What is the timeline for Connected Cars, Driverless Cars & who owns the data?

by David Smith

New car buyers are typically concerned with things like mileage, safety features, aesthetic qualities, drivability even perhaps the immediate decrease in value their new shiny baby takes once it’s driven off the lot. The last thing they are thinking about is whether their car’s Engine Control Units and other onboard computers be compatible with future operating systems like Apple’s and Google’s; will their car’s computer allow for real-time software updates to improve the way the car operates or drives itself like Tesla’s; and who will own the user-data that their car’s computer has just started collecting? Most car owners think their car is only recording how it is performing (tire pressure, oil pressure, gas mileage, driving speeds, et cetera), and think less about their car recording things like where they go, their favorite gas station, what routes they take, and mapping a ton of sensor and road data. Even fewer are thinking about their car recording information that could raise a host of legal questions: everything from speeding, car accident liability, and seatbelt use. Did you come to a complete stop at the stop sign? Were you wearing you seatbelt? That was a school zone you just sped through. Even if you’re not sure or can’t remember, your cars knows; it’s been recording that information for some time. And that information can be accessed relatively easily. Ford Motor Company believes the data is the car owner’s property, but that view is not shared by Mercedes and BMW. In the future, this will impact who can actually work on your car, as access to the data will be necessary to do any tune-ups. And the Government hasn’t been pushed to weigh in.

The reality is that cars as manufactured today are mechanically about as advanced as they can get. They can’t go much faster (legally), can’t get from 0-60 much quicker and the level of amenities is now pretty much a function of price, not whether they can be accomplished. Technology, however, is galloping ahead. Most car owners and future car owners should be modifying their thinking relative to these progressive technologies. In addition to historical considerations, factors such as software (applications), connectivity and data need to be taken into account. If these consumers’ reasoning to not worry about this is that connected cars are still a ways off-they are mistaken. In fact, connected cars are here now, and consumer use of driverless cars is a short 4-6 years away. Since the 1970s “cars have gone from being around 99% hardware, to probably 60% hardware/ 40% software,” said Don Butler, Ford’s executive director of Connected Vehicles and Services, during a Q&A with Forbes Magazine. Ford believes that they will have a driverless car on the road by 2020. Google estimates 2021 and Tesla might be there by 2019 based on what is being said. Recently, Bloomberg BusinessWeek opined that driverless vehicles will become mandatory by 2060, with roads redesigned specifically and only for these type of vehicles (like compact car only parking or carpool lanes). Have you noticed that those parking allocations tend to be the closest spots to the store entrances and carpool lanes are 2x quicker? Driverless vehicle roadways will be the preferred pavements with benefits like a reduction in accidents resulting in death, cutting transportation times, and increasing the efficiency of driving.

Tesla’s Elon Musk also believes software is the new frontier; just this week he tweeted out a casting call for software engineers. Tesla is already accessing their 90,000 cars remotely for real time updates. Just look at their new autopilot service that-thanks to machine learning algorithms-is constantly improving, along with the car’s wireless connection abilities that can load detailed mapping and sensor data automatically. If you read between the lines, Tesla will become a driverless car through a software upgrade while all other manufacturers are trying to make one from scratch. Every day, the timeline for autonomous-smart vehicles-computers on wheels-shortens like the technological singularity clock. Google has stated a plan to eliminate human driving in the next five years. The odds are now that if you drive in the Palo Alto, or Menlo Park area of the San Francisco Bay Area, you will encounter a Google self-driving car, and Apple has already created its first prototype. Automotive information firm R.L. Polk & Co. said the average age of the 247 million vehicles on U.S. road stands at an all-time high of 11.4 years. That means that quite possibly your next vehicle, or during the half-life of your next vehicle, a smart car and possibly self-driving car will be on your mind or in your garage.

We knew the paradigm shift from hardware to software in automobiles was coming. The car might be the last product that is manufactured so ubiquitously without realizing how the customer is actually using it. Sure we understand a hot rod or a minivan’s intended use, but that’s like saying smartphones are intended to be used only as phones, which I spoke to at length in my article Smartphone or the New Personal Server. We know they aren’t! You’re starting to see the car manufactures doing the same thing that cellphone developers did, using old words like car and phone to describe something that is much more than that and already do things without a driver like parallel parking, lane maintenance, and emergency breaking, which are common features on some cars today. What’s happening is that the driverless car is coming to us in increments, even from the existing car companies.

How will this affect the driving experience, insurance rates, or the driver itself? Will we all become back seat drivers? I believe driving will become more like an airplane experience. Sit back. Relax. And enjoy the “in-drive” movie. Or whatever else you want to do. In fact, the several hours we spend in the car during a commute may produce a major new media exposure vehicle in both the virtual and real sense. I’ll write more about this new media vehicle soon.