2 March 2021
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The fourth industrial revolution – big data – blockchain – artificial intelligence – machine learning – analytics. Exciting terminology, for sure. And certainly fashionable (and probably somewhat overused). But what do they really mean? If you want to use the technology behind the expressions, what needs to happen? Those working at the coalface of data-driven technology will know that phrases like these hide a world of complexity but, more importantly, power. The value lies in the implementation. Here we look briefly at harnessing the power of collaboration and standardisation to deliver in future mobility.

All these phrases have one thing in common – a preponderance of data. It’s been estimated that a connected vehicle could generate terabytes of data per hour (see more in our blog 5G and autonomous vehicles - accelerating data communication speed). Information is currency, and deriving conclusions and information from data has value. The raw data comes from many different sources. The sources have different capabilities, use cases, and users. The sources may well have different manufacturers and developers: different parties with contrasting priorities, interests, and needs. In summary, there are a great many interested parties. Creating mechanisms for technologies and systems to interact and interface with one another – to use each other’s data – is key. Interoperability is no longer a “nice to have”, it is essential.

Standardisation

Standardisation is nothing new. On the contrary, it has historically proven successful. We can look to the USB interface as the quintessential example of wired connectivity peripheral standardisation. Today it is safe to say that most people have at least one USB device, and probably many more. USB standardisation – begun by a group of seven computing manufacturers in the mid-1990s and still going with the most recent USB-C standard – has enabled a vast simplification of wired connections for the end user. If my device has USB, I know how it will work, I know when it will work, and I know what to do with it when it doesn’t work (A: turn the plug 180 degrees). When I buy a USB device I do not have to worry whether or not I have a suitable connection for it, I know that I do. Furthermore, the companies developing USB devices don’t have to reinvent the wired connectivity wheel every time. They simply use the well-defined USB interface. As well as being relatively easy, it’s what their customers want. 

In the information age, we know that processing, sharing and using data is important. That challenging reality can be simplified by standardising how that data is created, stored, and distributed. What format is the data in? Can I process it easily? Can I create data that someone else can use? Or that I can use in future? Is the format extendible? Is it self-explanatory? Is it stored securely? Can I send and receive it easily? All these are questions that standardisation processes and collaboration aim to address. 

Future mobility – and in particular automated driving – are making great progress in both collaboration and standardisation. Just last month the MOBI group released version 2 of the vehicle identification (VID II) standard. MOBI includes start-ups and large technology companies and other companies with an interest in future mobility. Input from a wide range of stakeholders should lead to a fit-for-purpose standard that is effective for all users. The first VID standard, VID I, was a definition of a digital representation of a vehicle, created at manufacture. The VID I specification described the vehicle itself, for example its factory specifications. VID I provides the bridge between a real-world vehicle and its digital representation. VID II builds on VID I to specify how a vehicle could interact with the infrastructure in which it operates.

The system is built in a tamper-evident distributed ledger or blockchain. Trusted entities can read and write to and from the ledger, confident in the data they find there. With trust comes opportunity. If a user is confident of the data in the ledger, then possibilities for monetising that data become available. That data could be used to support a variety of business functions that require trustworthy and complete data. Consider, for example, how vehicle usage and maintenance history from a single trusted source could improve transactions when a complete record of vehicle history is available. A buyer knows exactly what they are getting and the risk of fraudulent activity is mitigated. Detailed information on vehicle usage also opens a host of possibilities. For example, integration with an electric vehicle charging infrastructure, allowing charging and payment to become simple to track and to manage. Taxation for road use could also be based entirely upon actual, measured road usage. A consequent awareness of, and reduction in, road travel could have a strongly positive environmental impact. There are also clear implications here for the insurance industry, for example.

Collaboration

As far as collaboration is concerned, we can look to the mobilityXlab initiative as a great example of supporting and collaborating with start-ups in the field of future mobility. MobilityXlabs was founded in 2017 by seven leading Swedish automotive and telecoms companies, including Veoneer and Ericsson. The aim of the initiative is to harness the power of start-ups – their flexibility and ideas – in combination with the experience of larger companies to co-create solutions for future mobility. This interaction of the smaller and larger companies is interesting, particularly where large companies are also working together. It seems unlikely that future mobility, in its many guises, can be cracked by a single company. We have seen how collaborations like MOBI define the standards. In the same way it seems likely that initiatives like mobilityXlabs will create technology to generate and use the data of the sort described by the standards. Combining resources, experience, and insights like mobilityXlabs and MOBI seems to be a likely path to success.

Collaboration does not end with those doing the innovating. We are experienced and confident in collaborating with our clients to create IP systems that work for them, inside or outside their own partnerships, to assist our clients in using IP to deliver on their business goals. This includes multi-party agreements, ensuring the details are in place for effective IP generation and usage.

Dan is a Partner and Patent Attorney at Mewburn Ellis. He works on all aspects of the patent application process in the mechanical, electronics, and engineering sectors. This includes patent drafting and prosecution. Dan is also experienced in providing freedom to operate opinions and the freedom to operate process.
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