In the 1980s, as I was finishing my PhD at Carnegie Mellon University, I worked for a couple of years at the Robotics Institute and got my first exposure to autonomous vehicles. The thought of a robotically driven car that can navigate using a set of sensors and robots was at that time a novelty. Autonomous vehicles required a significant number of technologies in vision, navigation, and real-time decision-making. The work at the Robotics Institute led to an ambitious project conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, which involved a broader participation from a number of auto manufacturers and US universities.2 Over the last two decades, we have seen a fair amount of progress toward making automobiles intelligent. Currently, a number of technology providers are teaming with automobile manufacturers to bring wireless technologies to cars in order to support the driver with safety, convenience, information, and entertainment.3 While these manufacturers have yet to offer driverless cars commercially for the busy I-5 traffic in Southern California, they provide a number of safety and convenience features in cars today using the underlying technologies.
One of the important developments is in the instrumentation of the car. Today’s cars come equipped with wireless and sensor technologies to keep track of all the mechanical and electrical components. Instead of using expensive instrumentation at the dealer’s service center, which would not be able to collect performance information unless the failure conditions are replicated, today’s cars use sensors to collect the data as we use our cars. This data can be used for sophisticated analytics once we take the car to the dealer. However, if the car is equipped with Internet connectivity, it can be monitored remotely. As faults or other service requirements are detected, the dealers or manufacturers can provide intelligent alerts to the driver, before a fault leads to a major problem. Once the data has been tapped from the vehicle, it can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, car insurance companies can use this data to provide insurance discounts to good drivers.
Cars provide marketers enormous opportunities for location-based advertising. As drivers increasingly use gadgets to plan and record their travel, a marketing agent can observe, analyze, and recommend activities. As I start running out of fuel, it can present options for refueling. After driving for a while on a long journey, it can offer rest stops, places to eat, and shop. In a new city, it can be a concierge as a family looks for activities. Navigation products have already started offering products in this area. However, marketers have barely scratched the surface in using automobile data or gadgets for understanding or communicating with consumers.