Last year I noted that the tech show, the annual Consumer Electronics Show was being converted into a car show because several manufacturers were present to showcase new kit. Audi had driven an automated A7 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas (actually it drove itself).
On Wednesday at this year’s show, Connexion Media announced their new Commercial Link for GM vehicles. The technology centres around a SIM that connects the car to a website and an app that connects the website to the user via a smart phone.
Essentially this is a new way to share data between the car and driver. In recent years, enthusiasts could buy a connector to the OBD-II plug, typically found underneath the steering column and this connected the data from the engine management system to a smart phone. Now Connexion Media have taken this idea mainstream.
The new system measures fuel economy, battery life, location and even driver behaviour! It’s an interesting mix because the GPS will tell you the current location and the dashboard on most cars gives you the current and trending fuel economy.
A buyer has to add at least $10 a month on top of an existing OnStar account although initially this will be covered partly by GM and partly by Connexion Media. With the GM deal, Connexion Media has access to 3.4M new cars built a year across the globe through at least 6 major brands. On top of that, the other main US and five European manufacturers are also trialling the system, which would give them a healthy subscription base to work on!
Gartner, a technology research company, estimates that by 2020 over 250 million cars will be connected to the Internet, so the market that Commercial Link taps into is huge, seriously huge!
To cope with the expected demand, Connexion Media is building two “innovation” centres: one in Melbourne and one in Detroit. Melbourne being home base for Connexion Media and Detroit for being home base for the Big Three.
I’m more interested in the driver behaviour bit – that’s a little “big brother” isn’t it? I’m OK with it if the driver owns the car, I use a similar concept to view trends on health related data such as sleep, steps and energy usage, however I wouldn’t necessarily want to share that data! I’m OK if the driver is using a company owned car as the employer may want to review the driver’s ability to maintain a certain fuel consumption and isn’t breaking too many laws. However, if this data is then used by insurance companies to dictate rates for general consumption or to try and set a precedence in a court case, then I am concerned.
Equally concerning is when law enforcement find the data and then use that to generate revenue after the fact, for example, finding that a driver potentially broke a speed limit some months after the event and using the data to prosecute. I know some jurisdictions where the local judges side with the police despite flimsy evidence (I’ve seen that in action).
Interestingly, it could give the manufacturers data on the usage of the vehicle which could help them see where potential problems are and do preventative recalls or updates during regular servicing. Combining millions of data points will give the engineers so much real world information that they will be able to design components to be more robust – or conversely trim them because they are too big for the typical usage. It will be like having a million test drivers delivering daily reports!
On the whole though, I think a lot of enthusiasts would download and use this service as they can see more about their car’s performance or consumption and then they can adjust the car or their own driving style to make improvements.