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October 11, 2017updated 16 Oct 2017 11:05am

Data is the driving force behind autonomous cars – so what about storage?

Western Digital demonstrates how storage solutions are becoming more important as the amount of car data increases.

By April Slattery

Autonomous vehicles are the newest trend in the car market, but putting AI in the driving seat is not the be all and end all when it comes to making the car of the future. A vital component of autonomous vehicles is data storage, with car makers now demanding systems which are capable of handling the huge amount of data generated by ‘smart’ cars.

On-board computers, as well as the myriad of sensors and other tech powering autonomous driving, are facing ever-increasing data demands – even today, the average car generates up to a gigabyte of data per day. For Martin Booth, data is the real driver when it comes to autonomous cars, meaning that the big sell for future cars will lie in the tech, not the aesthetic.

“Some manufacturers say value isn’t going to be in the traditional elements of the car like the engine but in the software and electronics in the car,” said Booth, Director of Marketing for automotive technology at Western Digital.

“Special systems must be developed for autonomous cars, in order to record the substantial amount of data a car generates over a daily period, up to a TB in 2020 and beyond. Cars have gone from basic activity, to analysing real time data on the edge in order to make effective decisions about what to do next on the road.”

Western Digital drive autonomous storage solutions to the Edge

Martin Booth, Western Digital

The ‘special systems’ Booth refers to must all be geared towards one main objective – reliability. If the tech fails, lives could be lost, as Booth told CBR.

“The number one priority for us is reliability – drivers can’t have a failure as they drive along. Storage needs to be highly reliable to start with and have at least two computers in the car to back up in case anything was to go wrong.”

However, the reliability of a storage system, and in turn the entire car, breeds another challenge – the biggest challenge facing automotive data storage according to Booth.

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“The biggest challenge in automotive data storage is the complexity of software and keeping it updated. At the moment this is inconvenient for consumers as they have to go to their dealer, whereas with new solutions updates can be done overnight much more frequently and be much more secure than ever before.”

A key component in the storage conundrum currently casting a shadow over the development of autonomous cars is the processing of the data generated by the cars – in reality, lives could be lost if data is not quickly processed and communicated to the car or driver. For Booth, there is only one solution to this, and it lies at the edge.

“By using edge computing, it can help make decisions quicker, so it doesn’t overload a network. The real-time data allows for vehicle to vehicle or vehicle to infrastructure communication. For example, cars can talk to the traffic light using real-time data to stop or start, or communicate road accidents much quicker than possible in the cloud.”

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The possibilities for effective data storage and processing when it comes to autonomous cars is seemingly endless – saving lives, lowering insurance premiums, easing congestion, slashing pollution, increasing efficiency etc etc. There is likely to be articles numbering in their thousands about the positive impact to autonomous driving.

However, underpinning all these benefits is data. ‘Data is the new oil’ is a slogan repeated often in the tech industry but, for cars, the phrase will never be more apt. As such, it will become ever more crucial for manufacturers, tech companies and car makers to utilise the best way to store and analyse data onboard. As Booth told CBR, “with a GB of data a day potentially being generated, storage solutions have never been more important.”

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