Intel CEO Brian Krzanich declared that “data is literally the new oil” during an address at last year’s L.A. auto show. The idea that bits and bytes will replace petroleum as the primary fuel for the world’s economy—and the auto industry in particular—isn’t an original one. But it summarizes what many insiders believe: As data analytics engines become more valuable than vehicle engines in the coming years, the flood of information gleaned from them will serve as a primary driver of automotive innovation with potentially billions in profits at stake as a result.
Cars are just now becoming connected, and as autonomous technology moves into the mainstream the flow of data will turn from a trickle into a full-blown gusher. Automakers, their major suppliers, and large tech companies are already jockeying to take advantage of what Intel calls the coming “Passenger Economy … when today’s drivers become idle passengers.” But it’s how they properly tap into and cap that well of information that will be the hard part. Krzanich added in L.A. that to discover, process, and market this resource will take unprecedented levels of computing, intelligence, and connectivity.
And as is the case with the oil industry, another issue bubbling to the surface is who actually owns the data and how it will be made secure.
Driven by Data
This explains why the likes of Waymo, an autonomous car development company created by Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., and com-petitor Apple are pouring millions into automotive R & D and self-driving cars. It’s also the reason behind automotive supplier Delphi’s recent pivot to primarily becoming a purveyor of car-based data.
After announcing last May that it will spin off its $4.5 billion powertrain division, Delphi’s “core business is now focused on the components and high-speed data that will be needed for vehicles of the future,” says Ben Hoffman, CEO of Movimento, a company Delphi acquired earlier this year that specializes in over-the-air software updates. As part of its overall strategy, Delphi also acquired Control-Tec, a connected car data-analysis company, in 2015. And earlier this year it purchased the Israeli startup Otonomo, which Hoffman describes as the “data-monetization side of the equation.” It’s all part of an “aggressive push for Delphi around data, analytics,” Hoffman added.
Carmakers are also looking to cash in by collectively spending billions to beef up their software and data-processing prowess as well as partnering with tech companies to help fill competency gaps. With the help of Microsoft, last year Toyota created a new data analytics division called Toyota Connected to bring Internet-connected services into the car. Earlier this year, Renault-Nissan inked a deal to leverage Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform and its Azure cloud architecture to collect vehicle sensor and usage data in order to develop “connected driving experiences.” Ford recently invested $182 million in Pivotal, a cloud-based software company, in part to create analytics tools and a cloud platform to support the automaker’s Smart Mobility initiative.
A Digital Geyser of Data from Connected Cars
Despite all the hype, today’s cars are creating barely a ripple of data, according to Roger Lanctot, associate director of Strategy Analytics’ Global Automotive Practice. “With the possible exceptions of cars with LTE modules that enable Wi-Fi,” Lanctot says, “the amount of data from cars now is barely ticking into the megabytes range and more often in the kilobytes.”
That’s set to change quickly in the next decade or so as autonomous vehicles hit the road. According to a report from Barclays released last spring, a Level 4/5 autonomous car is expected to generate 100 gigabytes of data every second. The Barclays report added that in the U.S. alone 260 million cars will produce about 5,800 exabytes of data daily, enough to fill 1.4 million Amazon tractor-trailer mobile data centers—or a convoy 11,000 miles long.
While Lanctot feels that such figures are overblown, he agrees that a deluge of connected-car data is on the horizon, especially as cameras and other sensors that are becoming de rigueur on cars start to capture more info. “There’s an increasing recognition,” he says, “that all those cameras and sensors are collecting extremely valuable information.”
Although primarily used for self-driving purposes, the data acquired by cameras and other sensors is largely untapped for commercial purposes, Lanctot says. “Fleet operators are realizing that the information about the environment through which the vehicle is driving—whether it’s traffic, weather, road conditions—is extremely valuable. And what if you’re in law enforcement, and there’s a terrorist attack, and you could immediately access the cameras in all of the cars in an area? The power of those cameras is underappreciated and under-leveraged.”
Next Stage in Data Collection
The next stage includes culling information from vehicle components such as engines, transmissions, brakes, and even windshield wipers. Vehicles communicating with other vehicles and roadway infrastructure will add another layer of data.