The Detroit Telematics Conference was like a modern-day Wild West Show. An untamed frontier of ideas, potential and possibly even a snake-oil salesman or two. Yet, amid all the acronyms and industry buzzwords were creativity and an underlying hope for a battered auto industry.Unlike other electronics industry conventions (ahem, CES), the Detroit Telematics show is a true industry trade show. The telematics industry today is full of great ideas and so many yet-to-be-realized business models – it’s a segment of the auto industry that’s crackling with energy. Regulars reported that the size of this year’s show has grown considerably from last, proving this is an industry on the ascent.
The floor was packed with bits and pieces of connected automotive technologies, but scarce few polished end-to-end products. You’ll find black boxes and head units with no OS, platforms with no apps and white labels looking for an OEM. As far as trade shows go, this is the real-deal!
It’s no wonder that sections of the show roped off for impromptu meetings were often filled to capacity with coffee-sipping entrepreneurs. They were all looking for that elusive win-win situation with fellow exhibitors, that one final partnership that would make a new idea fly –or in this case, drive.
Three Faces of Telematics Today
The Telematics industry today seems to be divided into three major categories:
1/ Navigation Systems. GPS is just the beginning. Wireless digital networks and in-car diagnostics have merged to create dead reckoning (DR) systems and apps for smartphones that will literally lead you to your car. Dead reckoning isn’t just an old Bogart film anymore, it’s the latest thing in automotive navigation systems!
2/ Insurance / Fleet Tracking. That’s in-car diagnostics systems designed for vehicle safety and tracking. They’re helpful for parents and companies that want to snoop on driving habits, but there’s also an up-and-coming business model called usage-based insurance (UBI).
3/ The Cloud Ecosystem. “Ecosystem” was the most pervasive buzzword at the show. It’s a concept that involves sharing important data, and sometimes control, between objects you interact with every day – like your smartphone, your car and even your house. It’s the idea behind forward-thinking ideas like the NG-Connect Program (much more on that in a later post).
Personally, I find ecosystem a poor analogy. An ecosystem involving a car, a smartphone and a PC media server implies that your car wants to eat your smartphone and the resulting waste material will decompose into new computer parts. I get that technology can be almost as messy as biology, but at least technologies dn’t try to eat each other – not literally, anyway.
I like to think of the so-called ecosystem as more of a network, where you share information between your most expensive stuff. Generally, if people are likely to make payments for new stuff, new technologies are being developed to help them keep better track of it. That’s a good thing for peace of mind.
Getting back to the confusing mass of acronyms and industry buzzwords used at the show, thankfully one of the most oft’ repeated buzzwords was driver distraction. It’s an important concept whenever you put technology in the hands of someone behind the wheel. The industry has heard the need for mitigating driver distraction and has developed many clever solutions to conquer it, which I’ll outline in upcoming profiles of booths I saw at the show.
But in short, no matter how much technology puts drivers in the midst of an exciting new network or ecosystem, we must never lose sight that the driver’s most important job is still to ensure that everyone walks away from their ride safely.