As Cars Evolve into Services Platforms…
With automobile manufacturers seeking to overhaul their business models (e.g., GM offering OnStar as a separate product) and new offerings such as telematics, the traditional electronic control units’ functions are being externalized and integrated in ways never imagined.
The traditional ‘car’ or consumer vehicle is retracing the path that software on mainframes did about three decades ago. As the ‘software’ (i.e., consumer UX, cellular connectivity, integration with service providers) becomes decoupled from the hardware (i.e., the core ECU, engine, transmission, mechanical components), some key points come to mind:
- API Design: Those who have been working in the embedded software space know this all too well. API design is perhaps the most difficult job there is in software engineering. Often enough, it is forgotten that the half-life for such software is measured in decades, and the design decisions of today will impact the evolution of the platform. In essence, extensibility and flexibility have to accommodate potential features that are unknown at the time of design. It is rarely done right the first time, and some are quicker learners than others.
- Security: Yes, security is a big topic these days. With everyone, from individuals, malicious groups, companies and nations being concerned about information security on the Internet. But what if someone can break into your car through the cellular / internet connection and steal it. What, a hacker commit grand theft auto? Yes, and it has been demonstrated by academics how easy it is to do. So can you expect your insurance premiums on say a new 2014 (it not sooner) car to go up due to a higher likelihood of theft?
- Privacy: So it is one thing to consent to your mileage and driving pattern being noted for telematics. And it is quite another for the information to be subpoenaed in a civil suit (e.g., marital divorce). In addition, there is the concern that the authorities would have access to that information, without necessarily requiring a specific subpoena, if the courts interpret the data stream transmission as any cellular stream. Though the jury is out on this one due to lack of case history, some of these concerns will arise once public understanding increases. Are manufacturers going to provide a physical option to disable geo-positioning, say as a physical switch? Very Likely.
- Degree of Platform Openness: In reality, not all the features and capabilities would be exposed in this model. Leveraging the analogy of the browser wars (IE versus Netscape), would the manufacturer favor a strategic partner (e.g., Ford’s alliance with Microsoft for Sync) and expose a minimal set of features via APIs? Or conversely, provide a tiered model, where some partners would have to pay a premium to access some functions (e.g., repair shops requesting real-time remote diagnostic information to predict remaining service life of a key component)? Vehicle manufacturers have to think hard about this one - the default answer of preserving the current status quo of their vendor ecosystem is perhaps not the most optimal one.
- Richness of Data Exchange: As more and more services leverage the data stream in a more real-time fashion, the architectural ramifications of the end to end solution are great! In essence, who will own the new ‘data foundries’ in the value chain? Is there an opportunity for someone to collect the data and sell key insights to other parties? If so, are the vehicle manufacturers the one that best positioned? the platform developers?
In essence, if an open platform for vehicles were to materialize, there are tremendous opportunities for the current players in the value chain, as well as for new entrants to emerge by providing services that would have been a dream just a few years ago.
The evolution of transportation as we know it has just begun….