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Connected cars

Generate, gather, process and even sell data: let us take a look at how premium tire brands are transforming the business

Nicodemo Angì

All experts agree: many of the future developments of mobility will depend on vehicle connectivity, a powerful word due to its many implications. Cars will be connected to traffic lights and variable-message signs, they will communicate with each other, with their owners (e.g.  remote A/C activation) and even with houses: GPS data, sent via the Net, will turn on lights, air conditioners (not to mention the oven!) once the car is at a certain distance from home. Going a step forward, this means that the workload imposed by millions of connections, most of which wireless, will represent a great challenge for the Web’s infrastructures. It is not impossible to see how this hectic "interaction" among thousands of subjects will generate an impressive amount of data, difficult to manage and process but able to provide useful information, for example, to optimize traffic and energy resources as well as improving and developing the business.


Michelin wants Big data                                       

In this informative bustle, we tend to consider on-board electronics - highly advanced and powerful – as well as its producers, the main actors of this dialogic relationship; however, tires and tire manufacturers are also expected to play a role in this regard.

Noteworthy, for example, is the great importance that a tire manufacturer, such as Michelin, attributes to this exchange of data. The firm symbolized by the Bibendum plans to move on different grounds, starting from the tire manufacturing process. Following the programs highlighted last year in Chengdu, China, during the Michelin Challenge Bibendum, it was clear how the French brand desires to move in all directions to gather and process huge quantities of information. The first step deals with production facilities and the supervision of defective products. So far, three pilot projects are active, all in North America, with the aim of implementing these systems throughout the 67 Michelin production facilities around the world. 

Sebastien Douaillat, Michelin’s Enterprise Architect, has thus explained the project: “Every time a flaw is observed during a tire’s production process, a specific code is generated and saved, allowing us to analyze the number of factory defects in each production facility, separated by product, machine or operator.

This information is displayed and updated every fifteen minutes, practically in real time: we can say that the system is ready to manage the plant’s activities. Such an in-depth analysis, involving the use of MicroStrategy software, is one of our first important steps in the gathering and processing of Big Data within our production facilities".
A further promising avenue that Michelin intends to follow in gathering and processing big data relates to the monitoring of Social Media.


Michelin goes social!                                            

Besides the production of tires, Michelin is also active in the field of geo-referenced services, developed progressively starting from its popular travel and restaurant reference Guides (printed on paper since 1900). The ViaMichelin portal is in fact a solid reality for travelers and provides route planning, maps, weather forecasts and traffic reports, and much more. Its appearances on Social Networks have thousands of fans and YouTube viewers, as well as contributions that generate a lot of discussion online.

In order to take into consideration the all-important Web Reputation, and to refine online marketing campaigns, Michelin has decided, once again, to use MicroStrategy analysis tools to better understand the perception that users of social networks have about it. "This is where Big Data comes into play, since we need to acquire, analyze and store a large amount of information, frequently updated and from different sources. It all started with Twitter, as it is relatively easy to obtain data from its free API (Application Programming Interface) while collecting information from Facebook is rather more complicated ", said Douaillat. All data collected (we're talking about Twitter) concern the posting date and place, the content of the Tweet, what the industry  influencers are discussing in real time and the monitoring of keywords - positive or negative – about Michelin; it is clear that the algorithms must be refined, since a single keyword may not be enough to capture the sense of a whole sentence. Tires will represent a further source of data, in fact Michelin’s new sensors will exceed all current TPMS sensors in the quantity of information they can transmit. This will allow the company to reach its purpose, which is to understand how motorists are using their tires. Data from insurance companies and vehicle manufacturers – obviously anonymous – also form part of the data obtained in this context.

Another initiative aimed at collecting real usage data is the Michelin Road Usage Lab, 3,000 European vehicles with GPS and data transmission systems to capture the real conditions of use of both vehicles and tires.


The Pirelli case: producing and selling data in addition to tires

Pirelli is the next premium manufacturer to show a concrete interest in evolved sensors - and the data it generates - and can indeed be considered a pioneer: its CyberFleet monitoring system, which allows checking the working conditions of tires on heavy duty vehicles, has been, in fact, operative for some time now.

Experiments, in addition to transport vehicles and "normal" cars, also involve the fantastic Ferrari FXX K, collecting usage data on extreme vehicles. The subject is rather broad and complex, therefore, in order to effectively tackle it, Pirelli has signed agreements with partners such as Brembo, Magneti Marelli and the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Milan. These new Cyber Tires will be equipped with small self-powered sensors (their area is about 1 cm2) evenly arranged in the tires – TPMS sensors, just to make a comparison, are one for each wheel – and will send information by radio waves; the collected data will include, for example, grip, drift angle and road conditions. It is easy to see how having this information in real time allows further improving the performance of systems such as stability control, active suspension and ABS. The development of these "intelligent" tires will generate a lot of data, which has to be "filtered" (automobiles are full of disturbances) and continuously validated before being used by a vehicle’s on-board control unit. This analysis, which concerns the standard product during everyday use, was preceded by careful studies that allowed Pirelli to understand how to best use this information - which did not exist before - to control the dynamics of the vehicle; the process is almost complete and CyberTires are already under the lens of a number of car makers.

There is almost no need to say it, but after collecting Big Data, Pirelli, in addition to using them in its factories, sells them to insurance companies, simultaneously with Michelin. There are, in fact, thousands of transport vehicles equipped with a CyberFleet system, and the massive amount of data that this generates (they are of course aggregated by company, in order to maintain the anonymity of the driver) allows insurance companies to implement a pay as you drive policy, tailored on the average risk of a company’s vehicles. Pirelli is, figuratively speaking, also wearing its data dealer suit, on behalf of the road transport industry.

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