For years makers of many kinds of goods and services have provided means for them to monitor how things are going. Now they need to include us in on the action, for the simple reason that we can do it better than they can. That’s the point of Driving by the Numbers, Robin Chase‘s recent op-ed in The New York Times.
…sometimes the solution to a safety problem is simply more transparency. Indeed, there is a relatively easy solution that would help identify problems before they affect thousands of cars, or kill and injure dozens of people: allow drivers and carmakers real-time access to the data that’s already being monitored.
Most cars now undergo regular state emissions and safety inspections. A mechanic plugs an electronic reader into what’s known as the onboard diagnostic unit, a computer that sits under your dashboard, monitoring data on acceleration, emissions, fuel levels and engine problems. The mechanic can then download the data to his own computer and analyze it.
Because carmakers believe such diagnostic data to be their property, much of it is accessible only by the manufacturer and authorized dealers and their mechanics. And even then, only a small amount of the data is available — most cars’ computers don’t store data, they only monitor it. Though newer Toyotas have data recorders that gather information in the moments before an air bag is deployed, the carmaker has been frustratingly vague about what kind of data is collected (other manufacturers have been more forthcoming).
But what if a car’s entire data stream was made available to drivers in real time? You could use, for instance, a hypothetical “analyze-my-drive” application for your smart phone to tell you when it was time to change the oil or why your “check engine” light was on. The application could tell you how many miles you were getting to the gallon, and how much yesterday’s commute cost you in time, fuel and emissions. It could even tell you, say, that your spouse’s trips to the grocery store were 20 percent more fuel-efficient than yours.
Carmakers could collect the data, too. Aberrant engine and driving behavior would leap out of the carmakers’ now-large data set…
For those companies, keeping that data to themselves — in fact, not realizing in the least that the largest body of intelligence about their own goods and services is out there among the actual users of them — is mainframe thinking at its worst.
In 1943, Thomas Watson of IBM famously said, “”I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” That’s the kind of thinking that IBM (which invented the PC as most of us know it, in 1982) gave up generations ago. But it’s still alive and well in big companies of nearly all other kinds.
What I’d like to know is if there are any hacks on Toyota’s or Honda’s or any car maker”s data reporting systems. Betcha there is. If not, let’s attack this from our side of the fence, rather than the car makers’ — or even the governent’s. (They’re even less likely to get it right.) To wrap that case, here’s Robin’s bottom line:
Cars would continue to break down and even cause accidents, but it wouldn’t take a Congressional hearing to figure out why.
Hat tip to Bart Stevens of iChoosr for sharing Robin’s piece with fellow VRooMers.