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Predictions of a connected car crash

As featured in DisruptiveViews

There is no doubt that the concept of a connected car is a good one. Everyone, from operators, e-commerce providers and social media sites would love the opportunity to engage with customers in that ‘dead space’ between home and work. As long as connected (or autonomous as we must now call them) cars are suddenly everywhere, we will be fine. There is a very good TED presentation on Google’s leading edge project.

But.

So far, the only connected car crashed (apart from the total wreck that Volkswagen has created) have been caused by mere humans rear-ending the far superior autonomous versions.

But there is proper pile up beginning to happen. It will involve the car industry, as we see it today, going up against Silicon Valley, where we know that Apple, Google and others are working on autonomous vehicles. There are also the pundits, regulators and other innovators who will shout encouragement or try and trip people up, from their safe place on the sidelines.

There are several knotty issues here.

First, there is already disagreement about the approach to the introduction of the fully autonomous car. Safety people and established car makers are lobbying for a gradual approach. They argue that a ‘big bang’ approach will be too much of a change. There are also (quite possibly hyped) issues around how long it takes for a mere human to take control of the vehicle if needed. It would, of course, be ideal if humans did not have to take control, but established (human) safety standards will probably dictate that this needs to happen. This also puts a bit of a dampener on the theory that the real advantage of a connected, sorry, autonomous car, is that you can drink and drive.

Going deeper, there is fear and loathing in Detroit. This fear about being beaten to the punch by the cooler car-makers in Silicon Valley prompted CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra to declare that “our goal is to disrupt ourselves, and own the customer relationship beyond the car.” Good luck with that, Mary. She also said that their advantage is that, while Google and Apple fight for their displays on the dashboard, she “owns the platform [the car].”

This might sound like fighting talk, but, frankly, it smells of the previously mentioned fear. She might think of a car as a platform, but you can bet your connected boots that Apple and Google look at a car as a piece of hardware, with cool branding potential.

There are other factors, of course. We have not even mentioned Tesla, busy disrupting the established market, and teaching Silicon Valley along the way. The company recently ‘recalled’ several thousand cars remotely, via a software patch. We have also not ventured into the complex issues of security. It has been proved several times that connected cars can be hacked in a variety of ways. We have also left the privacy issues to one side (we’ll get to them). As one speaker said at a recent conference, “in the Internet of Things, the things are the boring bit. The exciting bit is the data.’ And he went on to talk about privacy, data ownership, insurance and a raft of other, connected issues.

So, to sum up the main issues in the impending car crash in the auto arena:

  • Apple and Google look at a car as box waiting for their ingenuity.
  • Car-makers look at Apple and Google (and Tesla) with awe, and fear. They will spend millions lobbying regulators to take a slow, step by step approach.
  • The regulator looks at autonomous cars with suspicion, because there is no precedent.
  • Safety experts also look at the fast moving arena with relatively untrained eyes. They, though, must be fairly convinced by Google’s million of miles of driving completed, and only a handful of fender benders to report.
  • Everyone wants the data.
  • No-one wants to talk about the inherently hackable thing we are creating.

Oh, and observers, consultants, conference organisers, analysts and journalists look at the arena with glee. It will keep us busy for years.