Opening New Lines of Communication
Connected Vehicle Data Series 4 of 7:
Vehicles no longer just send data to the automaker. New lines of communication are opening that will change our ownership and driving experiences.
@wiley_19#7828 (DIMO dMedia Contributor)
In the last post, we discussed how automakers benefit from our connected vehicle data. Now, we’ll take a look at a couple ongoing innovations that will create new lines of communication between the vehicle and the world and how these innovations will change driving and vehicle ownership experiences.
Our Chatty Vehicles
The first of these innovations is V2x technology. V2x technology encompasses vehicle communication with various entities outside just the OEM (communication with OEM is typically called Vehicle to Cloud or V2C).
Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) allows vehicles to pass information regarding hazardous obstacles, hard braking events, and poor road conditions to improve the safety of the user. Think about the crowdsourced power of Waze. With V2V communication, that crowd sourced power is amplified by automating and expediting the spread of higher quality information directly from the vehicle sensors and GPS system.
Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) passes data directly to municipalities to enable real-time monitoring of traffic, hazardous conditions, and parking locations. You can imagine a future where payments for tolls or parking occur directly through the vehicle. In fact, JP Morgan has recently purchased 75% of a Volkswagen payments unit to develop a vehicle payment standard. As V2I expands beyond municipalities, users may be able to use this technology to pay for gas, car washes, and drive-thrus.
While V2x technology has been on certain models since 2017, widespread adoption has been slow due to unclear communication standards and lack of capable infrastructure.
A Two-Way Street
The second innovation, now standard in consumer electronics and becoming more common in the automotive industry, is a big one: Over the Air (OTA) updates. Just as your phone is able to download and install new software updates, OTA capable vehicles can receive and install new software packages from the automaker. These software updates can address quality issues like Nissan’s backup camera recall, deploy new features, or unlock existing hardware such as sensors or additional battery capacity.
Tesla first introduced OTA updates to the auto industry and continues to lead the industry in ability to update the vehicles’ software and firmware. Through OTA updates, Tesla has addressed many recall and warranty issues while also unlocking new features for customers. For example, the “full self-driving” beta software discussed above was an OTA update that cost $12,000 - no hardware upgrades necessary. So, Tesla standardizes the hardware on their vehicles which reduces complexity in the manufacturing process while also allowing users to upgrade their vehicle while it sits in the driveway.
If I was buying a new battery electric or luxury vehicle in the next few years, a vehicle’s OTA capability and the automaker’s OTA strategy and track record would be high up on my list of decision making criteria. It’s the difference between a static purchase that depreciates rapidly and a dynamic and improving purchase that potentially maintains better resale value. So if you’d like to dive into the topic, I’d recommend starting with this article from Electrek.
Our Very Mobile Smartphones
With the added value of OTA updates for the OEM and customer, advanced vehicle architectures like those mentioned in The Anatomy of Connected Vehicles post are more important than ever.
Imagine going to a restaurant and having to tell them exactly what they need to do to make your order. "Please dice and sauté the onions, then sear the hamburger while smashing it into the flat top,” and so on. While that sounds — and is — ridiculous, that is how features are developed in many of today's vehicles.
Each ECU interface is programmed to deliver the desired functions needed for each feature. As a result, the current feature development process is inefficient and makes OTA updates tricky.
With these new vehicle architectures, developers will be able to house the feature logic in a centralized controller that then accesses the individual ECUs via APIs. So now you can go to the restaurant and simply tell the waiter, "I would like a smash burger, please."
For the more software literate reader, you’re probably thinking, “So OEMs are creating a vehicle operating system and an API for developers to build applications on?” And that would be correct—just like our smartphones.
Further, it’s not crazy to think that these vehicle APIs will also be available to third party developers. GM and Ford, for example, have already opened up access to certain vehicle data points and held hackathons for developers to create the next feature or vehicle app of the future. Once there is a developer ecosystem, an app store is sure to follow.
Then the network effects of developers flocking and users following seen in crypto today may emerge as the automotive aftermarket rises to new heights. This creates ample opportunities for the OEM. It’s now easier to implement new features and turn a one time customer into a recurring revenue stream. They’re not just profiting off the OTA updates the customer purchases from them, either—they could also take a cut from each third party app sale from their app store.
While OEMs will limit the amount of developer’s access for obvious safety reasons, it is sure to draw attention as the aftermarket industry has already grown to $325 billion.
The Commute of the (not-so-distant) Future
Let’s put all of this together and imagine a commute in a few years’ time.
You unplug your vehicle from the wall and authenticate yourself by grinning at the cameras in the door frame. The vehicle interior adjusts itself as you lower yourself into the seat since your partner was the last one to drive. As you pull into the street, you ask the in-vehicle voice assistant to order an Americano from the local coffee shop by your office which it takes care of through the in-vehicle marketplace. You cruise through the toll booth onto the freeway since your vehicle’s V2I technology takes care of that—no transponders or low account balances to worry about. Pulling onto the off ramp, you’re startled by a chime alerting you it’s almost time to retake the wheel since it knows you’re buried in your phone. You dash in to grab your coffee—meanwhile, your vehicle locates, reserves, and pays for the closest street parking to your office. Parallel parking was never your forte, so your vehicle drops you off at the front door and parks itself. But before leaving, the vehicle alerts you a new software package is available that will improve your vehicle’s battery range. You schedule it for that night and climb out the door.
This sounds wonderfully convenient. And most of these features already exist on vehicles today. While it’s difficult to find (or afford) a vehicle with all these features and the infrastructure side needs to catch up, this experience is closer than we think.
In order for this experience to happen, though, your vehicle needs to know your biometric information, your financial information, your spoken information, as well as substantial amounts of information about the surrounding environment and infrastructure. And on top of that, automakers’ could be selling this data.
In the next post, we will take a look at the legal landscape and how it affects the automaker's use of our vehicle data.
Next post coming soon...
This post is from a DIMO community member, and opinions are their own. Digital Infrastructure Inc. does not necessarily endorse any of the views herein.
Alex Rawitz has spent 10 years in and around startups in the crypto and IoT world, and is always looking to put these technologies to work making people’s lives better. Prior to DIMO, Alex worked with exchanges, defi protocols, and fintechs at Chainalysis. Before that he worked in sales at Servato, an IoT company in the telecom space. He started his career at a startup accelerator, The Idea Village, in New Orleans.