IBM has started up a series of technology podcasts and the first one out the door (download the MP3) on the future of driving came to me by way of Big Blue's Tom Glover. The podcast features Jim Ruthven who is introduced as being responsible for delivering telematics solutions to IBM's automotive clients and IBM's Dr. Roberto Sicconi who's involved in interior design and automotive cockpit design. Telematics refers to how diagnostic data can be collected from devices in the field and turned into actionable information. For example, with close to 40 percent of a vehicle's worth now being tied up in electronics, real data from the field can help engineers and repair specialists "tweak the vehicles or fix quality problems so they don't occur on a pervasive basis." During the interview Ruthven talks about how, using telematics, customers of a International Truck who were ordering all sorts of towing options on their vehicles were able to determine that the winches were only getting used 25 percent of the time. The resulting action, based on that actionable information, was to order fewer trucks with winches, thus saving money.
The most entertaining part of the interview came when the guests were talking about how the cars of the future -- ones that have talking dashboards (aka: virtual passengers) that can read your email to you -- will be smart enough to know when not todo certain things (or bombard you with certain information. Said Ruthven:
Heading into a hairpin turn, on a wet slick street, is not the time you want to get the email that says your stocks just went down 15 percent. That's a bad thing.
The comment came at a point in the discussion where the guests talked about how these so called smartcars will be smart enough to process the ambient conditions (weather, speed, rate of acceleration or deceleration, etc.), predict your level of stress, and know which services to "cut off" until you're able to pay more attention.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the discussion came at about half way into the interview when the guests began to discuss open standards and why they became critical to the automotive industry. Ruthven first gave an example of how interoperability between the various electronic control units on a car's equivalent of a computer's bus is a delicate balancing act.
...so you've got problems where vehicles will be driving down the road, in the rain, with the wipers gong, they turn on the left blinker, and the trunk pops open. That was an actual problem. It took the company six months to figure out that it was the interaction between various electronic control units on the bus -- the electronic architecture inside the vehicle -- that made that occur.
Sound familiar? Ruthven then discussed the role a standards-based ecosystem can play in easing that pain and what the automotive manufacturers demanded from their suppliers
There's a notion of an ecosystem and that in order to accelerate the developiment of the ecosystem, standards were absolutely required. It was really one of the drivers that got IBM into this whole notion of open standards... in the automotive industry, automotive companies fear being locked out of their own architectures. So, in order to ensure that they have the flexibility and control over the architecture inside of the vehicle, they insist on either themselves having proprietary control of that architecture, or purchasing and procuring products and services that are based on open standard so that they have flexibility and choice.
Sicconi chimed in to talk about how many of the automotive manufacturers were working with the same suppliers which in turn forced the manufacturers to begin talking to each other about opening up and setting standards (giving them more leverage over the suppliers). So, is there something that other industries can learn from this in a way that they begin to insist on certain degrees of openness from their suppliers?