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The road to the connected car: Applying lessons from enterprise IoT

It’s been nearly two decades since Kevin Ashton of MIT’s Auto-ID Center coined the term “internet of things, and the technology behind it has been around and evolving for even longer. Fast forward to today, and we are amidst the rise of the ultimate “thing” in IoT: the connected car.

By 2021, more than 380 million connected cars are expected to be on the road. In the meantime, automakers face a laundry list of challenges to ensure the safety, reliability, connectivity, management, optimization and more of connected car technology. Luckily, many of the same challenges have already been overcome by enterprises in other industries as they adopted various IoT-enabled technologies and processes. If the connected car market can put the same best practices into use, automakers and their partners will have a much smoother road to unlocking IoT’s potential. Here are five lessons the connected car market can learn from enterprise IoT:

  1. How to secure a vast array of attack surfaces. The connected car is like a data center on wheels, collecting, transmitting and storing copious amounts of information through dozens of connections (including cellular, Wi-Fi, satellite, Bluetooth and even physical connections to the on-board diagnostics port). Securing this vast array of attack surfaces is no easy feat, but is achievable through established enterprise IoT technologies and principles. First, an Internet Protocol (IP) over Ethernet backbone can consolidate and standardize disparate in-vehicle networks, allowing for deployment of proven security technologies, like firewalls and encryption. Second, artificial intelligence can be used to detect anomalies and patterns of malicious behaviors to alert drivers of potential threats or simply indicate that maintenance is needed. Third, automated IoT connectivity management platforms can help automakers continuously monitor their vehicles to ensure they are connected to (or disconnected from) the right devices, at the right times, in the right manner.
  2. How to manage numerous devices at once. The trend of BYOD caused quite the stir in the enterprise. IT departments struggled to manage not only company-owned machines, but also large numbers of personal devices employees began connecting to the enterprise’s network. In response, the enterprise adopted automated network management technologies, where network intelligence provides lifecycle automation, monitoring and diagnostics, continuous learning and even self-healing to hundreds or even thousands of devices at once. With the same technology, automakers and other members of the connected car ecosystem can seamlessly manage fleets of vehicles with various sensors and electronic control units (ECUs). From a single interface, it is possible to monitor the performance, security and more of every part or device, and even identify opportunities for improvement.
  3. How to update and configure software. Many vehicles already have more than 100 million lines of code under the hood, and the complexity of connected car software will only continue to increase. Today, most software updates are performed at the repair shop or dealership, but over-the-air updates are becoming more commonplace and convenient. Automakers can push new software and configurations to vehicles instantaneously, but how do they verify the compatibility of these updates across numerous models, personalized configurations and software versions? The answer again lies in some enterprise technologies, including an automated toolchain and a cloud-based controller. The automated toolchain allows for regression testing and assessing large numbers of variations in software packages, while the cloud-based controller simplifies the management of variations of in-vehicle network configurations. By integrating the automated toolchain and the cloud-based controller with automated network management technologies, managing the various versions of software in the vehicle is dramatically streamlined.
  4. How to “do more” with less. With more IoT-enabled devices and sensors on their networks, enterprises realized that they needed to make more efficient use of bandwidth, storage and computing power. The connected car is facing similar challenges with economizing resources, and thus can use the same technologies found in the enterprise. To optimize bandwidth, the connected car can harness the power of fog computing, which uses distributed compute and storage to bring the cloud to the edge of the network. With fog computing, the vehicle can intelligently filter and compress data, determining which information must be sent to the cloud immediately, versus what data it can store and forward later, which helps make the best possible use of bandwidth. Also, instead of relying on dozens of ECUs in the vehicle, the connected car can employ a centralized compute and storage device, which cuts complexity and costs by virtualizing some of the units’ common logic. The connected car can even reduce wiring weight, and therefore improve fuel efficiency, by standardizing to Ethernet for in-vehicle networking.
  5. How to drive faster innovation. Although the automotive industry has typically employed a longer and more predictable innovation cycle (sometimes taking up to five years to plan a major new vehicle release), that approach will not work in the era of IoT. Due to the endless possibilities IoT technologies create and often unpredictable results, rapid iteration and testing are essential, especially in the early stages of IoT solution development. This makes it easier to uncover where connected cars can provide the most business value. Again, the enterprise-proven IP over Ethernet backbone for in-vehicle networking can help — giving automakers the agility and flexibility to quickly connect new sensors and devices to the vehicle, test them, measure their value and make appropriate modifications. As a result, automakers can more rapidly roll out new services and features and shorten their innovation cycle.

As the connected car market continues to grow, automakers and their partners can find solace in knowing they do not have to look too far to find answers to their most pressing challenges. Proven enterprise technologies, including automated network management solutions, fog computing and virtualization and more are all applicable to the connected car. We will likely see even more enterprise IoT technologies and best practices come into play as the connected car progresses, allowing it to deliver a safe, convenient and rewarding driving experience.

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