kill the driver. (Driver Jessie Combs said she had to write a will before testing the car.)

It also demonstrates an extreme level of data collection, analytics and insight. To break the record, the vehicle had to travel one way, then return in the other direction. The team used Microsoft's Azure platform for collaboration as well as for data collection in real-time, as much as 60,000 per second – and it rebuilt the models so that the team can make decisions while the car is racing.

Cortana Analytics crunched the data to determine whether and where the car could go faster. Autonomous, connected cars won't need to go that fast or analyse that much data quite that quickly. But hey, maybe it's something to aim for?

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