Self driving cars are no more science fiction material. We are already witnessing pioneering efforts from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Google who are testing their self driving vehicles on real roads and in real traffic conditions. These cars are dominated by software, mapping features, connectivity, applications, wireless network interfaces, optical sensors and cameras, GPS receivers and hardware.  Industry estimates suggest that each of these self driving vehicles can generate upto 2 petabytes of data per year. While a portion of this data is  only helpful to the automobile to control itself, a large part of it can in fact benefit an ecosystem of data consumers that extends far beyond the Automotive OEMs and its suppliers. Some applications of the data (not restricted to the below list) can include:

  • Automotive OEMs can start to gain insights into real-time vehicle usage and performance after the vehicle has hit the road. This can help them make design decisions thus reducing their product design time, cost of recalls and warranty.
  • Automotive dealers, service centers will begin to get real-time visibility of vehicle failures; thus enabling  them to stock up necessary parts, shortening service lead times.
  • The data transfer needs of these cars can significantly benefit mobile service providers. The data collected from these cars can help  providers in constantly evolving their business model and service offerings to suit  consumer needs.
  • Governments and legislators can use the data to analyze road use patterns, improvise road safety and plan maintenance and improvements
  • The self driving cars can drastically change the business model for insurance companies as the driver is no longer liable for any accidents. The data collected about the vehicles can drive their business model.
  • E-commerce providers could use the data to provide smart and relevant in-vehicle entertainment and ecommerce options to consumers.
  • The business model of car share companies can change as individual consumers start to use these cars for day to day commutes without having to invest in buying a car. The data can also help them to control the cars & route them better.

The  infrastructure necessary to collect, aggregate and process the data generated by these machines will be massive. The data definitions can go way beyond what we call  big data today and I would like to call this the ‘bigger data’.  Also important is the security  needed to handle this data to ensure privacy of individuals are not compromised and  data is not misused.
Given the diversity of the industry players requiring the data, security requirements, cost involved in collecting, maintaining and distributing data, the automotive OEMs may be better off relinquishing the task of data collection, aggregation and distribution to the authorized industry neutral data brokers. However, it remains to be seen how the business model for the data industry arising from self driving cars will evolve.