Futurethink: Biometrics, Cloud and the Shared, Autonomous Cars of the Future

Shared ride services—which encompass everything from Zipcars to Uber and Lyft as well as models that don’t yet exist—are poised to radically change how we live and work, if research from Fujitsu is to be believed. The Japanese consumer electronics giant paints a picture of lowered downtime for vehicles, fewer cars on the road for less pollution, more efficiency for parking and everything else, cost reductions for drivers and, in general, a brave new shiny world for those of us living in driving cities. But what about the data implications?

Fujitsu has issued a report that it rather euphemistically says is about “mobility as a service”, or MaaS: “The car is now a shared mobile device offering transportation options.” Yeah, okay. Bit of a stretch, but it sounds futuristic, which I suppose is appropriate for a report detailing how life will be in 2030. After all, we’re supposed to be launching a mission to Mars around then too—spaceship as-a-service, anyone?

At any rate, Fujitsu expects that in the US, a majority of cars on the road by the end of the next decade will be shared rather than reserved for the exclusive use of one owner-individual. And as a shared resource, they will have utilization rates above 50%—a significant jump from the current utilization rate of 5%. It makes sense—if people no longer own a car privately, but rather share it via rideshares and other services, that’s a lot less garage and parked time for that particular vehicle. Someone else is using the car while you’re at work, for instance.

The model means that motorists of the future will have more options in how they access cars; most will either buy one and rent it out to other drivers or join a subscription-based service, which will give them access to multiple types of cars. Under the subscription model, members will have access to a variety of models and can select cars based on their immediate needs, selecting a minivan for a family vacation or a shared autonomous car for the morning commute, for example.

This vision of pooled cars is enhanced by the self-driving car movement, which Fujitsu also fully expects to come to fruition.

“As intelligent mobility continues to mature, MaaS providers will need to find innovative ways to maximize the uses of their autonomous fleets going beyond providing passenger services by expanding into areas such as parcel delivery and environmental services,” said Paul Warburton, global head of automotive at Fujitsu America. “The success of a MaaS provider will be determined by how much utilization they can gain from their accessible fleet, the value they can offer and the agility to meet the evolving demands of an instant gratification society. If car companies wish to lead this digital transformation they will need to be quick to change and willing to see the automobile as enabling technology and not the primary value proposition as it has been.”

The benefits could be very concrete: According to Frost & Sullivan, more than 20 million vehicles could be removed from the road annually in the US as a result of growth of services like this, with attendant positives like greenhouse gas reductions.

But wait: There’s more to this vision. With cars being shared by multiple drivers, physical keys will soon become extinct, as biometric authentication becomes the standard for accessing and operating vehicles, Fujitsu predicts. Just enroll your fingerprint/retina scan etc. with the shared ride service, and a back-end will take care of authentication via the cloud to unlock the vehicle, which is likely to then have a touch-button ignition.

“Beyond operation of the car, biometrics can create a personalized and flexible experience for activities inside and out,” Fujitsu added. “The touch of a finger on the dashboard can provide access to a driver’s cloud-based music/movie collection, move the seat to the preferred position or even authorize payment for a meal at the drive-through of a fast-food restaurant. Software will enable biometric authentication to unlock personalization features as well as other capabilities like entertainment, Wi-Fi, and semi- or fully-autonomous features, which can be enabled or disabled based upon the driver’s membership and the upgrades he or she selects with the subscription.”

That all sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Yes, yes it does! However, the digitalization of the automotive industry means that car companies will have new responsibilities to consider. Namely, of course, security.

Think about it: Everything is linked to a biometric identifier, which can be used for a wide range of activities that generates a wealth of sensitive information that needs to be stored and accessible—ranging from a person’s location and physical home address to financial or even health data. And that information will be kept in the cloud for subscription services to dip into for authentication, payments and more, all on-demand. The result is a lot of bits and bytes of data flying around, requiring stringent policy enforcement around what information can be used when and by which services; privacy best practices; iron-clad cloud payment security; biometric safeguards; and encryption for both data in-transit and data at-rest. To name just a few dimensions.

Given the current state of internet of things security, there’s a long way to go on this. And perhaps they’ll figure it out by 2030—that’s 13 years away after all.

At least this crucial aspect of so-called “mobility as-a-service” is already getting some attention.

“Mobility-as-a-service cannot succeed without a sound security and identity strategy and integrated program,” said Jason Bradlee, head of security, Fujitsu America. “With connected components and motorists’ profile information available through cloud-based models, it will become vitally important that car companies detect security threats, and fraudulent identity attempts, utilizing such technologies as biometrics-as-a-service. This is an area especially where car manufacturers need to look outside of their companies and enlist the help and support of technology partners.”

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