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When cars own the road: The future of IoT and connected vehicles

The automotive industry has one of the most advanced relationships with emerging tech, more so than most other sectors, such as healthcare and telecoms. The fact is, cars have been connected for at least 19 years, dating as far back as the onset of GM’s OnStar service. Connected vehicles provide features, such as updating drivers about traffic alerts, syncing with passengers’ phones or deploying semi-autonomous offerings, such as cruise control and blind spot monitoring.

Automakers today have an unprecedented opportunity to save money and build new revenue streams by pulling vast troves of data from connected vehicles. The volume and frequency of such data creates infrastructure challenges at each step, from sourcing the data from the vehicle telematics module to sending the data across the cellular network, to receiving and processing the data in an automaker’s data center or cloud footprint. By using Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), a lightweight IoT messaging protocol, automakers can meet these challenges and ensure scale and reliability for this and future generations of connected vehicles.

Here are a few of the benefits and ROIs of MQTT messaging in cars:

Making the real world a proving ground

MQTT offers new communication streams for manufacturers to monitor system performance data for vehicles that are already on the road. These insights provide an unprecedented view of vehicle reliability at a scale and depth that can’t be achieved in a pre-production testing platform. Because of the lightweight nature of MQTT, automakers need not compromise or limit the vast amount of data, such as powertrain, drivetrain and advanced driver-assistance systems, available within the various systems of a vehicle. These sources can generate up to 25 gigabytes of data an hour.

When additional data is available, more analysis can be done and knowledge can then be applied to new vehicles as well as vehicles on the road today via Over The Air (OTA) updates. For example, an automaker can take real-world data from powertrain performance measurements, analyze the actual versus expected results, and then update the vehicles’ electronic engine control system via OTA. The benefits of such updates include increased battery life or fuel economy, improvement to horsepower and torque, suspension improvements, software updates to improve on-board driver assist systems, such as obstacle detection or blind-spot monitoring and more.

Mitigating OTA and cellular congestion

MQTT not only offers a secure way for manufacturers to push out live updates to cars on the road, it also helps to reduce cell tower congestion. An MQTT platform in conjunction with an OTA update campaign can monitor cellular network conditions, releasing an update to a certain number of vehicles based on current congestion patterns. A good analogy are freeway on-ramp managed lights. By allowing only a number of vehicles that the system can handle, the system can prevent overloading while ensuring a good, consistent experience for those using it.

For instance, an OTA system can take inputs from vehicles on the road, each of which would share current network conditions and performance. The vehicle is likely in a state of constant consumption of data for maps, navigation, OTA updates and more. Providing a benchmark of observed performance of those network assets will give good insight into the health of the cell network at that time.

An OTA system can take input directly from cellular carriers for insight on current network congestion and conditions. The OTA system can then, via MQTT, signal certain vehicles in certain locations to start their update download. By using MQTT to orchestrate OTA downloads across cellular, greater scale and higher update rates can be achieved using less infrastructure in a more efficient manner.

Maintaining data security

All connected devices, such as smart phones, smart homes and smart cities, are prone to cyber attacks, and connected cars are no exception. Given the amount of data connected cars hold, they are nearly akin to a credit card or social security number. With this in mind, it’s critical that manufacturers have a security-first mindset when it comes to developing and updating connected cars.

A good MQTT implementation will have a dimensional security model with controls installed both horizontally and vertically within each device in the workflow. Horizontal controls include vehicle, cell network and gateway, while vertical controls include data link, network, transport, application and identity. These controls provide the rich features needed in a connected vehicle implementation, which minimizes potential new attack surfaces.

Future of connected vehicles

The future of connected vehicles can draw analogies from the smartphone industry a decade ago. At that time, the building blocks of smartphones were just coming into the world. Fast, small processors capable of heavy computing tasks, touchscreens that provided a clear, easy-to-use interface, cellular networks that could deliver 3G data capable of mobile Internet, and platforms and OSes that enabled versatile software and applications.

At the time, a majority of people thought of the smartphone as a simple way to combine an iPod with a cell phone, and the potential of the device was not realized by anyone except a small few. Similarly, as the building blocks for connected vehicles begin to manifest, such as 5G, edge computing, capable hardware and software within a vehicle, and systems that can manage, secure, process, understand and act on all of it, the best version of all outcomes would lead to tremendous advances. These advances include safety — both physical and environmental — as well as commerce and business. As the advent of the motor vehicle helped shape the cities of the day, the connected vehicle will re-shape the landscape in which we live, work and play.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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