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My PetaByte Car

Cars are already computers on wheels, and will be even more so in the coming decade. The amount of storage they will need “on board” may come as a surprise though. Credit: RCR Wireless News

Just few days ago Tim Cook, Apple CEO, in an interview with Bloomberg confirmed the interest of Apple in the evolution of cars, that will follow in parallel three directions: autonomous driving, electric power, and ride-handling. Although he didn’t say what Apple is planning it is clear that they look at the next decade as one of revolution in the making in the automotive sector.

Cars are already partially connected and will be connected much more. They already have some primitive form of intelligence and autonomy and they will have much more. I guess this is clear to most of us, looking at the evolution of technology.

What may not be apparent is the role of on board storage. I found this article quite interesting in this respect.

In an average “driving day”, 2 hours of driving on the road, a car may create more than 20GB of data, that is 7 TB per year, and this is considered the low range. As cars will get more HD cameras on board the volume of data is bound to increase. These data can, in principle, be uploaded on a cloud but is there going to be sufficient network bandwidth at a very very low price to support this. Assuming there might be, what about the insurance of continuous availability of the connection and the low latency required for an autonomous driving?

Unlikely that we can rely on the network (even if it is a 5G network) and Clouds for this. Much more likely that cars will be equipped with processing power and storage capacity to be really independent from the network connectivity. This does not mean that connectivity will not be needed, not at all. Car manufacturers, and possibly third parties service providers, will want to have connection with the car, and they might regards the cars they manufacture as their “fleet” to be taken under continuous observation. The avalanche of data they will receive could be analysed, as Tesla is already doing today, to detect malfunctions and take action by automatically downloading patches.

The article is also pointing out that some car manufacturers, like Ford, are considering building their own data infrastructure to look after their “fleet”.

It is not just data outside the car, harvested by on board systems. It is also data “inside” the car. A few innovation projects run by EIT Digital have been looking at the driver to spot potential signs of fatigue or stress. In the future these systems may become a normal fitting in the car, collecting even more data, through a variety of sensors in the car.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.