Driverless cars have hit Britain’s roads. The BAE Wildcat, a modified military jeep developed by the aerospace company, has been seen out and about in Bristol, while autonomous Lutz pods have been driving around public areas in Milton Keynes and Coventry.
By 2030, autonomous vehicles are expected to reach a level of safety and sophistication that will allow drivers to become engaged passengers, paving the way for more connected in-car entertainment and information systems that don’t require drivers to keep both eyes on the road.
But with these connected cars come swathes of new data. And not even the sanctuary of our own vehicle will protect us from brands asking for far more of our personal information.
The success of the “smart” connected car is dependent on people parking their data privacy concerns and signing up to sharing information about themselves, their journey, the car’s performance and their fellow passengers. In return, car owners will receive enhanced in-car connectivity and a more personal vehicle experience.
Currently, it’s only the vehicle manufacturer who has access to some of our behavioural information. But in the future, it’ll be our insurance company, plus Apple, Google or whoever owns the in-car entertainment system. Then there are all the marketers who will want to use our data to send in-car ads based on our location, preferred choice of in-car music, or just because we once diverted from our normal route to order food at a McDonald’s drive-thru.
Already, two-thirds of today’s new cars have sensors and communication systems that send and receive data, offering huge potential for carmakers to find out how drivers use their vehicles. Imagine a future in which you drive home from work and, as you pull into the driveway, your car begins to sync with the manufacturer’s app on your phone, watch or computer. By the time you’ve got your key in the frontdoor, reams of data regarding vehicle diagnostics, mileage, geo location and in-car entertainment behaviour has downloaded for you to use to keep your car in tip-top condition. Is this not a fair trade in exchange for waiving our data privacy rights?
Developments in enhanced car connectivity are already gathering pace. Earlier this year, Hyundai launched a smartwatch that can start or unlock a Genesis luxury sedan and BMW launched Remote Valet Parking Assistant technology, which allows the driver to issue a self-parking commandment through their smartwatch once they’ve left the vehicle.
Wearable technology will soon be able to track if passengers are tired or hungry, while GPS applications will send in-car video and messaging to the dashboard, recommending the nearest outlet of our favourite coffee shop. Would you exchange this information for letting advertisers know where you and your car are located?
When it comes to the availability of sensitive personal data, the automotive revolution will need to drive carefully. But just as we’ve become used to sharing information through social networks, in exchange for entertainment and greater connectivity, I’m convinced that it won’t be too long before we accept the need for an email or social media account to login to a car’s dashboard or entertainment console. After all, the value we’re likely to receive in return will transform the driving experience.