The big data industry has witnessed any number of tipping points in recent years as once-obscure ideas and technologies have quickly achieved dominance. Hadoop. Spark. Data Lakes. Big data itself. And now comes the Internet of Cars (AKA the Internet of Automobiles), a phenomenon with huge potential impact both in the industry and in society at large.
The U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee recently convened a hearing to provide “an opportunity to learn about vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology and what it means for our future economy.” Called to testify were executives from GM, Toyota, and Tesla as well as IT industry analysts and consumer privacy advocates. Our cars are becoming data devices in their own right. If you consider its full implications, the Internet of Cars is not just on the verge of a tipping point itself; it is poised, domino-like, to kick off a series of related tipping points.
Let’s look at five of the reasons that the Internet of Cars will change everything.
1. Kicking the Internet of Things into high gear
The Internet of Cars is a game-changer for the Internet of Things, of which it is an emerging segment, in large part because there are so many of these particular “things.” They’re everywhere. The amount and variety of data that automobiles can be called upon to collect and to share is staggering. For starters, cars will collect information on their own performance, driver behavior, the behavior of other drivers, road and traffic conditions, starting points, destinations, optimized routes, etc. They will track data on where the driver and passengers like to go, what they like to do, what kind of music they like, what kind of restaurants they visit, how early they get up, how late they get to bed — all of which can feed into new products and services we have barely begun to imagine. Think of what happened when mobile phones went from being communication devices to being entertainment, data processing, and social networking machines. We will see an explosion of applications as the Internet of cars follows a trajectory very similar to the mobile Internet before it.
2. Transforming the automobile industry
Chris O’Connor, General Manager of the Internet of Things business at IBM, recently wrote a piece entitled The Internet of Things drives new opportunities for the automotive industry, outlining the end-to-end impact of IoT on the automotive industry. Automobile designers and engineers increasingly rely on analysis from data that cars themselves collect and distribute when developing new models. Manufacturing occurs in intelligent factories driven by smart supply chains. Sensor-driven automotive servicing and preventative maintenance now involve the car telling the mechanic far more about what’s going on than the driver ever could (and in a more timely fashion.) And, as we’ll see in greater detail below, every facet of the automobile consumer experience is changing radically.
3. Changing how we drive
Of course, the big predicted change for how we drive is that we’re going to stop doing it altogether and the cars are going to take over. But Gartner’s Thilo Koslowski says that connected cars will bring about startling and disruptive changes to the process of driving long before they complete their evolution from “automated to autonomous to unmanned” operation. The more immediate shift will be in the kinds of interactions we will come to expect to have with our cars. Think of the difference between a land-line telephone from 30 years ago and your smartphone today. As Koslowski explains it, your car is about to become “the ultimate mobile device.”
He paints an interesting picture of how that might look:
Imagine you are stopped at a stop light, and you want to know more about the car next to you with these interesting-looking wheels. You wonder if they are available for your car as well, so you just ask your car the question. The car responds by not only saying, “Yes, they are available for your car,” but also by giving you pricing information and asking if you would like to stop by a dealer who happens to have them in stock and can install them on your way home. For automakers and dealers, this represents a valuable new service model that can help keep customers in the fold.
4. Redefining vehicle ownership
The implications of fully connected cars go beyond these kinds of straight-up sales opportunities. The Internet of Cars raises challenges and opportunities similar to those brought about by the Internet of Homes. Sensor data will prove pivotal in ensuring safety, timely maintenance, fuel efficiency, and so on. But it has other uses.
IBM’s Chris O’Connor predicts the Internet of Cars will transform automobile insurance. People will now “pay as they drive,” meaning that those who are on the road all the time will face higher premiums than, say, folks who work from home. And there will even be “pay how you drive” variations, meaning that your rates might go up based on information your car collects on how fast you drive, how long it takes you to brake, etc.
Of course, not everyone is thrilled at the idea of marketers, insurance companies, or the government having access to all (or any) of their data. Drivers may begin to eye their cars suspiciously, and begin to wonder who is really in charge around here. Security pundit Bruce Schneier worries that such connected cars only hasten the Internet’s transformation into what he describes as “a massive surveillance tool.” And, in fact, one of the reasons for that House Oversight Committee meeting mentioned earlier was to “highlight how the automotive industry is tackling important issues around cybersecurity…and privacy” in the face of all these developments.
We can expect to hear a lot more about all this in the days to come.
5. Accelerating the need for big data analysis
As noted above, the Internet of Cars will bring about an explosion of new applications, accompanied by an explosion of data volumes — the latest in a long series of those — as well as a host of new varieties of data and new use cases to derive insights from the data being collected. Big data is only getting bigger, and with each new iteration come new risks and complexities. The Internet of Cars offers tremendous potential benefits (and risks) to auto manufacturers, car dealers, retailers, law enforcement, and many others, including the drivers themselves. Realizing these benefits, and avoiding the risks, will require flexible and capable tools for deriving insights from these masses of data.