In The Future, Automakers Will Pay You To Drive Their Cars

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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British automaker Jaguar Land Rover recently revealed that it has begun testing a system that allows its customers to not only send live traffic and road condition updates to navigation companies and local municipalities but also earn drivers crypto currency. With which, drivers can pay for tolls or even electric vehicle charging.

Although this is just a pilot program in Shannon, Ireland, it got me thinking.

Not only is this test run a vision of the future that I believe most brands (automakers and beyond) will embrace, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of the monetization of driving data. Let me explain.

Trade Your Data For Their Money

Right now, users of navigation apps like Waze get the service for free. The Israeli navigational company is willing to let you use its smart, traffic-avoiding routing technology because, not only does it displays ads, it is also monetizing the data it gathers about your driving habits. Most people, it seems, are fine with this trade off. I mean, I know I am totally cool with seeing ads and icons for nearby Taco Bells in exchange for time-saving route guidance.

The smarter and more connected cars become, however, the more information they’ll generate — not only by the mile, but also the second. At some point, the amount of data cars generate and beam off to the cloud will greatly outweigh the number and kinds of services brands can offer drivers in return for that data. In short: carmakers, navigation companies, etc. will have to start paying you, like the system JLR is testing.

Monetize This

What sort of data could your connected car be generating? Like JLR suggests, live traffic-jam data for one. Roadway conditions, like pothole recognition, for another example. Those are small potatoes, though. Imagine for a second the digital cameras embedded in the front and rear of most new cars were beaming their video feeds to the cloud — all the time. Toyota is testing a system like this as we speak.

Jaguar Smart Wallet paying for toll
Jaguar Smart Wallet paying for toll. | Photo: Jaguar Land Rover


If monitored by artificial intelligence, and stitched together, a company could be generating a live, constantly updated Google Street View-style perspective of most every road (and everything around it) around the world. What sort of value would you put on sharing (or not sharing) that kind of data?

Assume companies would implement facial recognition in this live view of everywhere. Fugitives, for example, could be spotted and apprehended by law enforcement much faster than now. So, too, could missing children.

Turning back to automotive implications, hit-and-run crimes could be solved as soon as they happen. Insurance companies could review accident footage and determine fault — before a driver even files a claim.  And these are just examples from the camera data. Connected cars will be generating so much more than just visual images.

For yet another example, Apple recently patented sensors beneath self-driving cars that would be able to read if a car is slipping on an icy road, because it’s not moving in the direction of the vehicle’s steering input. As soon as it detects slippage, it could beam that information off to other connected cars — be they autonomous or not — warning of the hazardous conditions. This would allow both human and robot drivers to approach that portion of road with caution.

I could go on with examples of data sets connected cars will create.

Apple patent filing image
Apple patent filing image for sensors embedded beneath an autonomous car. | Photo: U.S. Patent image database


What’s The Payoff Of Sharing My Data?

What do you get for allowing the veritable Big Brother to ride shotgun in your connected car, allowing it to monitor everything that not only your car is sensing but also everything it can see around it? Lots, potentially.

Vehicles’ electrified powertrains aren’t cheap, whether they are battery electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). The connected technology onboard won’t be cheap — neither will the automated driving systems.

Loading up a hydrogen-powered car with full autonomous driving systems and big screens in its dashboard would put its price tag into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This would put it well out of the reach of the majority of consumers on the planet. The increasingly strict global environmental regulations, however, will force the hand of automakers. Whether they’re cost-effective or not, they will have to put alternative energy vehicles on the roads.

So, in order to offset the cost of these complex and expensive cars, they will have to either monetize the data themselves or allow us consumers earn, to use JLR’s example, crypto currency to access the data.

Rather than speak in generalities, let’s set up a specific hypothetical.

Parking, Charging, And Netflix (Maybe)

Let us say it’s the year 2035, and you subscribe to the Care by Volvo program. For $500 per month, you get an all-electric XC60 that has been outfitted with fully automated driving technology.

Every morning, it drives you to work. You manually drive it to the freeway onramp. Once you hit the freeway, though, the the steering wheel retracts into the dashboard and the XC60 autonomously drives the 40 minutes along the freeway to the off ramp near your office. During that time, you’re able to watch the latest Marvel comic movie on Netflix from the massive in-dash 26-inch screen.

Volvo Concept 26 includes a giant screen that is revealed when in automated driving mode. | Photo: Volvo Cars


The car drops you off at the front door of the office. It then tucks itself away in a parking structure designed specifically for autonomous cars. That means there are no elevators, no stairs, and all the parking spots are just barely wider than the cars. That’s because no humans are ever required to access the cars. That means no space for doors to open, etc. Though the structure fits thousands of cars, it has the same footprint of a structure that 15 years prior would have be able to accommodate at most a few hundred cars.

While parked, your car receives a full electric charge through wireless inductive charging pots embedded in each parking spot. At the end of the day, it retrieves you from the front of work, because you summoned it from your smartwatch. And the reverse process is repeated, getting you home.

You didn’t pay for parking. You don’t pay for Netflix. You don’t pay to charge your car. All of those things, including the low, low cost of your Care by Volvo subscription are either completely covered or, in the case of the subscription, greatly subsidized. All of this, because your car was beaming info about you, the cars around it, the roads it is traveling on, etc. back to to the cloud. There, that data is harvested and utilized by hundreds of companies — to the benefit of you and everyone else.

Granted, this is a small snapshot. But it’s based upon information and a view of the future envisioned not just by me but many automakers, including Volvo and Audi.

Audi’s idea of a smart city. Self-parking cars and intelligent fleet management could help the world’s major cities save a great deal of space and money – and use this instead for greater quality of life. | Photo: Audi


Don’t Be Afraid

I understand there are some 1984-esque or implications to all the data connected cars will be generating, collecting, and sharing. That’s a discussion for automakers’ legal departments, legislators, and ethicists to have, though.

I’m merely trying to paint a somewhat realistic picture of how connected cars will benefit both consumers, automakers, and society as a whole through the collection, dissemination, and monetization of the data they generate.

I, for one, am excited by the prospects of such a future.

About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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