The Connected Car: why can’t the automakers deliver the experience people expect?
Let’s start by talking about expectations.
We’ve all grown up watching car commercials boasting about everything from more horsepower, higher gas mileage, a better sound system to deeper discounts, “just like we pay.” And there was a time when these were exactly what people wanted. But our relationships with our cars are changing and the automakers are now fighting to win the hearts of a growing audience of digital natives known as the Millennials. A generation accustomed to a cycle of improvement in products and technology that moves at the pace of software and costs less with every new release. So how can the world’s most successful steel benders deliver an experience that you can’t even touch?
As new car buyer demographics shift, what people want is changing as well. And we have Apple and Google to blame for it.
The modern car is an incredibly complex machine, producing on average more than 20 gigabytes of data every hour from hundreds of sensors and millions of lines of code. Data about road conditions, engine performance, and even storing vital crash information. Yet, all this information is locked away on a network that is completely severed from the Internet at large.
And that’s all about to change.
In the last seven years everything has changed. The first iPhone was released, signaling the end of the flip phone and marking the beginning of the always-on digital experience. In developed countries smartphone adoption has achieved near-ubiquity, thanks to carrier-driven subsidies and the lowest device manufacturing costs in history.
A perfect storm for a new wave of smart devices has taken shape giving rise to the Internet of Things (IoT); leveraging trends in open platforms, app marketplaces, big data, gamification, social networking and geo-location based experiences. In the world of connectivity however, what is still left to be connected?
What is a connected car really?
For many people, cars are our safe, little, personal space away from home. On average people will own 12 of them in their lifetime, making it possibly the most emotional purchase after buying a home. But the nostalgia of driving freely down a wide open road is gone with the Chevy Bel Air of the 50’s.
Today’s driving experience is more like the rat race of creeping along the freeway. It’s an isolating experience that includes looping around city blocks endlessly trying to find parking and getting gouged by the mechanic during required service visits. It’s separated by a world of haves and have nots, and with service visits, most drivers are have nots when it comes to knowing what’s really going on under the hood. A hard line is drawn at the access to all that data that the mechanic has with a device called a diagnostic scan tool.
In the early 1980’s cars started to become computerized. An automotive standard was created called OnBoard Diagnostics, or OBD which led to the standardization of 20,000 car computer codes called Parameter ID’s (PID) and Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC). The code base grew to include ignition on events, O2 sensor information, bumper sensors, odometer reading, intake manifold pressure, RPM, elevation, windshield wiper speed and a whole lot more.
Around the same time, the California Air Resources Board started mandating cleaner burning cars. A new standard was formed and legislated federally called OBD II, requiring OBD data to be standardized and open, primarily intended for emissions testing. By 1996 all the cars sold into the United States had to comply. This created a code base of engine and vehicle performance codes and sensor information that grew as automakers started to introduce traction control, anti-lock brakes, airbags, drive-by-wire, motorized seat positioning, automatic door locks, and hundreds of networked sensors needed to run these complex systems.
Yet despite all this intelligence built into cars, almost none of it has been made available to the driver, leaving people to still wonder what the engine light means on the dashboard, and subsequently ignore it (and often put black tape over it) for lack of information provided.
As the 21st century came into being, digital entertainment took a front seat. Carmakers brought in satellite radio, turn by turn directions at the push of a big blue button and smartphone integration. The industry at large calls these services a connected car, but most Millennials would disagree. When today’s smartphone with 60 sensors, GPS and 3G can do a better job than 50 leading technology products from the last three decades, what could an Internet-enabled car computer built in 2001 with 150 sensors do? What about a 2010 car with 400 sensors?
Size of the market
The fact is, fewer than 2 million cars of the 350 million driven in the US today have some form of Internet connection. While it has been estimated that around 160 million cars in the US have an OBD port, these cars will remain unconnected from the Internet for the rest of their useful life, now averaging over 17 years before they are retired. With the average car age at 7 years old today, we’re looking at at least another decade for the base of the national fleet of consumer cars. And the number of unconnected cars will grow to well over 200 million by 2020 in the US alone, even despite best efforts by the carmakers to introduce their own proprietary solutions like Ford Sync, Mercedes Embrace and others.
Why an open platform: 8 million use cases
The problem with the automaker’s attempts to address the demand for in-car connectivity are many: 5-7 year development cycles, decades of fierce competition, corporate inertia stemming from legal departments that run numbers to minimize lawsuits and recalls, and so on.
But in spite of all these things, it really boils down to this: car companies think like car companies who are focused on selling cars, not software companies who focus on creating experiences.
Great product experiences are made up of dozens of tiny nuances iterated countless times until they can be fully realized by masses of end users, and this just isn’t possible when it comes to building cars. Once the steel is bent, it doesn’t go back. Software on the other hand, can be updated on an infinite number of devices every month, every day, every minute until the user experience is perfected. And how could the automaker know what experience to focus on? Should a connected car app be built that allows drivers to track their teenage son driving their car on weekends? Automate their mileage reporting? Report on their driving behavior? What use case will satisfy the modern driver’s needs for connected driving? There are at least as many connected car applications to be invented as there are app developers out there, and this is why a solution that can be easily installed in nearly any car and is capable of supporting any use case is needed; indeed, is precisely what consumers expect.
The world is changing. And for those not keeping up, it can look like a strange, scary place. The sharing economy has emerged. People are growing accustomed to exchanging their data for discounts on car insurance, renting a stranger’s house or car, and being able to choose from a selection of the world’s best route navigation applications for free. All in a smartphone-based online marketplace where open innovation reigns supreme and the development cycle is measured in days instead of years. For carmakers whose every design is dictated by a 200-page Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards guide, this is scary indeed.
On average, Americans own 1.35 sim-card enabled smart mobile devices. Yet the car, arguably the smartest and most mobile device and by far the most valuable, is still unable to take advantage of the endless amount of information available on the web, nor make its vast information available to the broader ecosystem of smartphones, watches, computers and surrounding automotive service providers such as parking payment companies, insurance companies, roadside assistance providers, leasing companies, retailers and so on. While the automakers can see the obviousness of mirroring the success of the smartphone by building dashboard-embedded applications or even opening up their platforms to the app developer community, they simply can’t address the tens of millions of drivers who aren’t in the market for a new car now or in the next five years. What’s more, they can’t offer the seamless experience of personalizing your connected driving experience with apps that are unique to your car ownership needs and bringing those apps with you as you move in and out of different makes and models that modern families share.
Now, the convergence of high-speed, low-cost wireless networks, the saturation of smartphones and the consumer expectation for open app marketplaces is readying the market for a device-based solution for the connected car. Mojio’s 3G+GPS cellular OnBoard Diagnostic (OBD) device and open developer platform is analogous to docking a high-power smartphone right into a car’s OnBoard computer, giving the car the entirety of the Internet, with an open API so developers can start writing apps that allow cars to talk to apps on the owner’s smartphone. It’s basically like jailbreaking your car.
And while every driver has several connected car needs, from usage-based insurance, to preemptive roadside assistance, to disabling smartphone texting while driving, there’s only one OBD port in every car, effectively defining the market as one that necessitates an open platform.
Why this really matters
With the very real possibility of being able to connect nearly every car on the road today, the vision for the connected car can finally become a reality in a time frame that’s achievable and will cause a fundamental shift in the quality of life for society. Countless lives, hours and emissions will be saved by applications like pre-crash 911 calls, apps that gamify safe driving and simultaneously improve fuel consumption across millions of cars, adaptive cruise control for older cars and new cars alike, and so on. Car-aware applications are being built by companies we never would have guessed would ever be in the connected car space. Apps that ‘know’ when an accident is going to occur based on the series of traction control and ABS events happening in cars moments ahead, apps that generate a driver stress index on the weather channel and suggest routes with less road rage, and even apps that let drivers talk to their cars over social messaging services will be the norm. Businesses and people alike are starting to take advantage of Mojio’s open platform for car-smart applications, blurring the line between the traditional enterprise and consumer market view. This phenomenon is important to understand as the Internet of Things emerges, which promises to deliver small gains in resource efficiency across every light bulb, every joule lost on a chip, every gallon of fuel that’s burned, and every mile driven on a set of tires. For an intensely resource-constrained future, businesses seek solutions that allow for the consumerization of Information Technology, in order to drive mass market appeal and reduce consumption overall. This is especially important for the connected car market to succeed, where 20% of US GDP is driven by all the automotive verticals dependent on the automotive industry as a whole.
Changing behaviour via smart devices
What’s especially interesting to note is that in this bold new future, even Silicon Valley’s mantra that one must never build software that intends to change behaviour even though “software is eating the world” (Marc Andreessen, 2011), there’s a new context that’s emerging, where sensor-based devices are very quickly redefining people’s experiences.
In a three month, 1000-person trial in the Summer of 2013, Mojio ran a safe driving campaign to see whether increasing driver behaviour awareness could help people drive better and save money on gas. After establishing a driver behaviour baseline with each participant, tips were sent in a simple email each week on how their own individual behaviour could improve, thereby improving fuel efficiency.
On average, the 1000-person group saved 15% on their monthly fuel bill in the 2nd and 3rd month in the program, with peaks as high as 35% in fuel savings. For the average driver, this amounted to $50-$60 on their monthly gas bill. Having analyzed the results, we saw that it was an increase in one’s awareness in an area where there was previously very little, and had not previously been able to understand where one stood relative to the whole.
In other words, it was personal, meaningful and relevant. And that caused a behavioural shift that had value. The same has been seen with fitness wearables and will likely be seen massively across mobile personal healthcare.
Timing is everything
But we can’t discuss connecting cars without talking about distracted driving. Today it is widely understood that cell phone use while driving is the a leading cause of car accidents. So how can a multi-application platform for connected cars even be proposed? There are a few key items here to consider:
1. Drivers are already using between 1 and 5 applications while driving. Apps for navigation, music control, parking finders and messaging to name a few. And it is distracting to find an app while driving let alone to use the app, where inputs are made by flicking, tapping and clicking and require substantial attention to do so.
2. There are four contexts for the connected driver, wherein each context drivers are left with any series of unanswered ambient questions:
Before driving: Does my car have enough gas after my son/daughter drove it last night? Where am I going exactly? What route should I take to get there? Is my car in good running order?
While driving: What’s the safest/fastest/easiest route? Where will I quickly find parking? I’m running late, is my contact aware of my ETA? How is my driving and what is it actually costing me?
After driving: How much did that trip cost? How far did I drive? Should I expense this trip?
When not driving: Is my son/daughter/grandma driving safely? Where is my spouse? Is this a safe time to text him/her? What route did I take to X destination and how can I get back there?
And these are all assuming the trip runs smoothly with no accidents, getting stuck in traffic for hours, parking or towing problems and the like.
A solution is needed that can address these questions for motorists and deliver a marketplace of geo-spatial applications that is wirelessly connected to the cars and service providers they trust; is compatible with all the makes and models on the road for the next 10-15 years; and will become the embedded platform as new cars are sold to replace the aging national fleet.
Whether for the connected car space, fitness wearables or any other Internet of Things environment, tomorrow’s applications must take advantage of available data across the Internet at large, to become contextually aware of the user’s needs and surroundings in real-time and deliver timely, relevant and intuitive answers to user’s problems without any user involvement at all. This is the future for connecting cars that provides the right information at the right time, without distracting drivers from the priority task at hand.
It’s our belief that this contextual awareness will be driven by complex layers of information that will enable the next generation of autonomous cars to become smart enough to help drivers in ways that can scarcely be imagined today but which integrate cars into our lives in such an intuitive and seamless way that maybe, just maybe, we can recapture a little bit of that freedom and peace of mind those car commercials have always promised.
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