Digital data transfer is transforming the auto industry

Global Automotive Lead, IBM

How many times have you gotten into your spouse’s car, a rental car or another unfamiliar vehicle and had to spend several minutes acclimating yourself to changing the different controls, mirrors and radio stations to personalize everything to your specifications? If you’re in a hurry, you may be even doing this while driving down the road—talk about distracted driving!

But what if you could have the car recognize who you are and automatically configure itself to you based on your personal data and preferences? And when you are done using it, it would return to its original configuration ready for the next person.

The assumption many people have today is that this data is mainly data about yourself and will be on your personal device, such as a smart phone. But we are talking about much more than that. The four categories of data listed below demonstrate that this is more complex and will require integration from multiple sources.


Digital data transfer is transforming the auto industryThe types of data falling into this category would be demographics, multimedia, financial, medical and lifestyle data and preferences. Of course, the amount of data that can be accessed in each of these categories would be dependent on how much the driver allows access to. It might also be determined situationally.

For example, if you had a heart condition, you might allow the vehicle to access that data so the sensors in the car can monitor your health and look for signs that might indicate a heart attack while you are driving. If it sensed certain conditions, it could alert you to pull off the road and ask to transfer the symptoms to the nearest hospital for further instructions.

This type of personal data would be generated outside the vehicle and brought in through personal devices, cloud or other methods.

Vehicle dependent

This would be data about how you set up the device to personalize it to you—in this case, the vehicle. This data would include settings and preferences for the different configurable areas of the vehicle including mechanical (seats, mirrors), infotainment (music stations), driver assist (navigation, safety), controls (dashboard, temperature), aesthetics (color, shape) and performance (driving preferences, vehicle handling).

Configuration data is very helpful when moving between one vehicle and another. For instance, if you are participating in a car sharing program and you have your usage preferences set for a particular brand, your preferences would move with you each time you requested that brand. This would create the experience that the vehicle feels like your own even when it isn't.

Configuration data is generated within the vehicle and would shared between vehicles based on the manufacturer’s capabilities.

Vehicle usage

Vehicle usage data is data that is generated while operating or occupying the vehicle would be usage data. This includes patterns, tendencies and behaviors of the driver, the occupants and also the vehicle and the surrounding environment. This data would be very dynamic and might change each time the vehicle is being used.

The routes you take to work, your driving behaviors and even the conditions outside the vehicle could all be learned and collected for future use. For example, drivers who brake sharply or take corners too fast could have the automatic adjustments to the car in order to more safely execute those maneuvers.

Vehicle usage data could also be generated and shared by vehicle manufacturers.


Supporting data is data that is brought in from other sources to give context and support to the other types of data mentioned above. Examples of this would be location-based, commerce or personal interest data that would be personalized and delivered when needed.

For instance, data tailored to you about places to stay or eat would be useful when on a trip. You might also be interested in certain sports teams or other activities nearby. This could be brought into the vehicle when it is available.

This data may be delivered through the vehicle or a personal device.

The future of vehicle customization

Having the ability to move your data, preferences and configurations between vehicles creates endless personalization options for consumers and can be an important differentiator for vehicle brands. These configurations are not an easy task and will require collaboration from many partners in the mobility ecosystem to become a reality.

To learn more, download the IBM Automotive 2025 - Industry without borders report.