In this evermore connected world, the automotive industry needs to move from competition to collaboration.

A global race is underway to digitize cars, and the perception is that the newcomers with a disruptive mentality have taken pole position. Silicon Valley and China are investing heavily in computer-controlled smart vehicles, closing the gap on Germany, traditionally an important and large market for the automotive and wider transportation sector. Indeed, Volkswagen has held the top spot for selling the most cars globally since overtaking Japan’s Toyota in 2016, according to Bloomberg. And it’s hardly a surprise, given the company’s track record of consistently being at the forefront of innovation. But with the almost limitless opportunities brought by emerging technologies, there will be many companies jostling for a podium finish.

In the West at least, Tesla is perhaps the best-known trailblazer in innovative automotive technology – making electric fashionable. But terrific energy and investment is also being poured into the digitization of vehicles in Silicon Valley and China. The start-ups do not have the ‘disadvantage’ of a large customer base built up over many years, and so are free to experiment and quickly deploy new data-led services developed from information collected via connected sensors. This innovation-critical data once stored, processed and analyzed – requiring a robust and cloud-based digital infrastructure – allows connected car providers to improve the operations, and therefore salability, of their vehicles.

Across geographies, great strides are being made towards self-driving or autonomous vehicles, which is perhaps what many of us think of as the ultimate ‘digitized’ car. The newcomers might be hogging the headlines, but established vehicle makers are investing heavily to accelerate progress and round out their capabilities too. For instance, BMW announced it would collaborate with Intel and Mobileye to put "highly and fully automated driving into series production by 2021".

On the road in two years

Tesla claims it will have fully autonomous vehicles that rely on autopilot on the roads in two years’ time, but autopilot is not enough to deal with real-world scenarios. We need to create an environment for mobility in which street furniture, like traffic lights and lampposts, have sensors and are linked to warn of a hazard around the corner, or an accident some distance away that is creating a jam and needs to be avoided.

The processing of substantial amounts of data currently plays a crucial role in the development of autonomous vehicles. The challenge lies not only with storing this data, but also with transferring it, as data collected in the car must be transferred to processing platforms for evaluation and analysis. Reliable and readily available networks and IT Infrastructures form the backbone of connected cars.

This is where Interconnection and access to digital ecosystems comes in. Autonomous vehicles and connected cars alike use vast amounts of data – in just one hour, a prototype car will produce up to 25GB of data – exceeding the storage capacity of most modern smartphones – to allow for the development of intelligent algorithms to control autonomous cars. Even the standard, modern connected car produces multiple megabytes of data per hour. This data contains valuable insights that, once processed, can be shared amongst road users and components (i.e. traffic lights) to provide an enhanced experience – greatly increasing efficiency and comfort. Afterall, the world’s smartest traffic light system is pointless if it cannot communicate with other devices. These advanced services are already functioning via existing 4G networks, but to realize their full potential and cope with the ever-proliferating levels of data in play, automotive companies need to re-architect their infrastructures on a global interconnection platform to directly and securely connect all the components of their digital supply chain in markets around the world.

It is generally reckoned that the infrastructure, interfaces and platforms required to interchange all the information between the necessary devices and parties involved, will not be truly utilized for another five or so years. There is much to be done.

Reinventing the wheel

But before these cars become common-place on our roads, the technology and innovation behind them, has to be consolidated and bullet-proofed. Automotive manufacturers are having to implement IoT and big data strategies, alongside digital architectures, that deliver globally distributed IT and Interconnection capabilities to allow real-time data capture, processing and analytics between vehicles and value chain processes.

Platform Equinix™ provides the ideal environment to test and build these processes, in collaboration with competitors and partners alike. Data sharing within this ecosystem translates into connected vehicle innovation, with insights shared between automotive players, technology providers, automotive suppliers and digital regulators amongst others. It is this collaboration that will be the major driver of innovation in the sector, as automotive companies realize that one brand alone cannot bring the fully autonomous car to market.

By working together, companies can build data exchange platforms to collaboratively work on algorithm development, innovating quicker and truly succeeding in digitizing vehicles. Ecosystems between industry players like these, are hosted on Platform Equinix to ensure the data being shared is done so quickly and securely. The automotive industry must collaborate in this way to solve the challenges of autonomously driving vehicles.

Interconnection hubs enable a whole new level of control over business-critical data with direct, secure, high-speed connectivity paving the road to success by allowing the seamless transmission of data between the entire digital supply chain. Stakeholders within the automotive and associated industries, need to develop together to co-create an open ecosystem that benefits everyone, with different partners contributing their specialist assets and expertise to make the whole thing work – bringing connected and autonomous cars to us all.

Author: Klaas Mertens - Equinix Global Solutions Architect in Germany.