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Connected Cars and the Automobile of the Future

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​Read our interview with Andreas Schumacher, Expert for Accident Research and Prevention at AXA, to find out more about why "connected cars" are a big deal, the opportunities and risks associated with new technologies and how this will affect the insurance industry going forward.

What is a "connected car"?

From an IT viewpoint, connected cars are a technological advance made possible by the "Internet of Things". Their main feature is the ability of the vehicle’s system to connect with its internal and external environments. "Internal" means communicating with various other onboard systems (sensors, brakes, satnav, indicators, etc.) and "external" means connecting to the Internet, for example. The mandatory deployment of e-Call technology from March 2018 means that every new vehicle manufactured within the EU can now be classed as a connected car.

What advantages does this development bring in terms of my safety and security as a driver? And how will it affect my insurance in future?

A connected car has many advantages for drivers, whose smartphones can now give them direct access to relevant information on what condition their car is in. Depending on the available functions, they can even use the app to monitor and improve their driving behavior. At the same time, this technology has huge potential for use in a range of services that will help increase safety on the roads. For us as an insurer, this means we will be able to offer our motorcycle customers new, targeted mobility services in future that they can activate and use via their smartphone at any time. These could include things like being able to book their motorbike directly into the repair shop via their smartphone when its next service is due.

What is AXA doing in this area?

AXA has joined forces with Munich-based startup ThinxNet and is currently trialing the connected car offer "ryd" (pronounced ‘ride’) with 500 customers over 6 months. As well as being able to check their battery level or fuel tank at any time, drivers get information on the distance traveled, their driving behavior and much, much more. This trial period should demonstrate to what extent the app and its functions satisfy a genuine need.

Where is my data stored and who can access it?

At the test stage, only the drivers themselves receive this data, which is stored on a ThinxNet server in Germany. Axa cannot access it. Within ThinxNet itself, only those employees that have to access the data to be able to do their job (e.g. the support team) can actually do so. However, the driving data is separated in both technical and organizational terms from any data that could be used to directly identify the person in question (e.g. email, order data). This means that access to data for technical and statistical purposes can be restricted to driving data only.

Computer systems are always vulnerable to attack. What happens if the car’s system is hacked?

As far as the pilot we are running with ryd is concerned, this issue is not critical. The ryd box simply receives data from the vehicle but is not able to send information to the vehicle. Apart from that, every driver of a newish model must be aware that there is no such thing as 100% security in our digitalized world – at least not in cases of advanced digitalization.

What will the future bring in this area? Will I even be able to call my car via an app?

In 10 to 15 years, the vast majority of cars on the roads will be connected and will no longer need a plug-in device for data access. Data will be called up directly from the vehicle and used for a variety of purposes – with the vehicle owner’s consent. It is entirely conceivable that a significant number of key automotive functions and services will then be controlled via smartphone or smartwatch. 

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    Andreas Schumacher

    ist Experte für Unfallforschung und Prävention. Er schreibt zum Thema Sicherheit im Strassenverkehr und liefert dabei Daten, Fakten und Tipps zu Präventionsfragen.

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