Podcast: Why aren’t auto makers unleashing the full power of connected cars?

Article Benoit

Car makers are developing next gen vehicle-to-route connections and even brain-to-vehicle links, and not just for navigation or entertainment. Soon emergency responders will know an accident layout and see occupants’ health data before they even arrive. As IoT Now’s Jeremy Cowan hears from Benoit Joly, CCO of connected vehicle data firm Wejo,his company is already helping US authorities evacuate roads in the path of hurricanes. So why are automotive OEMs still not unleashing the full power of their data? 

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Jeremy Cowan  00:05

Hi, and welcome to the latest Trending Tech Podcast, brought to you by the technology sites, IoT-Now.com, VanillaPlus.com and The Evolving Enterprise. I’m their co-founder, Jeremy Cowan, and it’s great to have you here for the latest, sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted look at digital transformation for enterprises.

Now, we’ve been trying to arrange this automotive podcast for a while, and somehow we were never quite in the same car park until now. Because I am delighted to welcome from France Benoit Joly, the chief commercial officer of Wejo. Wejo is a connected vehicle data company. It was founded in 2013 by entrepreneur, Richard Barlow, and it’s headquartered in Manchester, England. Wejo collects in near real-time, 14.6 billion data points. Yes, that’s billion data points, and analyses 66 million journeys across a network of 10.7 million live vehicles. Now, probably since that figure was grasped, I should imagine it’s grown still further. But in short, it creates mobility intelligence. And the aim is to revolutionise the way we live, work and travel. Before joining Wejo, Benoit was commercial and marketing director for Connected Car & Data at Groupe Renault and connected car director at Renault Nissan Mitsubishi. Benoit, it’s really good to have you here.

Benoit Joly  01:43

It’s a pleasure to be with you, Jeremy, as well.

Jeremy Cowan  01:45

Thanks, Benoit. Okay, as usual, we’ll start with a quick analysis by Benoit and me of some key news stories we’ve come across in the tech space recently. And then I’ll talk to our guest about the impact their work is having in the automotive sector. So let’s start with a serious news. Benoit, what have you found?

Benoit Joly  02:06

I found the news actually, which was very interesting, around convergence between telecom, automotive and IoT (Internet of Things). Because for me, that’s a perfect blend about where I come from. I come from the telecom industry. I’ve been in the smart home IoT industry. And I’ve been moving to the automotive industry. And ultimately, for me, it’s kind of a sequential approach, that’s suddenly starting to merge, because you know that 5G networks become very precise for location, for traffic, for real-time analysis as well. 
 
 You know that today, it’s more than 12 million live on the current platform with 16 unique IDs and genes that we have on platform, that we manipulate every day. Which is a significant amount of data, that if you combine to the infrastructure of a city, if you combine to the telecom smartphone data, if you combine with the alternative data, you get in front of a massive amount of data that you can create a lot of very new services on. So, what was very interesting for me is a convergence on the technical side, very seriously. Because seriously, we think that this convergence will be bringing much more value to the market. But conversions for you and Jeremy as consumers. I mean, as your data plan might be used for your automotive, this is the article I shared about. My automotive, my car is a connected car with today a dedicated SIM, maybe it might be an eSIM with my phone bill. So, we start seeing the blurring borders between all these very verticalised walls, that simply is collapsing. It’s very, very interesting for me to see that these walls are simply yet to meet, yet to work together. And we start having very interesting discussions in the way of what are called Software-Defined vehicles, with telecom operators, with even phone manufacturers or chipset manufacturers. Because you will be surprised, but in a car, you have nearly the same chipset now as in a smartphone, actually the same components. So, for us, it’s an IoT on wheels. And that’s IoT Now. That’s why I was very interested to discuss with you, because IoT Now for me, it means everything is IoT everywhere. And now all together.

Jeremy Cowan  04:17

Yeah, that’s a very fair point. And where can our listeners find this article to read it for themselves?

Benoit Joly  04:24

Well, I think I will send you the link. It’s an article that I found on the news border that I will share with you right after. 
 
 

Jeremy Cowan  04:30

Lovely! Well, that’s no problem. What we’ll do is we’ll drop that into the transcript. So, anyone listening to the podcast will be able to find the links in the transcript. (https://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/att-bundles-unlimited-wi-fi-hbo-max-connected-car-data-plans )

Yeah, it struck me reading it that there are pros and cons to the news. Obviously, on the plus side, the HBO (Home Box Office) bundle in the AT&T offering brings a good range of content to your car for adults and kids. And just as importantly in-car Wi-Fi, which is easily overlooked. 
 
 On the downside, it does look quite a pricey offering. But that’s really only if you aren’t already an AT&T customer. I noticed that they offer a very clear incentive to switch carrier to AT&T so that you’re drawn to be a subscriber if you’re taking up this offering. But from AT&T’s viewpoint, offerings like this really seem to be helping the carrier add an enormous number of connected cars. I think the figure that I read was that over a million connected cars are being added to AT&T’s network every quarter. And they’ve done that now for 27 quarters in a row. Now that’s, that’s a good few years there. They’ve hit 51 million connected car subscribers, which presumably is just in the USA and Canada, correct me if I’m wrong.

Benoit Joly  05:57

Oh no, you’re completely right on that. But now if you look at the details, you add connected car for the infotainment and entertainment purpose, you don’t have it for the telemetry purpose because this remains to balanced streams today. And the whole challenge now is for AT&T and the OEMs (original equipment makers) to work together on the data itself, on the content of data. Because today, these are very valid ones, you know, you have indeed your infotainment in your car, your Wi-Fi. Nice. This is a prerequisite for autonomous cars, because when you’re going autonomous, you will have much more time to watch contents, so the car will become the next generational living room, and why HBO and AT&T are interested to see in the car because that becomes a space to consume content moving forward. So, it’s kind of early stage maybe. It’s nice when you go to vacation, have a long road ahead, and that you want the kids to be quiet behind. But ultimately, what I see is the first very strong sign to the autonomous or let’s say the ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems)-driven vehicle. That means you’re gonna give me less and less focus on the road and much more into your timing and your infotainment. 
 
 Still, again, I want to insist on the fact that today, the data plan for telemetry is not mixed to the data plan for your infotainment. And I think the big element that we’d love to see moving forward is a real collaboration where you can contextualise, based on your trip, based on many of the parameters of the vehicle, you can contextualise your infotainment experience. And this is the meeting point that we hope will be happening in the future. So, that’s why this article was very interesting to show you how you can get a better experience in your car. 
 
 But I see already one step beyond which is how can you bring the data of a connected car with a data of infotainment and they come together for your benefit, for your safety benefit, for more money for infotainment and HBO potentially, but also for you to simply get a better experience of your whole journey, your whole trip. 

Jeremy Cowan  07:58

Yeah, I completely agree with you. And I think the aspect of telemetry is incredibly important. Because it’s going to benefit the driver of the car or the owner of the car to know that the car is being monitored for its condition, and that any problems are being anticipated rather than dealt with afterwards. One of the things as a car lover myself, I’ve noticed increasingly being discussed is that there are quite a number of vehicles now that are able to use their location to read the road ahead. Now, I envy the French drivers because of the beautiful roads that you have. I live in the UK where the roads are abysmal. And it’s not just in the UK, I’ve discovered this in Germany recently as well. But they are often very pockmarked and broken. So, anything that enables your car to anticipate problems in the road ahead and to change the settings, the comfort settings, so that you don’t have your teeth knocked out has got to be good news.

Benoit Joly  09:01

Now, exactly. And you know, what we see on our way to deal with data is that we started, as you know, we have what we call movement data. We collect the movement, the localisation etc. We then got real time on that. And we launched RTTI, which is real-time traffic intelligence, to bring your traffic intelligence in real time. And then we start adding new layers, like road friction, like bumps on the road, like danger zones, which can be either discovered preventively, exactly as you say, because we know the areas in where people are breaking harsh or accelerating harsh, so we can anticipate this danger area. And we’re also, thanks to algorithms, anticipating some work area that are not planned potentially, or that may be the authorities have not declared yet. So that’s something where indeed data bring a real benefit to your driving experience, because not simply we can score you and see how you drive whether you’re efficient, you’re saving fuel, you’re safe. But also we can contextualise again your driving, and bring you some more safety things to the data itself.

Jeremy Cowan  10:04

It wasn’t, I saw, just AT&T being given a plug in here, although the offering is exclusive to 24 car brands for the US and Canada. So, if you’re driving a LADA in eastern Europe, this may not be one for you. It was also talking about other services offered by Verizon and other operators. So, it’s an article that’s worth a look. It seems to be quite ‘on message’ at the moment for an awful lot of people’s concerns.

Benoit Joly  10:36

Yeah, and it says something that you mentioned very interestingly for us, but it’s all about partnership and ecosystem. So, they’re gonna have to work together, which brand was going to work in partnership with which content is going to be very interesting because you might have some mutually exclusive associations moving forward between an OEM and a telecom operator, or service provider. And the same way you have your TV set and you have now your bucket of TV that is specific and you pay for it, maybe some cars will not offer the same content as other cars. And that will be very interesting to see how these alliances will play out together.

Jeremy Cowan  11:13

This is really interesting. And it ties in with a piece that caught my eye, Benoit, which was on jabil.com. That’s the home of a very large white label manufacturer of wireless devices, including for the automotive market. Even if you don’t know Jabil, you may well have used a device they’ve made for one of their large, branded customers. They had an article called “Seven automotive connectivity trends”, the first six of which didn’t really strike me as hugely new. But the last one described how brain-to-vehicle technology may be the future of vehicle operation. That really brought me up short and made me read. We’ll put a link, as I say, to all the stories in the podcast transcript, if you want to read more.
(https://www.jabil.com/blog/automotive-connectivity-trends-fueling-the-future.html )
But basically, Trevor Neumann, who is Jabil’s vice president of Automotive Business Development, says that brain-to-vehicle or – this is inevitable, isn’t it, give it the usual abbreviation B2V – B2V uses a device to measure brainwave activity. And it’s analysed by the vehicle’s autonomous systems to predict and eventually we hope anticipate driver decisions. 
 
Apparently, Nissan back in 2018, developed B2V controls that could be used to drive a car, anticipating your braking moves by your feet or wheel turns by your hand. I didn’t read about that at the time. But they referenced that in this article as well. The only problem seems to be that you need to wear a cap covered in electrodes. And I don’t care if you’re a supermodel, that is not a good look. But Jabil says that B2V applications supported by artificial intelligence, and 5G Wireless conductivity, can help drivers avoid accidents caused by other drivers’ sudden lane changes or unsafe driving. I suppose brain-to-vehicle technologies may be overtaken by what you were referencing earlier, Benoit, which is fully autonomous vehicles. But right now, Level 5 autonomy is still mostly confined to lab environments. So, who knows? Maybe B2V, or brain-to-vehicle may play a role for a period? What did you think of it?

Benoit Joly  13:44

Well, I find the article very interesting, because, as you say, there are two parts of this article. The first five or six elements of the seven. Honestly, these were things that have been written like five years ago. And to be honest with you, I’ve not seen the world changing so much. So that’s why to challenge you a bit Jeremy on this one, I see a big gap between what is possible and what we effectively do with data today. Because if you look at the experience in a car, it has not fundamentally changed. If you look at the After Sales experience, now that you know the driver of the car, today, even automotive vendors have not completely unleashed the power of the data in their own operations. And Wejo today helps a lot of the OEMs to simply turn data into value for their own operations, knowing the dealer capacity, doing better CRM, understanding customers, doing better engineering. So, all of these promises which are core to the connected data and to this connectivity that is inherent in the car is just starting. We’re scratching the surface.
 
 So, I see such a big gap between these very basic use cases that we are still to see deployed and this brain-to-vehicle which is very futuristic. Which, as you say, I mean autonomous vehicle is about that, because the brain now become the Qualcomm or Nvidia chipset in a car that computes fast Software-Defined vehicle data in real time to make the right decisions based on multiple sensors for autonomous vehicle. This is what happened with cruise, with Waymo (formerly the Google self-driving car project), with the Chinese autonomous vehicles. So, you see there is already a brain. It’s not a human brain, it’s a computing brain, that is existing today. But I’m very amazed on the connected car space where I have been here now for seven years, by the gap between the Art of The Possible and what we do effectively with the data today. And research the gap between the futuristic promises that some vendors, autonomous vendors, are getting into versus what core OEMs are effectively doing which is ground zero today to be blunt, which is very, very basic still. So, how to get a line between both is for me a big question mark, actually.

Jeremy Cowan  15:59

No, I think you’re 100% right, Benoit, because we’ve been covering at IoT Now, we’ve been looking at IoT since 2010. And I think I wrote my first article about connected cars some years before that. So back in the noughties, which means that we’re now looking at approaching 15 years since these ideas were being discussed. And they’re still in many cases, not in the market. I think, if I may suggest it, there’s probably at least two factors to play here. One more recent one is down to the chipset shortage, which I think has constrained the makers of even high-end vehicles to limit what they might include in some of their vehicles. And certainly, in mid-range vehicles, the number of chips has been deliberately constrained so that the car manufacturers could continue to supply the market.
 
 The other factor is the age old one of, just because we can do something doesn’t mean it’s profitable to do it. So, we have to be aware as an industry that talking about these things, and I’m as guilty of this as anybody, I get excited about writing on these ideas. And yet, bringing these things to market, as people often remind me is quite another matter. Because just because you can do it doesn’t mean you can make it pay.

Benoit Joly  17:37

No, I completely align. And one of the struggles when I was in the OEM space was the business case, indeed, the business case for data versus services. Who is paying, you know? Who’s paying VAT, to come back to the telecom part of it before, you know, raising the question mark about that. But, you know, working with 22 OEMs, tier ones, fleet providers, we see as well a big maturity gap between the different parties. And some people are really more on the right side of the journey, of trying to exploit much more data sensors. And they invest a lot of money in that. Some of us are just on a very low level of the maturity scale, because they try to discern what data they have. And most of the time, they try to simply get access to the data because, you will be surprised, but the cars have not been conceived and manufactured for a while to simply get all the data out. And the infrastructure for IT was not there. So, our biggest battle today is what we call the make-versus-buy in the OEM space. That means people trying to make things from data, training people to buy components. There is a whole puzzle to be assembled to make end-to-end data flow work. So, that’s why we help big OEMs to simply unleash the power of data by getting this pipeline from A to Z well, to manage privacy which is one of the biggest issues, but we don’t talk about often. It’s not about customer leads, it’s about privacy management, consent management, and an anonymisation, which is very, very important to tackle. And then to really understand how the data applies to business to the experience to the third party to the ecosystem. And on that, again, the maturity of OEMs is from zero to 10. And you can see a big range, a very widespread range. So having a brain-to-vehicle is fine, but that’s already 100. We may be at 10 or 15 only. You see what I mean? 

Jeremy Cowan  19:28

Yeah, let’s make 10 work before we get to 100. We’re in danger of letting our news coverage take over the entire podcast and that’s not a bad thing. But I really wanted to ask you some other questions particularly about connected vehicles, of course. I mean, it’s understood that most new cars will, if they aren’t already, soon be extensively connected mobile networks with multiple sensors and they range from imaging radar to ultrasonic devices. What are the implications if you can for carmakers and for their ecosystem partners? How are they going to face this?

Benoit Joly  20:10

There are three components, if you look well. There is what happens in the car where all the software-defined vehicles, you know, all this new architecture will help all the sensors from the car to be getting data out. So that’s very important, because today, in many cars, only a handful of data are able to go out. So, the architecture of the car needs to be designed adequately. Second point is, indeed you need to collect the data. And there is the whole question about data cost, about pipe, about telecom aspects, so that’s why I think that makes a good bridge with your previous article. And a third point is all about computing of data, computing in real time to make the right decision, computing in a distributed manner, at the edge, in the car, in the cloud. And all of that has to be done with a very low latency, with billions of data points, as you said before, for computing in real time, in different parts of the network in ultra-low latency to make the right decisions. And that’s not something that an average data company can do because everybody can talk data, what we see is that a lot of classical data players are not able to cope with this distributed, real-time, low latency architecture to make the right decisions. And that’s a big element to consider in your question about what needs to be done by manufacturers to be doing that. They can do it themselves, it will take them a while. And you’ve seen the investment that they take, they can partner with people like us not to take their job not to take their business. But just because we know how to do it at scale across 22 OEMs. So we can bring a lot of experience and get them faster to the target.

Jeremy Cowan  21:52

We’ve talked a bit about the data that will be captured in the vehicle, about the driver and about the vehicle, and about even their location. Does it also extend to information about the passengers and what their requirements are?

Benoit Joly  22:11

Yeah, of course. But if you have the sensors, like if you have a seat sensor, you can understand how many people are in the in the car. If you have weight sensors, if you have even presence, infrared cameras, you know, for now for safety purposes to have that. So yes, we want to give more context to what happens in the car itself. And again, the habitat of a car was not sensorised before. Now there are many, many more sensors in the cockpit that you can get data from. So that’s also a very nice evolution to perfect the experience that you wanted to get initially, which is your content in a car.

Jeremy Cowan  22:48

To enable that, does 5G meet most of our new connectivity needs? Or are there other connectivity options which we should be turning to?

Benoit Joly  22:58

No, 5G is definitely making the job, the latest one, I will say the one that is about to be deployed with a very ultra-low latency. You know, the 5G IoT one definitely makes the job. We see some alternatives, we see some people looking at satellite for fleet for example, we see some capabilities on satellite. But we think that the infrastructure, if you look at the infrastructure in the roles, is moving to V2G around 5G. And V2X is becoming the 5G, 5G seems to be winning the ground on this capability. So yeah, we think 5G will be mainstream in the future on that. 

Jeremy Cowan  23:31

So X being the infrastructure, vehicle-to-infrastructure.

Benoit Joly  23:35

Infrastructure, the road, the cars, your home, V2Everything; because the vehicle (and that’s the beauty of a connected car) is connected to everything around, including your home as well. And that’s a very important point.

Jeremy Cowan  23:49

Yeah, so one of the key elements for making this pay and making this workable and beneficial, is the insurance industry. How are they making use of these technologies today? And what developments will we see in the next couple of years?

Benoit Joly  24:04

First, don’t think that insurers or everybody wants to simply track you, Jeremy as a driver. Okay? I think there was a lot of science fiction, obviously there is a business about trying to make you in the UK a lower policy, based on your driving capabilities. But where we see the biggest interest in the insurance space is especially around claim management, into better safety. It’s trying to automate all the processes because you can bring more data to contextualise accidents, to contextualise assistance, to help save lives based on the ID, for example, to recreate an accident surroundings and then understand what’s the impact of the accident on the driver or on the passenger. So, we see data as a way not simply to tell you to drive well or bad but more as a way to help the insurance do a better job or a smoother job to manage you as a driver but also as the potential policy.

Jeremy Cowan  25:03

And emergency service connections are obviously among the most critical applications for connected vehicles. What improvements in care or support can we expect from first responders? And when?

Benoit Joly  25:17

Well, that’s where real-time is important, again. And ‘When’ is now. If you look at what happens in the US, we’ve been helping the governments, to evacuate the roads during hurricanes. So that’s something that is already live for us, it’s something where we can bring real benefit from the mobility data of cars already to governments to manage emergency situations. Obviously, when you think about an accident, you can contextualise and recreate the environment to define who was guilty but also what happened, really. But more importantly, for us, it’s more about safety ahead, preventive safety. Where are the areas which are the most dangerous? Where are people braking most or accelerating most? That’s where we can definitely play more ahead with the insurers but also with the DoTs (Departments of Transport), infrastructure providers, and operators to make the roads safer.

Jeremy Cowan  26:08

Well, Benoit, thank you. And how can people get in touch with you if they want more information?

Benoit Joly  26:14

So they can email me at benoit.joly@wejo.com. I am on Twitter as well at JolyBenoit, or simply you can find me on LinkedIn, I’m gonna answer all the requests, you can be sure of that.

Jeremy Cowan  26:27

Fantastic. Well, it’s been great to have you on the pod, Benoit. And thanks so much for your expertise and your time.

Benoit Joly  26:33

Thank you very much, Jeremy. Thanks.

Jeremy Cowan  26:35

And thank you too, Ladies and Gentlemen, for joining us around the world. You can subscribe to the Trending Tech podcast wherever you found us today. And I know I sound like a stuck vinyl, but go on be a hero. Give us a 5-star rating. Tell everyone how much you’ve enjoyed it because it makes a massive difference to our ranking when people are searching for a new podcast to listen to.

Until next time. Keep safe. Keep checking IoT-Now.com, TheEE.ai and VanillaPlus.com where you’ll find automotive and other news and interviews. And join us again soon for another Trending Tech podcast looking at enterprise digital transformation. Bye for now. 

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