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In the fast lane: how autonomous vehicles are accelerating the development cycle

2016 was a landmark year for autonomous vehicle development, with Ford unveiling plans to start testing driverless vehicles on UK and European roads and Nissan revealing it will roll out internet-connected cars this year.  Connected cars also took central stage at the recent CES show in Las Vegas earlier this month, with Microsoft launching its latest Connected Vehicle Platform which will allow automakers to build the company's productivity tools into cars, including Cortana, Office 365, and Skype for Business, the autonomous vehicle concepts have moved up a gear.  

Everything is changing 

Self-driving vehicles are far more than a vision for the future – we have already seen significant progression in realising the connected car.  Indeed, recent research from Navigant Projects suggests that by 2025, 56 per cent of new vehicles sold globally will have mobile connectivity built-in to them.  This means the current research and development around greater connectivity is going to have a very real impact on the entire automotive sector – from production processes to customer relationships. And it’s going to happen sooner than many people think.

This is because the greater connectivity we give vehicles; the higher consumers’ expectations will rise. Today, someone with a two-year-old car might accept the limitations of the two-year-old sat nav system within it, and use their phone to navigate instead. But pretty soon they are going to want the real-time information that they can receive through their mobile to be delivered through their vehicle, so they can plan a journey based on actual traffic conditions, rather than selecting a generic fastest route option currently available. 

And it’s not just in-vehicle technology expectations that will change. As more and more connected objects reach mainstream awareness, consumers will expect their cars to integrate with their digital devices in other ways.  They will now expect their vehicles to connect in the same way that their other devices connect, such as heating, through a mobile phone app. As a result, we’ll start to see apps that allow drivers to remotely de-ice their car ten minutes before they leave the house, or send an automatic alert that triggers roadside assistance if the car is malfunctioning, rather than them having to call for support.  

As the car, the home and work place are where most people spend the majority of their time, greater connectivity will merge these worlds even more.  

The boundaries between these three areas will blur further, so that you can control your home via a smartphone from your car, and your car from your home seamlessly.  This type of connectivity will also enable users to store information and preferences, which are available around the clock – regardless of whether you're in your car or at your home or at your office.

The ripple effect 

The possibilities for greater automotive connectivity are exciting, but they will place new pressures on the industry. Not only are manufacturers and suppliers going to have to invest in R&D to discover new ways to autonomise vehicles, and bring that technology to market; they will need to contend with the software updates and upgrades needed to sustain this new functionality. 

As customer requirements and expectations obsess less about the chassis and more about the connected experiences and solutions they offer, purchasers will expect the vehicles they buy to keep pace with the other digital devices they use. And this means that they expect the speed of software updates to be more regular in order to provide the latest functionality.  

Therefore, automotive companies must ensure their autonomy digital strategy is underpinned by agile software, which can easily and rapidly deploy new functions to keep surprising, delighting and improving the lives of their customers.  This fluid approach to digital transformation means automotive companies can be more reactive to consumer demands and expectations, affording them the opportunity to constantly refine the digital experience and better plan for the next iteration of software updates.

Security will need to get tighter

The actual updating itself is relatively straightforward, as it can be done over the air and through the cloud. However, this comes with its own set of challenges, principally security. If a manufacturer or supplier can access a vehicle remotely, what’s stopping someone else from hacking the system? 

Security of autonomous vehicles is a major discussion point at present, and one of the biggest threats that society will face as transportation transforms is vehicle cybersecurity. Because various electrical components in a car are connected via an internal network, the worry is that autohackers may be able to gain access to these through an unsecured link, such as a car’s Bluetooth or infotainment system, and from there take control of safety critical functions such as the steering, brakes or engine.  

However, while this will impact the R&D of automotive businesses, more immediately, the challenge facing the automotive industry for now is ensuring companies can accelerate their development cycle to meet the ever-increasing demands of the consumer. 

Big data will become a bigger thing 

Unlike other industries, such as retail, banking and travel, where companies have frequent digital touchpoints with the consumer, until recently, automakers and car brands have had limited access to customer data, meaning they had little interaction or customer encounters once a car had left the showroom or forecourt.

The connected car changes all that, giving automotive businesses access to richer customer and behavioural data, enabling them to improve products and services, develop new offerings, upsell new services and features as well as marketing to their customers more effectively. 

The ‘high-frequency feedback’ from drivers and passengers that the connected car can provide will be able to generate key insights.  These could be information around customers’ driving patterns – such as regular routes taken (on a commute to work, for instance) or the times of day a consumer is most likely to make a trip – as well as car maintenance updates, such as using digital services to report on vehicle condition in real time or pre-empting when a service might be required or a part replacing before it gets damaged.

Josie Byrne, Account Director, Black Pepper Software
Image source: Shutterstock/LifetimeStock