When Cars Connect

Our vehicles are destined to be a major part of the Internet of Things

A guest post by Marcello Tamietti, connected transport lead in the IoT practice at Accenture Mobility, part of Accenture Digital

The pace at which in-car technologies are changing has become so rapid that unless you’re the type of person who buys a new car every year, the current state-of-the-art will almost certainly surprise and amaze you.

Most of us are familiar with built-in GPS and sensors or cameras to assist you as you park. Some may also be aware that buttons attached to your key fob are gradually replacing keys to open doors and start the engine, or that pull-up hand brakes are giving way to buttons.

But that’s only the start of it. While cruise control was once considered the ultimate driver assistance technology, lane assist options can now aid drivers in busy traffic or poor visibility, while increasingly sophisticated sensors can let them know if anything’s getting too close. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), cars are even on the brink of ‘talking’ to the vehicles they share the road with, offering safer driving for everyone.

Other increasingly popular in-car technologies are less about what’s going on with the vehicle itself and more about providing an enhanced driving experience. The rise of ‘infotainment’ systems is well underway and Accenture Mobility, for example, has been working with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for some years on their UConnect LIVE™ system. This allows drivers not only to access up-to-date traffic and route data via an in-vehicle screen but also to link to their music or radio services via a smartphone, which also offers access to real-time vehicle diagnostic services.

Connectivity – at the heart of progress

Like many other new services and those still under development, services such UConnect LIVE™ require connectivity. At the moment, this mostly means linking cars to smartphones or tablets to use existing data plans but it has been predicted that by 2020, 98% of new cars sold will be IoT enabled. In the intervening period, expect to see cars with their own SIM cards, or embedded connectivity with the car manufacturer offering data bundles as an additional paid-for service.

Sensors will allow many new services to be offered. For example, mapping company Here was recently bought by a consortium of German vehicle manufacturers that includes Audi, BMW and Daimler, who announced that Here will combine data from sensors in vehicles to generate real-time information on current road conditions, traffic and accidents. This live view of traffic can be shared with other vehicles, helping nearby drivers to avoid traffic jams or even find a parking space.

The rise of these connected cars opens up a world of opportunity not only for traditional vehicle manufacturers but also for other companies whose products or services can even change the very notion of car ownership.

The future of ownership

In addition to offering greater usability to consumers, there are two compelling reasons why any company might consider implementing IoT technologies. One is that doing so could improve its own processes and operations by using the in-use data from connected devices to make better informed decisions and improve the products. The other is to drive innovation and growth by using the data to identity new revenue streams. Since developing a physical product such as a car is no longer where the money is, it’s this second kind of IoT activity that we’re starting to see make a profound difference to businesses.

In many cities around the world, we’re seeing car clubs allowing people to rent vehicles for a short amount of time. Cars are even on the brink of ‘talking’ to the vehicles they share the road with, offering safer driving for everyone, we’re also seeing many of these clubs run by car manufacturers themselves, who see ‘pay as you drive’ services as a new revenue stream with vast growth potential. Booked online or through mobile apps, for people who can’t afford their own car or who simply don’t need one all the time, this ability to share a vehicle not only makes economic sense to many users but also, if scaled up, would effectively widen city byways by reducing the number of cars permanently parked on the streets.

At Accenture Mobility, we created a proof of concept with Visa and Intel, built on Intel in-vehicle systems, that demonstrated what we believe will be the next stage of this trend. This concept showcases exciting new possibilities for personalised services such as ‘pay as you drive’ and even ‘pay how you drive’.

How would these work in the real world? Well, imagine if you were able to use your smartphone to hire a car that is also available to all your neighbours and is parked at the end of your street. You can ‘sign in’, again through your phone, or possibly using in-car biometrics such as a thumbprint reader, so that the car will automatically adjust its temperature settings, seat positioning and even the radio station to the selections you set the last time you used it.

Using data collected from previous journeys, the car would also know if you have an affiliation to a certain petrol vendor so that as your tank empties, it can guide you to the nearest location. Since your secure profile has been uploaded, the could even ‘call ahead’ to that station to pre-authorise payment and your car pool account might only get charged for the fuel used, rather than the usual inflexible ‘bring it back full’ arrangement. For company car users, this sort of technology could also simplify life by automatically separating personal journeys from business trips for tax or expenses purposes.

Disrupting the car market

Car manufacturers have always created alliances with associated industries such as tyre and sound system manufacturers. With the dawn of the IoT, it’s logical to assume that we’ll see a broad diversification of their ecosystems in order to offer people more personalised, digitally delivered services.

Manufacturers are already focused on providing after sales services to users, building on a relationship that previously may only have had one touchpoint each decade. These relationships may start to blur industry lines, making retail partnerships with roadside services for example, or collaborating with entertainment content providers.

We recently worked with manufacturer SEAT, to develop an app that connects a car to a smart home thermostat, connecting two previously separate elements of a person’s life. The app allows drivers heading home to remotely set their home temperature to match that of their car by the time they get home. “The MY SEAT app represents the next step to position ourselves in the connected vehicle ecosystem,” said Pablo Barrios, global head of digital marketing and CRM at SEAT. “With this new app, we will enable a permanent, customised and relevant dialogue with customers while bringing many benefits for both SEAT and the customers themselves.”

Within car insurance, we are already seeing the collection of valuable user journey data result in the provision of new and completely personalised services. Telematics boxes are helping to bring down insurance costs – particularly for new drivers – by tracking the way they drive. These boxes use sensors and gyroscopes to track driver behaviour and how consistent they are, what their average speed is and the measurement of numerous other metrics allows insurance companies to determine how ‘safe’ they are on the road and offer entirely personalised cover accordingly.

By bringing insurance providers into their ecosystem and integrating insurance monitoring to a vehicle that also has preregistered, secure payment capabilities, vehicle manufacturers can offer more than just ‘pay as you drive’ but actually, ‘pay per journey’ and even, ‘pay according to how you’ve driven today’.

The proof of concept we developed with Visa and Intel showed how integrated payment capabilities could make this personalised vehicle provision an entirely frictionless experience for the user, even extending to altering the performance of the vehicle itself in real time. Imagine if the route programmed into the navigation system includes such a steep hill that the car might benefit from a temporary burst of additional horsepower. The car might then ask the driver: ‘Want to add that power, just for today?’ and, with the touch of a button and an automated one-off payment, your vehicle’s power could increase using a software patch. Such a scenario is still a little way off but being able to have a deeply personalised driving experience is certainly closer than you might think.

AI – it’s not just about robots

What if your car could do more than just play your favourite music and adjust your seat to the comfiest position? What if it could use every journey to learn your routes and give you traffic updates, or automatically defrost the windscreen five minutes before you leave in the morning?

Over the next few years, we will see machine learning, an element of AI, start to find its way into our vehicles. Cars will offer ‘zero touch’ navigation, proactively offering the quickest, safest route each morning based on real-time traffic and driving conditions as well as your previous behaviour.

Cars will also be able to interact with other systems and sensors as part of the IoT, so could be aware of freezing temperatures or spots of black ice a few miles down the road, or that you prefer to get into a hot car before continuing your journey in a cool one. Such responsive, adaptive climate control could mean that you never have to take your eye off the road to fiddle with controls again, since everything will be automated and tailored to you.

Arguably the most outlandish next progression of the driving experience due to connected vehicles will be the ability of cars to change the way they drive, based on machine learning. So, for example, a car may be able to learn an individual’s driving style along a specific stretch of road, automatically adapting the suspension according to road surface, weather conditions and driver behaviour. Since this kind of service will be a real differentiator for manufacturers, each one will seek to provide the most personalised experience they can.

Marcello Tamietti is connected transport lead in the IoT practice at Accenture Mobility, part of Accenture Digital