Where has the OBD port gone on my car?

haydn.thompson Friday February 9, 2018

This may be a question you will be asking yourselves in coming years. A number of years ago the OBD port was introduced on cars to give access to the engine fault codes for diagnostics as well as emissions information in order to perform emissions checks. The key thing was that this was provided in an open sense in order to allow third parties to access and use the information. The world is, however, changing and recent cyber attacks have highlighted the vulnerability of having such open interfaces to Cyber Physical Systems. This is particularly a problem as we move towards autonomous cars. As a consequence many car companies such as BMW are announcing that they plan is to progressively close access to the OBD port on the grounds of security and safety. In the first instance this will be to close access to the port as the car is driven but increasingly there are concerns about connectivity and the implications that this may have on warranty.

This presents a problem as a whole service industry has grown up around utilising the data from the OBD port for fleet management, remote diagnostics, insurance and eco-driving. The access to the OBD is actually dictated by EU competition laws and car companies need to allow access to data for garages to allow independent repairers to work on cars. So in future manufacturers still need to allow access to data. So how can this be done? Looking to the future the aim is to provide an open, standardised, independent and normalised data set via connectivity leading to the concept of the “Extended Vehicle”. OEMs can provide the secured transmission of data to a platform which is separate from the car. The data in this platform can then be made available to 3rd parties, but at a cost. Of course, this opens up opportunities for major players in handling data such as Apple, Google and Amazon. With this comes the question of who owns the data? Certainly, the concept of the extended vehicle raises issues on who has access to the data and also the privacy of the vehicle owner. Additionally, however, the consumer must have the freedom to choose service providers, the parts that are used and also any new applications that may be installed on the vehicle. This will require careful regulation to avoid abuses.

So what is industry doing? Already there are industrial initiatives trying to address these issues. One such initiative is the CARUSO Dataplace. This is being led by a consortium of part manufacturers, distributors and repairers represented by the association of European Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA). This aims to define an open, neutral, interoperable, standardised and secured data cloud and service platform for the automotive sector.

So the future looks very much more connected with vehicle data being held in a large database probably being controlled by the OEMs that by definition needs to be accessible by independent aftermarket providers. This raises an interesting question of what would the OEMs learn from the service providers who access the data and how independent will service providers remain in future?

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