The Big, Hidden Questions of Connected Cars

There are questions around connected cars that many engineers and experts aren't considering.

Last December, the Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a rule that would make vehicle-to-vehicle V2V connectivity a requirement for all new cars. Data from the DOT states this widespread connectivity could reduce non-impaired crashes by up to 80 percent, underscoring the great promise of this automotive advancement. Automakers and data providers are already on board, and will push such rulings forward because there’s benefits in this data for both companies and for consumers in terms of safety and convenience.

There's no doubt that adding connectivity to cars has its benefits. According to a 2016 study from global management consulting firm, McKinsey, data from connect cars could reach a revenue potential of $1.5 trillion by 2030 . This connectivity will have a transformative effect on both consumer and commercial vehicles, well beyond previous advancements such as on-board diagnostics or airbags. Employers such as cable companies and delivery firms are very eager to further implement connectivity to monitor drivers and improve safety.

In the coming years connected cars will be a standard, acting as both hotspots and sending out information to other vehicles, toll booths, and various other sensors. But managing all of this data and the related technology poses a considerable challenge for automakers. They must design durable and sophisticated systems for an audience that is used to a smartphone’s simplicity. While there is great promise with connected cars, there are additional challenges, even beyond the technical and storage-related issues, that will need resolution before widespread adoption:

1.) What About Network Strain?

Connectivity in modern cars will be updated through firmware, with the car’s computers updating information and processes in the background, similar to a mobile device. For example, refinements to a car’s self-parking capabilities could be sent through firmware-over-the-air (FOTA).

OEMs manufacturing cars are putting in place sensors to collect and share vast amounts of information about collisions, warranties, maintenance, and dozens of other metrics. As they start sending this data to the cloud instead of internal storage, there will be further strain placed on networks and cloud storage providers. There will also be demands from consumers who want access to this information, since it is their vehicle and their behaviors that are producing the data. Companies will need to navigate these demands and find ways to present data in digestible formats to consumers while still leveraging value from all of this information.

2.) What About Privacy?

Connect cars have already been hacked to take over their control systems. But what about the data being stored and transmitted as well? For example, one of the touted advantaged of connected cars will be access to collision data. This information is typically held on a SIM card, and can provide insurance companies or law enforcement with critical information about the car’s speed and other metrics. Will privacy standards and security be enough to safeguard connected car data, especially as consumers continue to use their personal devices in ways intertwined with their vehicles?

3.) Can the Development Cycle Be Satisfied?

Automotive products are also on a long production and development cycle compared to mobile devices. With


I can understand the benefits broadcasting this data but I don't feel it necessarily needs to be "connected" and all that data collected. Cars could just as easily transmit their own local signal giving anonymous data about location, speed, and maybe some other simple data that cars in the immediate area could use to avoid accidents. That broadcast could be easily based on a standard and could be tremendously beneficial. That said, (see next post)

That said I wouldn't need to be a very sophisticated hacker to cause gridlock on a highway. It might be as simply as collecting the right components and tricking the computer to believe it's been in a collision, say tripping a impact sensor. A lot needs to be considered, including and unplugged option.

There are HUGE challenges for connected cars, starting with the problems of network latency and network coverage. If the connection would be vehicle to vehicle then the challenge is different, but no less. The question of what that communication between vehicles actually does is certainly huge, and the potential for all kinds of hacking mischief is almost beyond imagination. Now, aside from those challenges there are also the issues of reliability and privacy, neither is trivial.


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