News: internet-connected cars will soon be harvesting data on the weather, road conditions and traffic flow and selling it to the grid, according to panelists at the Internet of Cars session at the SXSW festival.
The data could then be used by meteorologists and highways agencies to help them improve their services, with drivers receiving a small payment.
Other innovations in the near future will include heads-up displays on windshields that allow you drive through thick fog, and music systems that automatically pick tracks to match your driving.
"The cars we drive nowadays are giant sensors on wheels, generating tons of data," said Scott Lange, executive creative director at Team Detroit, an agency that works closely with Ford. "Each car generates 25Mb of data per hour."
By aggregating data from sensors in cars' suspension systems, for example, highways agencies would know which stretches of road needed repairing, Lange said. "You could create really accurate data of where all the potholes are."
Information on when drivers had switched their windscreen wipers on and off could be used to track the weather, he added. "That data suddenly becomes very important to meteorologists."
Automotive makers are working to develop an industry-standard software platform that could be made public so that developers can explore ways of utilising the data, much like they develop apps for mobile phones.
"It's not about creating a proprietary Ford-owned system," said Sefi Grossman, vice president of technology enablement at Team Detroit. "It's about opening it up. We're trying to create a unified API."
This would also allow manufacturers to push software updates to cars via the internet, rather than waiting for the car to book in for a service.
The panel, convened to discuss the implications of having cars connected to the internet, took place in Austin, Texas last week as part of the SXSW Interactive festival.
Lange described cars as "the biggest and greatest wearable [device] that you have. It's an exoskeleton that gives you superhuman powers."
Dave Knox, CEO of digital strategy company Rockfish, said that cars could link drivers to their homes and interface with wireless control systems such as Nest. "The car would remind you that you left your front door open at home," he said.
Lange added: "You could get an icon on your phone saying you need to leave work early to buy gas, and suggesting where you could buy it."
Heidi Browning, senior vice president of strategic solutions at internet radio technology company Pandora Media, added that in-car music streaming services would soon be able to match tracks to your driving style. "You could control your music by your speed," she said. "Hard Rock when you're speeding, Country when you're slowing down."
The panel predicted that car use would move to a subscription model, with car companies providing drivers with different vehicles for different purposes, based on a unique digital profile of their driving habits captured by sensors in cars. "You will get different data sets for different drivers in the same car," said Lange.
The panel agreed that the issue of who owned the data was a sensitive one, with Grossman saying the information was "valuable and there may be some payback for drivers [who give up their data]".
He added: "Hypothetically, users could give up certain data streams and in return get different vehicles for different times of the week."
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