Tesla Twitter is an excitable place in the quietest times. And last week it burst into flames when it became apparent that the passenger seat lumbar support on the Model Y and Model 3 had been removed from production vehicles. Like I said, nothing about Tesla is unexamined.
Eventually Elon Musk popped up and confirmed the feature had been dropped, explaining that ‘the logs’ had revealed it was very rarely used. It’s not often discussed, but there’s no reason why a Model 3 wouldn’t upload endless amounts of information via its internet connection, from what radio station the driver is listening to, to the heater use and range of seat adjustments.
A few years ago at a Citroen unveiling in France, Carlos Tavares mentioned that the company had been running car connectivity trials in a large city. I collared him afterwards to ask what the firm had been working on.
He told me one of the experiments with the connected test cars was recording how many times a door is opened and closed each day. They did this by recording the actions of the interior light switch in the door jam.
That was especially interesting because Tavares had been on record as saying work was ongoing to ensure that Peugeot and Citroen cars felt ‘like new’ after five year’s use. Knowing how often a door is slammed shut is the starting point for engineering one that is both solid and cost-effective to make.
While this may all seem a bit big-brother, there’s a lot of hugely useful information that will be gleaned from mass-connectivity. One of the most obvious is that if you are involved in a collision, and the airbags are deployed, a signal is immediately sent to the emergency services.
As Tavares also pointed out, recording ESP modules being triggered on a particular morning could indicate a patch of black ice, allowing hyper-targeted warnings to be sent to other local, connected cars via sat-nav systems. The same with live extreme weather reports, triggered, say, by automatic wipers suddenly flipping to maximum speed on a particular stretch of motorway.
Three years ago, Toyota announced it was starting a project at Toyota City using connected vehicles to track the deterioration of road surfaces. It would use information from sensors on the vehicle to try and determine road damage and then verify what had been collected in the cloud against a real-world examination.
If the data from a car could be processed to give an accurate impression of a road surface, the technology could be rolled out across the country. Indeed, in April this year, Suzuki, Subaru, Daihatsu, Toyota and Mazda all agreed to work together to develop a single specification for car-to-car and car-to-cloud communication. It’s a hugely important move and one the EU would do well to follow.
Of course, carmakers want to use this collected and processed information to sell it back to drivers and local authorities to make money. But this is not a dishonourable intention. Hyper-accurate real-time information (mostly 5G-enabled) about weather, road surfaces, accidents and even live monitoring of engine faults would be a big leap.
This connectivity could even track the wear of your tyres (ABS sensors would be able to pick up the reducing circumference of a tyre) and send a request for new tyres to the manufacturer. The possibilities are quite genuinely limitless.