When will accuracy catch up to in-car data? Asks Louis Bedigian. [Tele.Bedigian.2016.07.05]

Automakers and insurance providers have the potential to collect a fair amount of data but most of that info comes without context. This makes it difficult to determine if a driver is behaving recklessly, by braking frequently while tailgating or just enduring stop-go traffic.

David Pratt, general manager for UBI at Progressive Insurance, recognises this shortcoming. He said that while Progressive’s data is accurate, he would like to distinguish between the hard acceleration that occurs while getting on a highway versus leaving school at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

“Those are very different hard accelerations,” said Pratt. “We’ve started to collect GPS data to be able to do that. We’re still in research mode, collecting data to see if we can actually show that the scores are more accurate and more fair. But for now it’s just a research thing.”

Regardless of context, Pratt thinks that consumers should always have the option to decline or accept how much data is collected, if any at all. “I think what’s really important is that this stuff has to be voluntary and it has to be clearly disclosed to people,” said Pratt. “Snapshot is a voluntary thing, so if you have concerns about not sharing your data, you just don’t do it.”

Pratt insisted that there is “no sort of Big Brother thing” going on because the customer is always in control of the data. He said: “I think where it would be a problem is if somebody tried to make it mandatory, which we have no intention of doing.”

Device transition

The OBD II port is regularly used to analyse problems and measure driver performance, but Pratt expects to see a functional improvement when Progressive starts using smartphone apps to collect data. “Those will be easier for the customer, so more people will sign up,” said Pratt. “And they’ll be much cheaper for the company, which hopefully allows us to pass on bigger discounts to the customers that are participating.”

Beyond that, Progressive is working with carmakers to see if it can acquire data directly from the car. The company is already doing this with General Motors, allowing the automaker to email its customers about potential insurance discounts. Pratt described the whole process as being “very transparent.”

“You’ll see this ad that General Motors sends us that says, ‘Do you want to share your data with Progressive?’” said Pratt. “If you click that, you’ll see a Progressive landing page with an acknowledgement that says, ‘Yes, I do want to share my data with Progressive.’ You have to click the little box and continue, so there’s lots of opportunities to change your mind.” This is not an ongoing procedure, so consumers will only be required to share their data once. They will also be given the chance to see their data before it is shared.

Theft recovery

Progressive is starting to look at new ways to use the location data it has begun to collect. It is still in the research phase but one potential use is theft recovery. “If you report your car stolen, can we ping the [car] and figure out where it is and you get it back?” Pratt speculated. “But that’s a pretty limited example. We’re really concerned about the customer trusting that they can [share data] and not worry about where [it] goes. We’ve said that we won’t share their data with third parties. We won’t use it for a claims investigation unless the customer asks us to.”

Evolutionary driving

In addition to data collection, Pratt is also interested in autonomous and semi-autonomous technology. “This, again, will require a partnership with the automakers,” said Pratt. “Conceptually, if the autopilot feature works really well and it’s really safe, then maybe we have the same kind of car – but you use autopilot all the time and I rarely use it. You probably deserve a lower insurance price.”

Pratt referred to this as a “pie in the sky” idea but said that Progressive is talking to automakers about how they can make it happen. In the best-case scenario, it could mean lower premiums for consumers who take advantage of autopilot but it may not reduce the overall cost of insurance. Said Pratt: “The number of accidents has been coming down every year with all these new safety technologies but the cars cost more to fix, so the pure premium (or cost per car) has stayed pretty flat.”

Not all safety features have yielded the anticipated results. Pratt said that anti-lock brakes were once expected to reduce accidents but they didn’t have an impact. “Now with these automatic collision avoidance systems, those really seem to work,” Pratt added. “It seems that when you have that feature on your car, you probably would have fewer accidents. We sort of monitor to see what works and what doesn’t.”

TU-Automotive West Coast 2016

13 Oct 2016 - 14 Oct 2016, San Diego, USA

Tu-Automotive West Coast is TU-Automotive's premiere data event that explores and develops new ideas and business practices opening up with big data. It has come to underpin every facet of the connected car and future infotainment systems from security to new advertising methods and new ways to access content.