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Wanted: Cars that Use Collective Intelligence to Improve Driving


Credit: woodleywonderworks

Every week, I drive in my car from Pleasanton, CA to San Francisco. You get some time to think when you make that drive. An idea that has occurred to me is…

We ought to be making better use of the data our cars generate.

It could make a difference in term of driver awareness, and safety.

This notion is consistent with something I heard Tim O’Reilly describe at the Web 2.0 Summit  last year: “web squared”. Which is an odd sounding term, I’ll admit.

Odd, but important. Here’s how O’Reilly and John Battelle describe “web squared” in a white paper:

The Web is no longer a collection of static pages of HTML that describe something in the world. Increasingly, the Web is the world – everything and everyone in the world casts an “information shadow,” an aura of data which, when captured and processed intelligently, offers extraordinary opportunity and mind bending implications. Web Squared is our way of exploring this phenomenon and giving it a name.

In the white paper, the increased use of sensors is a driver of this new trend. Sensors can track data on machinery and objects that can be turned into collective intelligence. Stanford futurist Paul Saffo sees sensors as the next great wave of technology innovation.

That’s some background for you. Now…how would this web squared collective intelligence be applied to driving?

Useful Data Goes Uncollected

As we drive, our cars produce a treasure trove of information:

  • Speed
  • Braking
  • Use of windshield wipers
  • Windshield wiper cleaning fluid usage
  • Steering wheel turning
  • Headlight usage

But none of it is collected. We see it, control it, on board as we drive. But that’s it. It’s not shared with anyone else. It’s just something we do while we drive.

Turning this Data into Collective Intelligence for Better Driving

Here’s what I would love to see. We’re driving along, and quietly, various data about our cars is collected and transmitted to the cloud. This data is tabulated in real-time. What such a system is looking for variances. Points of change. Because it’s these points of change that present the biggest headaches and safety issues for drivers.

Below are several ways that the data from cars can be used for effective collective intelligence to make driving safer.

Data Benefit
Speed Alert that traffic slows dramatically in 5 miles
Braking Alert that cars are slamming their brakes in 1 mile
Windshield wipers High frequency wipers in use 1 mile ahead
Wiper cleaning fluid Drivers unexpectedly cleaning windshield in 1 mile
Steering wheel turning Drivers veering sharply left in 1 mile
Headlights Drivers turning on headlights in 1 mile

Notice the way this should work. Not an alert for conditions right where you are. After all, you’ll know about those. It’s what’s coming up ahead of you where the value of such a system would work.

In the examples above, I imagine alerts for things happening 1 mile ahead, or even 5 miles. There’d be a visual and audio system of alerts. Think of it like a Twitter stream. Of data about conditions ahead. It’d generally be quiet, unobtrusive. Unless something materially changes in the road ahead of the driver. Kind of like a Garmin GPS unit telling you to “turn right in 1 mile”.

Such a system would take full advantage of GPS. As the data is relayed from cars, their location is noted. As a person drives, her location is noted, and plotted relative to identified upcoming changes.

Collective Intelligence Works at Scale

Collective intelligence requires a reasonably high participation rate to be of value. Sporadic, spot updates don’t provide sufficient data for this desired innovation to work.

Which means these systems would need to be built into cars. On-board computers that systematically track these variables and have the ability to transmit them to satellites. Like a Garmin GPS or GM OnStar unit.

And since scale is required, you’d want common standards among the automakers – GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, etc. No need to balkanize such a system.

It’s Just an Idea

As I noted at the start of this post, it’s just an idea for now. But it seems like a really good application of the web squared concept. I’d love to have better information on driving conditions, and there’s a wealth of data that can provide highly localized reports. We just need to be able to tap it.

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

8 Responses to Wanted: Cars that Use Collective Intelligence to Improve Driving

  1. mark stevens says:

    Great ideas. Somewhat already implemented via GPS on smartphone applications such as Waze and traffic statistics on Google Maps. It would be great to integrate this with telemetry data from the car. Maybe via bluetooth connection? Even if the data stream was baked into cars from the factory, do you think there would have to be an opt-out available due to some privacy concerns? If so, what percent would you expect to opt out?

  2. Yeah, the privacy thing occurred to me. I can see some people wigging out about that. Facebook being a good example.

    People could opt out, but I’d argue that they don’t access to the alert tool. Gotta give to get.

  3. Chirag Mehta says:

    Good thoughts Hutch. I am a big fan of collective intelligence and collaborative filtering. On the east coast I have seen drivers flashing their headlights to warn the cares in the opposite direction when they spot a cop hiding at a speedtrap. This isn’t quite prominent on the west coast. It’s a great example about how drivers can alert people. I am sure there is significant potential in leveraging the communication devices that people already own such as Smartphone, GPS etc. to make people aware of the environment and the context.

  4. Pingback: Risk + 2.0 – The Week in Links 6/4/2010 « Risk + 2.0

  5. Dash GPS had a system where the users who used their gps would upload their performance to the network and if you were on the same route it would tell you the quality of the drive via green/yellow/red. It would also warn of slowness and offer alternate routes. Unfortunately they went out of business.

  6. سيارات says:

    all technology kills privacy
    this one example of all

  7. the cell phone is the worst in privacy killing

  8. very cool

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