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The Connected Future

What challenges will the connected car revolution face?

Telematics appeared on the consumer vehicle market at the turn of the century, fifteen years ago. Since then, it has vastly revolutionised the insurance industry and related motor vehicle markets.

Insurance telematics exploits digital sensors and ICT technology to provide users with custom-tailored insurance policies, based on the “pay as you drive” model, but even more importantly it delivers a vast series of added-value features ranging from emergency alerts in case of accidents to vehicle geo-location in case of theft and from real-time traffic alerts to a wide range of infotainment services.

Telematics has been paving the road towards the connected car revolution, a scenario in the near future in which cars will receive and share information – both amongst vehicles and with local, regional and national hubs – to increase safety and comfort and decrease traffic congestion and driving times.

However, the concept of “sharing information” is the point at which every on-going ICT revolution reaches a road full of bumps, bends and potholes. This is the first and foremost worry of many drivers. What happens to my information? Who sees it? Will I be tagged in it? The answer is that all monitored and collected telematics data is treated with extreme care and is largely anonymous. Nonetheless, the perceived need for privacy is just one of the many issues that the connected car revolution must face, quickly and efficiently, but there are various others.

Currently, the connected car revolution is journeying along a hybrid universe in which many services come either as smartphone apps on or are directly integrated in vehicle telematics systems. The question, though, is how automated are they? Are they independent? Are they voice-controlled? Are too many apps a source of distraction? Clearly, the objective is to develop integrated software bundles that are fully automatized, require minimal attention and are extremely user-friendly and intuitive, and preferably voice-controlled. After all, one of the final aims of the connected car revolution is to end the hazards posed by human distraction.

A challenge of a different nature concerns the time-to-market of connected car innovation. We all know how rapidly technology progresses. Currently, six months are sufficient for any technological system to be significantly improved. Considering that the typical life cycle of a car is about 5 years, will connected cars become obsolete after 2-3 years? The answer is no and once again the solution is evident in tablets, smartphones and computers. Telematics systems clearly need to be based on high-grade dependable hardware that can adapt to new systems; even more importantly, there are many examples of software upgrades that allow users to efficiently employ “older” devices, what is referred to as “legacy systems.” Moreover, drivers may have to come to terms with the need to change telematics modules in their cars every so often, just as they do with tires, brake pads and other periodic maintenance operations.

A final challenge that far exceeds the realm of technology and drives right into philosophy and ethics is that of decisions. What happens when an on-board artificial intelligence system is faced with an impending accident that presents a grave dilemma: save the individual in the car or save the individual on the road or in the other car? Fortunately, we still have a decade to tackle this quandary. We trust that innovative solutions will be developed to minimise any form of harm to humans and animals, alike. Indeed, this is the very mission of technology, which is defined as the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.

Whatever lies ahead, in our future, at present, we can enjoy the many advantages and benefits of insurance telematics, which far from pressing us with the dilemmas of a Brave New World, provide us with greater safety, security and comfort.

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