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5 Ways Big Data Can Improve Your Car

Cloud-connected autos can offer a safer, more enjoyable ride.

With all the talk about the benefits of big data at work and at home, it's easy to overlook the one area where most of us -- well, most Americans, at least -- spend far too much time: our cars. The connected auto is quickly moving from concept to reality, one that promises safer roads and other nifty benefits, provided we're willing to sacrifice a bit more personal info.

But what steps should automakers take to bring this data-driven paradise to their vehicle fleets? According to Dave Ferrick, CEO of Agero, a Medford, Mass.-based provider of connected vehicle services, the trick is to offer enhancements that appeal to both drivers and passengers, but without sacrificing vehicle safety and user privacy.

"What we've been doing in the last couple of years is to look at the services we provide our customers, all the data we collect, and then (determine) how to change the experience within the vehicle," Ferrick told InformationWeek in a phone interview.

Here are his five suggestions for bringing autos into the big data age.

Step 1: More cloud. Today's cars have limited cloud connectivity, but more is better. Take GPS navigation systems. With most in-dash units, you need to drive to the dealer to download map updates. Wi-Fi or cellular-enabled vehicles can simplify that process.

[ Want to know how airlines, hotels and similar companies are using big data? See Big Data Analysis Drives Revolution In Travel. ]

"You can actively do it through an embedded cell modem in the vehicle, or when you pass a hotspot or park your vehicle at night," said Ferrick.

If you're willing to divulge information about your driving habits, such as where you do most of your car trips, GPS updates could be tailored specifically for you.

"I don't need the map for the entire country," Ferrick added. "Really, I'm going to be driving within a 50-mile radius, and I would like the most updated maps for that 50-mile radius."

Step 2: Cars need a better human machine interface (HMI). Gauges, dials, touchscreens, even voice recognition: These input devices are all part of today's auto HMI. Drivers are easily distracted by too much visual data, however, and human-auto interaction is very much a work in progress.

Information must be "displayed in a condensed fashion that can be digested quickly," allowing drivers to "move on to the next act without a ton of movement with (their) hands and eyes," said Ferrick.

"What we've been doing in the last few years is heavily leverage voice to put commands to the vehicle," he added.

Step 3: Use the cloud to digitize business processes, such as vehicle maintenance checks. On-board diagnostic sensors determine when something in your vehicle isn't quite right. Cloud-enabled sensors could help expedite auto repairs.

For instance, a diagnostic light goes on in your car, so you drive to the dealer, who's been informed that you're on the way and is expecting you. "They run the test. They say the vehicle is fine, reset the check engine light, and you're on your way," said Ferrick.

Or they offer you weak coffee and stale donuts and make you wait. Still, the potential for better service is there.

Step 4: A cloud-connected infotainment system that personalizes your settings and automatically downloads content.

"If I want to change my Internet radio subscription from MOG to Pandora, how do I do that responsibly in the car?" Ferrick asked rhetorically. Here's one way: You make the switch on your home PC; your connected auto detects the switch and, when you enter the vehicle, it asks if you'd like to switch to Pandora in your car, too.

Step 5: Deliver information based on driver behavior, including information to help you navigate the last mile of your trip.

"Now that I'm at the mall, tell me how to get that last little piece: where the store is inside the mall," said Ferrick. "With big data inside a vehicle, you have a lot of companies trying to get customers with coupons and deliver advertising relevant to their lifestyle."

OK, but what about privacy? Are we willing to exchange even more personal data, including driving habits, for new services?

Ferrick believes a user's "Bill of Rights" would help avert consumer wrath that often results from privacy surprises.

"It says, 'I agree to give up this data for this value, and it'll only be used in this fashion,'" he said. "And the more comfortable you can get the customer with that, the more you can walk them down the line."

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