While the German transport ministry as well as mobile operators are driving network expansion, many companies are still reluctant to develop Big Data strategies – even though they are aware of its potential.
In German boardrooms Big Data is creating a paradoxical situation: While most senior managers recognize the potential that comes with access to growing amounts of data, only a small minority are actually using it: According to a study by Porsche subsidiary MHP , by the fall of 2014 only six percent of respondents had so far introduced appropriate concepts in their respective companies, although 58 percent felt that analyzing Big Data gave them an opportunity to better understand their customers and communicate more effectively.
Big Data could mean big changes for automotive manufacturers in particular. Until now direct customer contact had been the domain of dealers and importers – usually independent enterprises: They collected feedback and customer data. In the future car manufacturers themselves should have a better opportunity to get their hands on customer and vehicle data. "As a result this should lead to optimized products and after-sales service as well as personalized online services. The customer is individually targeted and served," predict the management consultants at Bain & Company.
But tailored products to meet customer requirements are just one way automotive manufacturers can capitalize on Big Data. Already, car makers like BMW are using mobile data transmission to deliver specific premium services – including providing personal information. For instance, a driver can speak to a call center to find the location of a cash dispenser on his or her way to a business dinner. The call center then does a search and enters the coordinates directly into the onboard navigation system.
In the future car manufacturers will offer an increasing number of services. One possible scenario could consist of the car automatically scheduling a workshop inspection after detecting a mechanical problem. Or the onboard computer could compare gas prices in the area and calculate the route to the cheapest gas station.
Linking up with wearables is also an option. For instance, from a remote location using Samsung Gear, BMW has demonstrated how easy it is to lock the car, adjust the air conditioning or simply find the car's current whereabouts.
In order to use the kinds of services described above, cars must be able to send and receive large amounts of data. For this they need the appropriate transmission modules, which hitherto were usually only part of extra and expensive multimedia systems. This will change at the latest by 2018. The EU plans to make the installation of eCall equipment to all new cars mandatory. eCall is an automatic alarm system, which in the event of an accident transmits location data to an emergency hotline. This means that certain types of communication modules will be standard in future.
The ability to transfer large amounts of data also requires the expansion of data networks. A first step is the release of the 700-MHz frequency band for mobile telecommunication to guarantee faster and nationwide data transmission. "The auction of the 700-megahertz frequency spectrum will happen soon," announced German Minister for Transport Alexander Dobrindt recently in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
However, the current transmission bandwidths are not adequate for certain critical applications. This applies above all to safety-related features, such as automated driving maneuvers. It is possible to envisage the following highly automated traffic scenario: A truck on the highway slams on the brakes, sends a signal to all nearby vehicles, which automatically react, either taking evasive action or slowing down. For this to work there can be no delay in the system. According to a strategy paper by Working Group 8 of the German national IT Summit, "Low latency times of less than one millisecond are a prerequisite for automatic cooperative vehicle maneuvers." The document continues, "The introduction of 5G mobile data technology means latency of less than one millisecond is a technical reality and this in turn makes tactile Internet applications feasible in mobility systems." It will probably still take a while before 5G access is widely available across the Germany. While Chinese company Huawei is already testing an inner urban 5G network in Munich, experts do not expect the new transmission standard to be rolled out before 2020.
Dobrindt announced that the first self-driving car project will hit the road this year: "We will set up a test track and launch the Digital Autobahn Test Zone as a pilot project on the A9 autobahn," he stated. "Digital technology will be installed on the test track to enable digital communication between the road and the vehicle as well as vehicle-to-vehicle." But the day when self-driving cars can freely drive around the whole of Germany is still a few years off. According to Stefan Lüke , who heads self-driving concepts at automotive supplier Continental, autonomous vehicles will be roadworthy by 2020 at the earliest. This leaves plenty of time for car makers to drive the merging of IT and cars in all other relevant areas.
But the Big Data euphoria is not shared by all companies. There are still a range of technical challenges that need to be resolved, especially when it comes to security against intruders hacking into vehicle IT systems. There are also questions about liability in the case of accidents. Moreover, the announcement by Apple that if might also build a self-driving car has created waves. After all, a start-up from Silicon Valley has already shaken the established automotive industry – Tesla. What is more, this U.S. electric car pioneer will be showcasing its offering at this year's CeBIT (Hall 12).