Data in the driver's seat

With data growing exponentially and becoming increasingly indispensable, storage will continue to play a very important role in the evolution of the automobile

Updated: May 4, 2018 03:12:54 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Cars have come a long way from the mass produced automobiles in the early 1900s. Today’s car is intelligent and connected, making the travel completely seamless. In contrast to the mechanical cars, today’s automobiles come equipped with superior computing power and a range of electronic accessories to support navigation, telematics, infotainment as well safety and driver assistance features. A critical bedrock component of these advanced systems is something that may not be obvious — storage.

Consider the more familiar evolution of smart phones. In just over a decade, they went from mobile calling devices to powerful gadgets that are often our primary computing device. Advances in storage technology made our phones more compact and powerful. Automotive technology is traversing a similar path; cars can now be outfitted with powerful gadgets and peripherals, all of which either produce or consume data in different forms. Storage becomes the crucial clearing and storing house for all this diverse data, and therefore must be powerful and capacious enough to keep up with the demands of the various network and performance intensive features.

Most automobile users are familiar with navigation systems, which require storage and fast retrieval of mapping and satellite data, and infotainment systems that store all our favourite music and movies to be served up at a moment’s notice. These certainly require significant latency-free storage. But the technology that goes into the making of autonomous cars pivots on extremely high performance storage for the critical subset of big data termed as fast data. For a car to be able to make driving decisions, it relies on data from multiple sources including sensors, cameras, satellite data, mapping systems, etc., which act as the eyes, ears and brain of the vehicle. This diverse data has to be collected, collated and processed in real time to provide dynamic driving decisions: slow down to avoid hitting the car in front, change lanes, speed up to avoid a swerving car and so on. Therefore, the storage to support real time processing of large volumes of fast data must be extremely high performance. Furthermore, it should be able to withstand extreme conditions of temperature or weather that the vehicle might be exposed to. Automotive grade flash storage is becoming increasingly popular for its ability to match the very specific performance requirements of the automotive industry.

In the Indian context, autonomous or self-driving cars may seem like a distant possibility, given our challenging road and traffic conditions. However, it is worth noting that the same technology that enables autonomous driving also goes into Advance Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) which helps drivers make better and safer driving decisions. India already has home grown ADAS solutions that have been launched for commercial fleet management. Furthermore, given our penchant for being early adopters of innovative and disruptive technologies, I firmly believe that we will apply the advancements in automotive technology in a manner that makes sense for our unique conditions. For instance, electric vehicle (EV) technology is gathering momentum along with an increase in domestic solar power production. From a technology perspective, connected and ADAS-enabled cars will be just as relevant in that scenario and could aid the process of transitioning to electric—to appeal to consumers and gain the competitive edge, EVs will need to match all the amenities of traditional vehicles.

As cars get increasingly well-connected to 4G or 5G networks, it is easy to stay connected to users’ data in the cloud as well as to service providers who manage the various services that the car uses, including emergency assistance. In the context of a network, an automobile is considered an edge device which means it is important to store crucial or oft-accessed data locally while availing the option of pushing less critical stuff out to the cloud on a periodic basis. It can certainly be argued that automobiles have a wide range of storage requirements, but what is absolutely without doubt is that they will requires huge amounts of storage.

By the year 2022, each autonomous or ADAS enabled car is expected to require up to 1 TB of storage (based on internal Western Digital estimates). India was also recently pegged as the second fastest growing market for passenger vehicles. With data growing exponentially and becoming increasingly indispensable, storage will continue to play a very important role in the evolution of the automobile. Given the huge market potential for automotive storage, storage manufacturers are offering solutions tailored for the industry. It promises to be an exciting journey as we cruise into a new era of travel.

-The author is the director of business development, Embedded & Enterprise at Western Digital Corporation - India and South Asia

FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS: This article contains forward-looking statements, including statements relating to expectations for storage products, the market for storage products, product development efforts, and the capacities, capabilities and applications of Western Digital products. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements, including development challenges or delays, supply chain and logistics issues, changes in markets, demand, global economic conditions and other risks and uncertainties listed in Western Digital Corporation’s most recent quarterly and annual reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, to which your attention is directed. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements and we undertake no obligation to update these forward-looking statements to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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