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If recent press reports are correct, carmakers will be utilizing M2M and on-board systems to do much more than check that your car is operating as it should. Toyota is said to be developing a device that will collect detailed data on driving habits such as use of the accelerator, or gas pedal, brake usage and even gear changes. Toyota claims this collected data can be viewed later on a smartphone app or creating virtual drives on the PlayStation game Gran Turismo.

OK, this is where it gets weird. Who, in their right mind would want to recreate a drive to the supermarket on a game, or even bother to assess their driving skills using data collected from dozens of sensors and electronic control units (ECUs)? I’m guessing that unless you are a total car fanatic or a budding grand prix or rally driver, you couldn’t give a toss. So why are Toyota, and other car manufacturers, investing so much money and effort into what amounts to vehicle telemetry systems that communicate back to a central server using wireless networks?

Originally, the concept was to help car owners by warning them of problems with the vehicle, remind them to service their vehicle when thresholds are crossed, locate lost or stolen vehicles, warn of dangerous road conditions and monitor usage for things like fleet management. However, the extended collection of data Toyota is promoting as a feed to a smartphone app or game may have ulterior motives.

You’ll remember the massive recall issue Toyota had with millions of vehicles worldwide a few years back and the slew of legal cases it generated against the company being blamed for everything from causing accidents to risking lives. With very little data available to them to stave off these challenges it was not easy to formulate a viable defence in many of the cases.

Fast forward to 2012 and we can understand why a company like Toyota would like to have as much information as possible on how its vehicles are being treated out in the market place. Firstly, to warn owners of any potential problems thus mitigating risk and, secondly, to be able to defend any legal proceedings brought against them should their vehicles be involved in accidents, catch fire, etc. and the owners choose to blame them.

A compelling defence in court would surely be to show that the driver had a history of negligent or poor driving habits gleaned from those very same on-board M2M systems. Drivers in Singapore, tired of fraudulent accident reports and rejected insurance claims, have resorted to mounting video cameras in their vehicles and recording anything that may happen to them, specifically as evidence for any ensuing court case. Combined with the telemetry data collected on-board, insurance companies and fraudsters would have a much more difficult case.

Taking all this one stage further, how long before ‘Big Brother’ takes an interest in this very same data, especially driver performance. Is it too far-fetched to presume that this data combined with GPS positioning would be able to show where a driver has exceeded a speed limit, driven dangerously or even parked illegally. Perhaps the traffic policeman of the future will be a big data crunching server doing the analytics on millions of drivers and issuing fines electronically to smartphones then withdrawing the funds from an m-payments system. It all seems perfectly feasible even with today’s technology.

For the wireless network operators and CSPs, essential players in the M2M scenario depicted above, the role could be much more than just transporting the data between devices. The big money could come from the ‘big data’ by offering a range of cloud services to collect, store, process, analyse and archive all that M2M traffic as the trusted partner. Maybe they could convince the motor companies, and even the regulators that will surely get involved at some stage, they should be the ‘chosen ones’?

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 5 September, 2012