How does the weather affect a car?

Weather forecasts by rolling sensors

Today's car can do much more than just drive from A to B. It collects data about the weather and automatically turns on the windscreen wipers. Knows when the road is bumpy and how many people are in a vehicle. All of this is possible because cars are now full of sensors that collect data about their surroundings every millisecond. Everything so that the driver is as comfortable as possible.

Christian Wolff and Daniel Obreiter from the Institute for Applied System Technology Bremen (ATB) think it is a good idea. But you are also sure: There is more to it than that. Because if cars are already collecting so much data about their surroundings, why shouldn't they continue to be used? That was the starting point for the Automat project, which the ATB carried out together with partners such as Volkswagen, Fiat and Renault until the end of March and which was funded by the European Union with 4.5 million euros.

Use data wisely

"If the collected data is lost, that's basically wasted money," says Wolff. You could use them sensibly. The engineer gives an example: So far, weather forecasts have been based on data from fixed weather stations that are several kilometers apart. “But cars are already basically moving weather stations,” says the expert. They measure air pressure, temperature, and they have rain sensors. If you were to collect the weather data from every car, the network of weather stations would be much narrower - and forecasts could be made much more precise. The interest from business shows that this is not just a purely theoretical consideration: Meteologix, a company owned by weather expert Jörg Kachelmann, also took part in the research project. Another example are the shock absorbers, which collect data on the condition of the roads and whose information can be of interest to navigation providers or municipalities.

The project then focused on the question: How can the researchers use the information? “The data was there, but there was still no access to it,” says ATB managing director Obreiter. The large number of sensors is an enormous help for the researchers, but it also presents them with new problems. They simply collect far too much data to be transferred quickly and easily these days. In addition, the mobile network has gaps, especially in rural regions, so that data transmission via the mobile Internet does not work everywhere. “That's why we also had to find out: which data is important to us and which is not?” Says Wolff.

That was by no means the only challenge: Since data from all car manufacturers should be used, the project partners had to agree on a uniform data format. The Spanish IT group Atos, also a member of Automat, then developed a platform on which the information is collected. Companies such as Meteologix or the map provider Here should then be able to access this big data marketplace in order to use the data for their own business.

How safe is my data?

In addition to all of the technical questions, there is also a big social one that could well decide between success and failure: How secure is my data? Because if all possible information is collected, collected and sent on every journey, conclusions can sometimes be drawn about the driver. Is it stored, for example, where and when I drive my car? Will the car manufacturer know in the future whether I am traveling alone or will be accompanied? Will others soon be able to use the acceleration data to see whether I am driving more sportily or cautiously?

"The car manufacturers have made it very clear that they do not see themselves as the owners of the data," says Obreiter. That is still the driver. Obreiter also says: “Some of the data can be personalized and traced.” For example, if the driver has an insurance tariff that is based on the driving style. "That is why the driver should be able to decide whether or not to send data to the marketplace before each trip," says Obreiter.

After all, drivers shouldn't have to give their data in vain. Because if others use the information he has collected to earn money, he should also benefit from it. For example, a system similar to a bonus card is conceivable in which collected points can be exchanged for rewards.

But it will take some time before that happens: the project ended in spring. "A finished product did not come out," says Wolff. “But the preparatory work has been done.” And in December a new project began, which is funded by the EU. It builds on Automat, but this time not only wants to collect data from cars, but also from smart homes. Because many houses are now collecting data about their environment.