Connected vehicles (CVs) have inspired so much digital ink, it’s easy to forget autonomous vehicles (AVs) aren’t the only digital innovation revolutionizing the auto industry. Nor, in fact, are they the first. CVs have been on our roads and highways for the better part of decade, and most newer vehicles feature some form of connected technology.
Bluetooth connectivity, for example, is a common feature found in most vehicle packages today. However, car manufacturers and tech companies are planning for much bigger things, including advanced communication, automation and analytics in vehicles. This means in-vehicle Wi-Fi, built-in cellular connections and vehicle-to-vehicle communications will become more mainstream.
Ford and Toyota, for example, are pioneering software that facilitates better communication between a vehicle’s internal computer with a consumer’s smartphone, The Register reports, in order to compete with solutions created by technology companies. BMW is working with tech companies to integrate smart home functionality into their vehicles with capabilities like remotely locking/unlocking doors and adjusting thermostats.
In effect, the auto industry is witnessing a fundamental shift: it’s moving from a manufacturing-focused model to a digital platform-focused model.
This requires a great deal of cooperation across the auto and technology industries. In fact, companies like Mircosoft, Waymo, Uber, Lyft and many others are working to provide the digital foundation auto manufacturers need to build connected and automated cars. But the advancement of these initiatives is unclear. The connected car still has to overcome many barriers, from consumer trust to public infrastructure support, before it can be considered a success.
Here are the five major barriers facing the future of connected cars:
1. Trust and adoption
Consumers are rightfully skeptical of AVs and CVs operating, to any degree, under their own influence today. These technologies, while proven in some scenarios, are still being tested and cannot be considered safe in all driving conditions. What’s more worrisome is that, according to PBS, some consumers may misinterpret the enhanced cruise control features found in today’s CV/AV hybrids for full-automation, resulting in crashes and headlines overhyping the dangers of connected and autonomous vehicles.
While those worries will subside as technologies are improved, other problems may surface. Consumers renting connected cars, for example, may have to worry over the digital security of connected vehicles they rent or use in car-sharing services, in which their devices or identity could be at risk due to lack of integration or privacy controls by manufacturers. These concerns could, possibly, invite an industry or government-sanctioned watch dog to oversee privacy standards in connected cars.
Key question: How can a watch dog could be established, and who will establish it?
2. Data ownership
Data is at the heart of the success of connected and automated vehicles. It’s also one of the biggest potential pain points for consumers and manufacturers alike. Auto manufacturers and their technology partners stand to make a great deal of profit by monetizing the data collected by connected vehicles with other abilities like targeted ads and services. But the ownership of the data that might be collected is ill-defined at the moment. Currently, members of the House of Representatives are advocating a bill to determine data sharing standards and more in CVs and AVs. Still, it’s worth considering how this data will be distributed and managed, if at all.
Key question: Will data collected by connected cars be shared under a data federation and what benefits, if any, will consumers see from this data collection?
3. Constructing the digital-physical infrastructure
Government bodies need to invest in vehicle-to-infrastructure projects for CVs and AVs to achieve wider acceptance. This will include developing and deploying standards that will facilitate communications between cars, roadways, intersections, construction zones and travel apps, and more elements of the day-to-day driving experience. Already, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) are both working on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure standardization. The USDOT, in fact, is already issuing guidance and funding projects focusing on fielding vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies.
But the roll-out of vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies will be uneven. Some areas, like major cities, will see more advanced “smart infrastructure” projects realized than others areas, like rural towns. This raises the question of when and where advanced features, like autonomous driving, can be allowed. For example, if a fully autonomous car were to drive from an advanced infrastructure (one enabling all the features a fully connected and autonomous car could contain) to a substandard infrastructure (one with few, if any, vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies), should that car be restricted in its autonomy and connectivity?
Key question: Should manufacturers incorporate an infrastructure-based “kill switch,” for certain features that take advantage of, but do not require, smart infrastructure?
Connected cars, many of which have features controlling steering, gas, brakes and more, will soon become a common occurrence. They will need to be secured, and they will need to be secured soon. Some connected vehicles on the roads today can be remotely hijacked, and putting the driver — and others on the road — at serious risk. But the future of CVs and AVs needn’t be so grim. They can be secured.
Automakers and tech companies will need to work together to secure these vehicle up and down the supply chain. Security, in effect, will need to be a part of every vehicle’s design process. Cars in development will need to have their software routinely tested through known cybersecurity techniques and practices like pen-testing and bug bounty programs. Redundancies, like parallel computer systems and kill switches, could be a massive asset for CVs and AVs.
Thankfully, the automotive industry is taking this threat seriously. To address cybersecurity in vehicles, General Motors and others formed the Auto Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a vulnerability-sharing consortium that organizes information to educate automakers across the globe vulnerabilities. And a good deal of auto firms are taking cybersecurity experts in-house. Some firms are even competing with Apple and other premier tech giants to acquire talent.
Key question: Security lapses in CVs and AVs will be considered especially severe. Who assumes liability, perhaps even criminal liability, for security lapses in CVs and AVs remains for both tech organizations and OEMs?
Finally, automakers will need to define, establish and enforce standard practices for connectivity — such as communications, data processing and sensor suites and other tech — in order to ensure all CV and AV vehicles are equipped with the integrated technology they need for communications and autonomy. Standardizing everything from operating systems for the cameras and sensors that enable vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity to the infotainment systems doubling as navigation and communication hubs will be necessary.
This move toward standardizations will need to come from all stakeholders including manufacturers, software providers, cybersecurity firms, industry organizations and legislators to create safe CVs and AVs for the public. The public, too, will necessarily inform OEMs and more on which platforms they prefer and what features of those platforms (say, for example, AI assistants) should be built into connected vehicles going forward.
Key question: Which group will take the reins on standardization, and will we see competing groups pushing standards that benefit their members?
Nitesh Bansal is Senior Vice President and Industry Head for Manufacturing at Infosys, a global leader in technology services and consulting.