Every time a modern plane takes off, it represents a wonder of technological capability. Beyond the physics required to lift a 20-ton jet laden with passengers into the air, the communication technology necessary for each aircraft to remain safe and on-course is incredibly advanced.
Planes today communicate with each other, but they also communicate with the past – every commercial flight is essentially learning from the data of all other flights in modern history. Airlines use a shared database to create industry-wide knowledge of best practices, taking the wisdom of previous years and continuously applying it. This airline model of shared data is a potential solution to the problems that self-driving cars currently face but such a system will require paradigm shifts in how we define the information and would demand more responsive cybersecurity, but it will also allow the self-driving car to pass regulations and inspire confidence in customers easily.
Airlines, Cars and the Wisdom of the Ages
For years, all kinds of airlines have shared flight information with a third party, who pools and analyzes the data for safety information. Every jolt of turbulence, every anomaly, every close call and especially every accident is analyzed to find patterns and make flying safer.
This works as the number of annual flights keeps increasing, but the accident rate is going down. Every day, major US airlines fly over 47,777 flights (not counting smaller planes or cargo planes). In 2014, there were 12 accidents responsible for 641 deaths, out of 3.3 billion passengers. In 1954, there were 87 crashes, with 1600 killed, out of only 141 million passengers.
There are obviously a number of reasons for this improvement, the most prominent one being better engineering and better technology. But part of the improvement is also because the airlines themselves realized that every flight provided valuable information. Unexpected turbulence does not care if you are flying United Airlines or Aer Lingus. By pooling safety data, airlines have a comprehensive view of every factor of every flight, which they can use to make flying more secure.
This sharing of data is a great lesson for the automotive industry and one that the government is trying to encourage. In September 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released their Automated Vehicle Policy, a 116-page document laying out the groundwork for the automotive industry’s future. In it, they recommend creating a shared repository of knowledge regarding accidents, near-misses, and scenarios in which humans have to intervene – basically, every factor that makes self-driving or human-assisted vehicles (HAVs) risky.
In their words: “Such shared data would help to accelerate knowledge and understanding of HAV performance, and could be used to enhance the safety of HAV systems and to establish consumer confidence in HAV technologies.”
Complying with these standards would be incredibly beneficial to OEMs, but the idea has been met with some resistance, for mainly three reasons: 1) there will be an unprecedented amount of data to collect, manage, and store; 2) car companies are not used to this sort of data sharing; and 3) cybersecurity concerns must be addressed first. All of these challenges, however, can be overcome.
Objections and Solutions to Automotive Data Sharing
The first argument that there is too much data has real merit. We talked about how airlines are flying more miles and more passengers these days, but they still cannot compare to cars. There are roughly 20,000 commercial and cargo airplanes in the world and there are over 1.2 billion cars – the staggering difference in data is overwhelming.
OEMs and technology companies are already working on how to best handle the massive volume of data that connected cars are now producing. Innovations like graph databases help make the performance similarities between vehicles clear and accessible. In other words, OEMs are already receiving and analyzing big data. They will just need to adapt to an increased volume of data.
Of course, this raises the question of how the data should be handled. Car companies and their technology partners have been reluctant to share proprietary information with competitors, and for good reason. A shared databank would require an entirely new business model. But this does not mean that auto executives will be forced to sit together in a room and spill company secrets to one another. As the NHTSA report makes sure to emphasize, “Generally, data shared with third parties should be de-identified (i.e., stripped of elements that make the data directly or reasonably linkable to a specific HAV owner or user). Manufacturers and other entities should take steps to ensure that data shared are in accordance with privacy and security agreements and notices applicable to the vehicle (which typically permit sharing of de-identified data) or with owner/user consent.”
So data would be handled in the same manner as the airline model (and indeed, automotive companies and airlines have started exchanging tips on how to handle shared data). However, the comparison still raises one key difference – not only does each OEM’s data constitute proprietary information, each car also contains enormous amounts of personal customer data.
This is why cybersecurity and data privacy are such vital issues. OEMs are not just protecting their own information. They are also protecting their buyers’ information. To continue to do so, cybersecurity techniques must be responsive enough to protect vehicles against hacks from all vulnerable points — including the transfer of data to a third party. Another window, after all, is another place to break in. But cybersecurity backed by over-the-air capabilities can address this problem, allowing OEMs to instantly respond to threats while earning drivers’ trust.
This kind of trust is extremely important when it comes to connected cars. As we have mentioned before, right now, only 32.7% of drivers are willing to put their personal information in the hands of auto manufacturers. However, this is not to say that drivers do not want to do so, eventually. 66.8% say that they would be willing to share information to improve vehicle quality. Luckily, that is exactly what a shared database would be for.
If the promise of connected cars is to be fulfilled, drivers have to trust OEMs with their personal data. They will do so if cars are safe. Making self-driving cars safe requires that same spirit of sharing. Pooling safety data is not about giving up control, it is about letting your cars have the most control possible. Sharing automotive data will help self-driving cars take flight.
As the auto industry is changed by technological and economic currents, OEMs and Tier-1 manufacturers will need to partner with technological specialists to thrive in the era of the software defined car. Movimento’s expertise is rooted in our background as an automotive company. This has allowed us to create the technological platform that underpins the future of the software driven and self-driven car. Connect with us today to learn more about how we can work together.