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Building applications for connected cars:
how to access car data

Everything you need to know about building connected car applications using personalised car data from leading car makers.
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The conversation around car data has grown increasingly louder as consumer demand for in-vehicle services and a more integrated in-car experience increases. These expectations have arisen in part due to the rest of our home and work lives becoming more streamlined and connected, and the technology to make it happen in our vehicles now at a point where it’s ready to go mainstream.
To meet these consumer demands, developers and companies, referred to here as ‘third party services’, which are not necessarily directly associated with or working for major car makers, have begun developing cutting edge apps and services that work by using car data from connected vehicles.
This data could be information about the vehicle’s location, its speed, the fuel level, the state of the engine or any number of other specifications. The data is needed by the third parties so that the apps can offer services related to these specific data points. Here are two examples of services which a third party developer might build for a car user.

1. An application that gets the state of charge (battery level) of an electric vehicle. The driver of the electric vehicle is able to leave the car while it charges and is notified via the application when the charging is done or about to be done.

2. An insurance application that receives the mileage of the vehicle remotely on a daily basis. Thanks to this mileage data the insurance company is able to charge the user only for the times when the car was actually driven, and not for the times when it was stationary.

Without the car’s data, the apps offering these services simply wouldn’t work. This is because the app wouldn’t have enough personalised information to offer a tailored and useful experience to the user.

This data

This data could be information about the vehicle’s location, its speed, the fuel level, the state of the engine or any number of other specifications. The data is needed by the third parties so that the apps can offer services related to these specific data points. Here are two examples of services which a third party developer might build for a car user.

1. An application that gets the state of charge (battery level) of an electric vehicle. The
driver of the electric vehicle is able to leave the car while it charges and is notified via the application when the charging is done or about to be done.

2. An insurance application that receives the mileage of the vehicle remotely on a daily basis. Thanks to this mileage data the insurance company is able to charge the user only for the times when the car was actually driven, and not for the times when it was stationary.

Without the car’s data, the apps offering these services simply wouldn’t work. This is because the app wouldn’t have enough personalised information to offer a tailored and useful experience to the user.

The services that these apps or services offer meet a variety of user needs. The service might be assisting the driver, enhancing the driving experience, simplifying the solving of technical issues, increasing road safety, or entertaining the passengers. However, irrespective of the product the third party service would like to offer, all services will come up against the same barrier: how do they access the car data they need to function and to provide a tailored experience for the user?
In this article we’ll be examining the adjacent industries of connected car app development and global car makers. Crucially, we’ll be looking in detail at the role of the car data marketplace (also known as a vehicle data platform), and letting you know how app developers can access and work with car data via these platforms which are bridging the gap between these two evolving and adjacent ecosystems.
But first let’s start at the beginning, and that is with connected vehicles.

Car data and connected vehicles

When we begin the conversation about car data, we must first look to connected vehicles. It is connected vehicles - cars, motorcycles, buses - that generate car data.

What is a connected car? A connected car is simply a car that is equipped with internet access. Often it will also have a wireless local area network which enables it to share internet access, and therefore data, with other vehicles, applications and services. To provide some context on the growth in connected vehicles, it is reported that by 2025 there will be over 470 million connected vehicles on the roads in Europe, the USA and China alone. Right now, 85% of all new cars in these same areas are already classed as connected. With so many connected vehicles being built and driven around the globe, we have witnessed a corresponding growth in the amount of available car data that can be utilized for the benefit of car drivers, passengers, pedestrians and society as a whole.

But when we talk about the car data which is generated by connected vehicles, what do we mean? An example of car data could be the car’s location. This piece of information is known to the vehicle thanks to GPS tracking. Because the vehicle is connected to the internet it can then send this piece of information (or ‘data’), its location, to third parties like applications or services that may use it to operate (providing user consent has been secured) and which could provide the user with useful products or services which are directly related to the vehicle’s location.

For example, an application might be able to recommend a nearby restaurant, while another service might inform the driver of a car accident blocking the road ahead. Depending on which services the driver has permitted to have access to the vehicle’s data, those selected services can use the data generated by the car to improve the driver’s journey and the overall experience of road travel for all.

“This data can provide all kinds of insights, such as driving and road conditions and the locations of charging and fuel stations. Data produced from vehicles, if properly captured and organized, could be used to deliver services to consumers, such as helping to improve driving behavior or handing the information to city planners to better understand traffic patterns.” - Kirsten Korosec, TechCrunch

Conversely, the vehicle’s location could also be shared with other vehicles, or other connected parts of a town or city’s infrastructure. By sharing this information, the driver is able to enhance not only his own journey but also enhance and improve the safety of the journeys of others. For example, if the car’s location is known to the city infrastructure, then it can make the driver aware of potential hazards in that area, it can also let other drivers know if an area is particularly busy or if there are traffic jams up ahead. Cameras, sensors and good old fashioned humans can also count the number of vehicles and make a note of locations, but when a vehicle shares this information it is much more accurate, and it is able to be sent and received much more quickly. Depending one what type of service the third party application developers want to offer to car users, they will need access to one of three types of vehicle data.

Car data and connected vehicles

Personalised vehicle data

Personalised vehicle data is data that is identifiable to a certain vehicle identification number (VIN — a unique code, including a serial number, used to identify individual vehicles). With access to personalised vehicle data, third party services and applications are able to tailor their offerings specifically to each user. This is the most common type of data for third party services to want to work with, as it allows the most opportunities to offer a personalised, seamless user experience. An example of a service that requires personalised vehicle data would be an insurance app, as it would need to know the mileage of the vehicle in order to offer tailored insurance quotes.

Pseudonymised vehicle data

Pseudonymised data is when the most identifying fields within a database are replaced with artificial identifiers, or pseudonyms. For example a name could be replaced with a unique number. The purpose of pseudonymisation is to make sure the data record is less identifying, protecting users and reducing concerns about privacy and data sharing. Essentially this type of data is neither fully anonymous nor directly identifying. When GDPR was brought in in 2018, the “pseudonymisation” of personal data was actively encouraged. An example of a service that requires pseudonymised vehicle data would be a parking app. Such an app would gather data about parking patterns and how cars move around within a certain area. By building algorithms, and feeding the app with anonymous data, the service is able to make predictions about the availability of free parking spots and then report those back to users who have the app.

Anonymised

Anonymisation is a step beyond pseudonymised data in that all personal identifiers, both direct and indirect, that may lead to an individual being identified are removed. The advantage to this kind of data is that it does not fall within the scope of GDPR and becomes easier to use. The disadvantage is that services cannot be tailored to fit an individual, as the service will have no access to information that would reveal who that person is. An example of a service that benefits from having access to anonymised vehicle data would be data from vibration sensors to determine road conditions.

How do applications work with vehicle data?

There are a multitude of different ways for data to be integrated into an application or service, but what’s important to remember is that in every case consent from the user needs to have first been secured. We’ll discuss the issue of customer consent in detail a bit further down, but first let’s run through the options available to developers who want to work with vehicle data.

Perhaps the most well-known option for developers who wish to build a service for connected vehicles is for them to build a server-side application that consumes the data directly from the cloud. The data in these cases is typically consumed through a REST interface or an SDK (software development kit) built specifically for server-side applications. A REST interface or REST API is an acronym for Representational State Transfer. It is one of the most popular types of API as it is designed to take advantage of existing protocols. This is indeed its main advantage: because the API can be used over nearly any protocol, developers do not need to install additional software or libraries when creating a REST API.

Another option, though less commonly used, is when a phone application, such as an iOS or Android app, consumes the data directly from the phone. This is more likely to be the case for UX-focused applications. For the application developer, this means that an SDK is used to access the data. In some cases, these types of integrations remove the need to plug additional hardware into the car to enable the same application.

Irrespective of how the data is integrated into an application, once the data has been integrated it is used to enhance the user experience or provide additional functionality to the user.

What is a car data market place

As we have seen, access to car data is vital for the running of specific services, services which are in high demand from consumers around the world. Due to the wide-ranging commercial application and possibilities of car data, and this relatively new demand for services, the data itself has an increasingly high value. But where do developers get access to this highly-sensitive car data?

The answer to that question is in a car data marketplace (also known as a vehicle data platform).

A car data marketplace is a hub where third party applications and services can get verified to work with all types of car data: personalised, pseudonymised and anonymised, and car makers can sell their car data for a specific price. However, applications and services cannot simply ‘get car data’ or purchase it like a new appliance they are buying on Amazon. Instead, the car maker they wish to work with needs to check the quality of what the third party wants to offer to their customers and then, once the quality has been proven, the car maker allows the developer access to their customers’ vehicle data. The car maker wants to be sure that the services being built for their vehicles provide their customers with a high quality service which offers significant value. Additionally, no customer’s vehicle data can be accessed without the explicit consent of that customer.

Are you ready to connect to car data

Now that you’ve got a good understanding of the world of connected vehicles, car data and vehicle data platforms, it’s time for you to explore the different data products available from the variety of vehicle data platforms out there to see which offering fits the needs of your application.

The HIGH MOBILITY platform has a wide range of data products available for every type of service. In addition to our data products, we offer an in-browser testing environment consisting of lightweight car emulators on which you can test and perfect your application, as well as the opportunity to simulate journeys to see for yourself how your application would work on the road. You’ll also find a transparent and fully digital checkout proces, in-depth tutorials and documentation, the option to become part of an engaged developer community and technical support from a range of in-house experts.

How to access data using a vehcicle data platform

Now that you’ve got a good understanding of the world of connected vehicles, car data and vehicle data platforms, it’s time for you to explore the different data products available from the variety of vehicle data platforms out there to see which offering fits the needs of your application.

The HIGH MOBILITY platform has a wide range of data products available for every type of service. In addition to our data products, we offer an in-browser testing environment consisting of lightweight car emulators on which you can test and perfect your application, as well as the opportunity to simulate journeys to see for yourself how your application would work on the road. You’ll also find a transparent and fully digital checkout proces, in-depth tutorials and documentation, the option to become part of an engaged developer community and technical support from a range of in-house experts.

A short note about costumer consent and sharing car

Whether the application looking to connect to vehicle data is offering pay-as-you-drive insurance, charging, or something completely different, each car owner must consent to the application’s access to — and use of — the relevant data. During the authorisation process, the vehicle owner should always have the opportunity to confirm or deny the third party application’s request to access this data.

Though consumers are accustomed to sharing all kinds of data from their phones, authorising access to vehicle data is a new and sensitive topic — which is why it’s important that the authorisation flow and data handling is secure, transparent, and GDPR-compliant (should a car-owner no longer wish to share their data, they can revoke permission at any time, either in the application or in their carmaker’s owner portal).

Throughout the authorisation process, it should be made very clear what data has been requested, by whom, and for what purpose. The process should look familiar to anyone who has used OAuth 2.0 to log in to an online service.

Car data and
connected vehicles

When we begin the conversation about car data, we must first look to connected vehicles. It is connected vehicles - cars, motorcycles, buses - that generate car data.

What is a connected car? A connected car is simply a car that is equipped with internet access. Often it will also have a wireless local area network which enables it to share internet access, and therefore data, with other vehicles, applications and services. To provide some context on the growth in connected vehicles, it is reported that by 2025 there will be over 470 million connected vehicles on the roads in Europe, the USA and China alone. Right now, 85% of all new cars in these same areas are already classed as connected. With so many connected vehicles being built and driven around the globe, we have witnessed a corresponding growth in the amount of available car data that can be utilized for the benefit of car drivers, passengers, pedestrians and society as a whole.

But when we talk about the car data which is generated by connected vehicles, what do we mean? An example of car data could be the car’s location. This piece of information is known to the vehicle thanks to GPS tracking. Because the vehicle is connected to the internet it can then send this piece of information (or ‘data’), its location, to third parties like applications or services that may use it to operate (providing user consent has been secured) and which could provide the user with useful products or services which are directly related to the vehicle’s location.

For example, an application might be able to recommend a nearby restaurant, while another service might inform the driver of a car accident blocking the road ahead. Depending on which services the driver has permitted to have access to the vehicle’s data, those selected services can use the data generated by the car to improve the driver’s journey and the overall experience of road travel for all.

This data can provide all kinds of insights, such as driving and road conditions and the locations of charging and fuel stations. Data produced from vehicles, if properly captured and organized, could be used to deliver services to consumers, such as helping to improve driving behavior or handing the information to city planners to better understand traffic patterns.” - Kirsten Korosec, TechCrunch

Conversely, the vehicle’s location could also be shared with other vehicles, or other connected parts of a town or city’s infrastructure. By sharing this information, the driver is able to enhance not only his own journey but also enhance and improve the safety of the journeys of others. For example, if the car’s location is known to the city infrastructure, then it can make the driver aware of potential hazards in that area, it can also let other drivers know if an area is particularly busy or if there are traffic jams up ahead. Cameras, sensors and good old fashioned humans can also count the number of vehicles and make a note of locations, but when a vehicle shares this information it is much more accurate, and it is able to be sent and received much more quickly. Depending one what type of service the third party application developers want to offer to car users, they will need access to one of three types of vehicle data.

Different types of vehicle data

Personalised vehicle data

Personalised vehicle data is data that is identifiable to a certain vehicle identification number (VIN — a unique code, including a serial number, used to identify individual vehicles). With access to personalised vehicle data, third party services and applications are able to tailor their offerings specifically to each user. This is the most common type of data for third party services to want to work with, as it allows the most opportunities to offer a personalised, seamless user experience. An example of a service that requires personalised vehicle data would be an insurance app, as it would need to know the mileage of the vehicle in order to offer tailored insurance quotes.

Pseudonymised vehicle data

Pseudonymised data is when the most identifying fields within a database are replaced with artificial identifiers, or pseudonyms. For example a name could be replaced with a unique number. The purpose of pseudonymisation is to make sure the data record is less identifying, protecting users and reducing concerns about privacy and data sharing. Essentially this type of data is neither fully anonymous nor directly identifying. When GDPR was brought in in 2018, the “pseudonymisation” of personal data was actively encouraged. An example of a service that requires pseudonymised vehicle data would be a parking app. Such an app would gather data about parking patterns and how cars move around within a certain area. By building algorithms, and feeding the app with anonymous data, the service is able to make predictions about the availability of free parking spots and then report those back to users who have the app.

Anonymised

Anonymisation is a step beyond pseudonymised data in that all personal identifiers, both direct and indirect, that may lead to an individual being identified are removed. The advantage to this kind of data is that it does not fall within the scope of GDPR and becomes easier to use. The disadvantage is that services cannot be tailored to fit an individual, as the service will have no access to information that would reveal who that person is. An example of a service that benefits from having access to anonymised vehicle data would be data from vibration sensors to determine road conditions.

How do applications work with vehicle data?

There are a multitude of different ways for data to be integrated into an application or service, but what’s important to remember is that in every case consent from the user needs to have first been secured. We’ll discuss the issue of customer consent in detail a bit further down, but first let’s run through the options available to developers who want to work with vehicle data.

Perhaps the most well-known option for developers who wish to build a service for connected vehicles is for them to build a server-side application that consumes the data directly from the cloud. The data in these cases is typically consumed through a REST interface or an SDK (software development kit) built specifically for server-side applications. A REST interface or REST API is an acronym for Representational State Transfer. It is one of the most popular types of API as it is designed to take advantage of existing protocols. This is indeed its main advantage: because the API can be used over nearly any protocol, developers do not need to install additional software or libraries when creating a REST API.

Another option, though less commonly used, is when a phone application, such as an iOS or Android app, consumes the data directly from the phone. This is more likely to be the case for UX-focused applications. For the application developer, this means that an SDK is used to access the data. In some cases, these types of integrations remove the need to plug additional hardware into the car to enable the same application.
Irrespective of how the data is integrated into an application, once the data has been integrated it is used to enhance the user experience or provide additional functionality to the user.

What is a car data
marketplace or vehicle data platform?

As we have seen, access to car data is vital for the running of specific services, services which are in high demand from consumers around the world. Due to the wide-ranging commercial application and possibilities of car data, and this relatively new demand for services, the data itself has an increasingly high value. But where do developers get access to this highly-sensitive car data?

The answer to that question is in a car data marketplace (also known as a vehicle data platform).

A car data marketplace is a hub where third party applications and services can get verified to work with all types of car data: personalised, pseudonymised and anonymised, and car makers can sell their car data for a specific price. However, applications and services cannot simply ‘get car data’ or purchase it like a new appliance they are buying on Amazon. Instead, the car maker they wish to work with needs to check the quality of what the third party wants to offer to their customers and then, once the quality has been proven, the car maker allows the developer access to their customers’ vehicle data. The car maker wants to be sure that the services being built for their vehicles provide their customers with a high quality service which offers significant value. Additionally, no customer’s vehicle data can be accessed without the explicit consent of that customer.

In a car data marketplace like the HIGH MOBILITY platform, a third party service will get an overview of which car makers provide which specific data sets. It will then select the permissions it wishes to work with (the permissions it requires to perform its specific service like pay-as-you-go insurance or ridesharing, for example). Once the permissions have been selected, the third party service will need to submit its application to the marketplace to be checked for quality and relevance. The marketplace will then verify the application, in which case the service will have access to the data it needs, or suggest improvements so that it reaches the standard the car maker requires before it can be submitted again.

The beauty of using a brokering system like the car data marketplace on the HIGH MOBILITY platform is the transparency and simplicity it affords all parties. Through one single, standardised access point - the Auto API - third parties only need to integrate once in order to work with a large range of car makers. Essentially what this means is that through a single point of access, services are able to connect to a large range of different suppliers and customers. All the data available on the platform is harmonised to fit into a precise data index, providing all partners with full details of the exact data points available.

This standardised data format means that service providers need only integrate with HIGH MOBILITY’s car data marketplace through HIGH MOBILITY’s APIs once, rather than entering into many different relationships with automotive OEMs and other data providers, while also wrestling with a variety (and ever-changing) array of data formats and categories across companies.

How to access data using a vehicle data platform

The vehicle data market is still new, both for data providers and third parties. At this stage what’s key is for third parties to figure out what kind of data they need from the vehicle. Is it personalised data that would be most valuable to their product? Or is anonymised data in bulk quantity for big data-related services what they are looking for? These third parties will also need to think about what their required data update rate is. Is once a day enough to inform their app, or does it really need a data update every 5 minutes to perform at its best?
Secondly, the third parties need to know which providers are offering the specific vehicle data that they are looking for. Typically, in the current climate, different vehicle data platforms have different agreements with carmakers and have different data product bundles or offerings for those looking to integrate data into their app. It is worthwhile for third party services to spend some time researching what these different product offerings consist of, and their pricing, to have a good understanding of which vehicle data marketplace is the right one for their product.
Another factor influencing whether or not an application or service may choose to access vehicle data via one car data marketplace over another is the type of integration tools which that vehicle data platform offers. These tools could be SDKs, a testing environment, vehicle emulators, or tutorials. Some car data marketplaces may offer substantial technical support, while others may not. Depending on the needs and level of experience of the third party service, these additional features will make some vehicle data platforms more attractive than others.
Finally the pricing model used by the car data marketplace will affect how many developers and third party services access data via that platform. Easy-to-understand and transparent pricing is more likely to be attractive to third parties, who will be wary of being caught out by unexpected or hidden costs. Small companies will also want to calculate their costs in advance and work out how these costs will grow as they increase the number of vehicles they connect to. A data marketplace that is transparent and clear about how its pricing works is likely to generate loyal and repeat customers.
When a third party service has chosen which data marketplace it wishes to work with it will then need to integrate with that marketplace’s standardised API. This standardised API will allow it to connect to multiple car makers by seeking verification to connect to their customers’ vehicles. The integration of the marketplace’s API is likely to involve entering into a data contract with that marketplace. Once that contract is signed, the third party service should then be free to submit their applications to the many different car makers who are also in an agreement with that marketplace.

A short note about customer consent and sharing car data

Whether the application looking to connect to vehicle data is offering pay-as-you-drive insurance, charging, or something completely different, each car owner must consent to the application’s access to — and use of — the relevant data. During the authorisation process, the vehicle owner should always have the opportunity to confirm or deny the third party application’s request to access this data.

Though consumers are accustomed to sharing all kinds of data from their phones, authorising access to vehicle data is a new and sensitive topic — which is why it’s important that the authorisation flow and data handling is secure, transparent, and GDPR-compliant (should a car-owner no longer wish to share their data, they can revoke permission at any time, either in the application or in their carmaker’s owner portal).

Throughout the authorisation process, it should be made very clear what data has been requested, by whom, and for what purpose. The process should look familiar to anyone who has used OAuth 2.0 to log in to an online service.

Are you ready to connect to car data?

Now that you’ve got a good understanding of the world of connected vehicles, car data and vehicle data platforms, it’s time for you to explore the different data products available from the variety of vehicle data platforms out there to see which offering fits the needs of your application.

The HIGH MOBILITY platform has a wide range of data products available for every type of service. In addition to our data products, we offer an in-browser testing environment consisting of lightweight car emulators on which you can test and perfect your application, as well as the opportunity to simulate journeys to see for yourself how your application would work on the road. You’ll also find a transparent and fully digital checkout proces, in-depth tutorials and documentation, the option to become part of an engaged developer community and technical support from a range of in-house experts.

Take a look at our digital data products now to start working with vehicle data.
GET STARTED