Long gone are the days when having a radio was a luxury item in a car! I even remember when CD players were a luxury and now both a radio and CD player (or stacker) are standard equipment in every car.
Over the past few years we have seen firstly iPod connections and then bluetooth connection for phones, hands free kits and other devices become mainstream. In more recent times, the car manufacturers have been busy getting Apple’s CarPlay or the competing Android Auto systems installed on ever improving tablet style screens. The age of the clunky interface has now mostly gone.
The funny thing about these interfaces is not the technology but the loyalty of either brands users. This is actually a concern to some manufacturers who haven’t signed up with both Apple and Google – they know that they will lose buyers from the group that doesn’t want the interface because they are so loyal to either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android.
Now the manufacturers are trying to develop technology with partnerships with the consumer goods makers rather than retro fit items to keep up with their competitors or simply to have something new to sell on a vehicle. Frankly, most cars in a particular segment are now very close in equipment and pricing so getting an edge is very important.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data (such a great marketing term!) are now coming to the auto industry. Many of us have already had experience of IoT – fitness trackers, weigh scales, hair brushes (a recent new invention) and many other products are now linked to a mobile phone or tablet generating data about their usage. Combine many users of these products today and you need the power of a Big Data solution to analyse the trends and information generated. It is sometimes great to see what you are doing personally, however for a company providing the devices, it is a veritable goldmine of knowledge!
Ford has teamed up with Pivotal Labs, a Dell EMC company, to figure out how to utilise the Ford “Smart Mobility” systems more effectively. The idea behind this was to improve the link between the vehicle and the owner’s smart phone and as you can imagine, Ford would be getting valuable usage data about their cars on the road. This will help them design cars that are more suited to the market.
Importantly all that data can be analysed and shared with Ford’s growing autonomous vehicle fleet. Driving patterns, traffic flows and other crowd-sourced data can improve the ability for a car to decide which route to take and for the designers, they can utilise different materials that are more suited to the changing use of the car.
IoT is also gaining traction because it allows small sensors to be developed that are connected to the web to send information through a secure network back to base. BP is investigating how to use this style of technology to improve oil flows and to shut down less productive rigs faster.
Caterpillar, the maker of heavy duty earth-movers, are another company investigating how sensors could send back useful data so that they can help improve maintenance times and also see what the machines are doing. So far they are monitoring around 350,000 machines and have been buying small tech companies to help them make sense of the data at their headquarters in Illinois.
This doesn’t sound new – aircraft manufacturers have been doing this for years in conjunction with the airlines, so that they can keep their planes in the sky. What is new is the way that cheaper technology and connectivity is now making it easier for earthbound machines to share the same concepts.
The big issue around these new technologies isn’t the development of useful apps, it is the security of the data when in transit, in the vehicle or in the processing centre. Some vehicles have already been hacked in test environments and if someone (or a group) wanted to disrupt a community, then getting access to – and changing – the data is a great way to stop people from commuting or sending a particular model of vehicle, lemming like over a bridge!
We still have a long way to go, however with many manufacturers teaming up with the technology giants, the journey seems to be getting faster.