A couple months ago I attended an Internet of Things meetup in Sunnyvale, where a representative of a major automotive manufacturer was talking about connected cars. The discussion was really interesting, but there were a couple of things that struck me about his presentation. The first one was that he conflated the concepts of the Internet of Things and the Industrial Internet. The second one was that his company is at a very early stage of understanding the challenges of networking cars together from different manufacturers, with different capabilities, or even with different model years.
To address the first item: The Internet of Things and the Industrial Internet share some core concepts. They both represent a world where more and more devices are connected, and the information available from devices is exploding. And to be completely fair to automotive manufacturers, a car can fit into either (or both) categories. There are some major differences between these two concepts, though.
The Internet of Things refers to systems that are typically more consumer-oriented, such as thermostats that can be monitored remotely. There may be a massive number of these devices, but they generally don’t need to be monitored or controlled with a resolution shorter than seconds. In many cases they involve no control at all, and only monitoring. If one of these devices goes down, it does not cause a massive catastrophe. These systems do not necessarily have to be robust to disconnections. In the automotive world, this might include a car’s infotainment system.
The Industrial Internet, on the other hand, refers to systems that are less consumer-oriented. The systems that will be part of the Industrial Internet are manufacturing systems, medical systems, power systems, and similar. These systems usually involve both monitoring and control, and they are monitored at a resolution of milliseconds. If one of these systems goes down, it can potentially have expensive or catastrophic consequences. Within a car, this would include any sensor networks that are scanning for pedestrians or road hazards. In a connected car, this would include the communications between vehicles that have safety consequences.
There are going to be major communication challenges with connected cars that are just now being investigated. It’s one thing to define common hardware that will be used to transmit data between cars, or even the low-level protocol that will be used. It’s a very different thing to define what data is being transmitted between cars, to make sure that data has the same meaning across manufacturers, and to be able to provide new or more accurate data over time as new car models are developed with new sensors and capabilities. And that isn’t even looking into the security concerns that come into play once massive numbers of vehicles are connected over a network. A hacker could do some real damage if he or she could control networks of cars.
On the plus side, there are plenty of systems that are facing the same challenges, and some large organizations are working together to create solutions. There are existing systems that already have to deal with the challenges of interoperability, future-proofing, security, robustness, and safety. Some of the technologies that address these issues are being deployed in military and energy systems throughout the world. One of the key concepts that they have embraced is that of “data centricity,” meaning that the data is the most important part of the system, and the interface between devices.
Next time: A little more about data centricity