Insurers plan for autonomy while adding telematics
Insurance carriers, which are currently grappling with the disruptive changes wrought by the current addition of connectivity, will soon be faced with another disruption. The automotive industry’s conversion to autonomous driving will be an even greater challenge. The companies’ progressive plans will have to metamorphose during the transitional period when human drivers and autonomous vehicles share the road.
Many insurers are already collecting vehicle information using a range of telematics technologies that include smart phones, embedded telematics, and a range of proprietary modules and dongles. The majority of insurers are expected to offer usage based insurance (UBI) plans in the next few years, leveraging the integrated connectivity that is already on many vehicles and most of the cars now on the drawing boards.
Integrated telematics and smart phones are expected to eventually dominate the UBI field, eliminating the dongles that are now being used by some insurance companies to collect and transmit information like actual driving distance as well as speed, braking, and cornering data.
Currently, insurers are attempting to best use these telematics data to rate human drivers. When autonomous vehicles debut, creating new methodologies for rating computers is not the only job these insurers have to resolve. They will also have to ensure that vehicle owners get damaged vehicles back promptly.
“No matter who’s at fault, people are motivated to repair their cars,” said Eric Nordman, Director of Regulatory Services, at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). “Companies like GM or Ford may be more interested in proving their computer was right. It could take two years to resolve the case while the car sits in the shop.”
Legal issues could also come into play during the lengthy period when autonomous and human drivers share the roads. Well-funded automotive companies may be able to dominate court cases against drivers who don’t have deep pockets. Court cases will establish many aspects of the autonomous environment, so automotive companies are likely to focus their legal teams on winning early cases, according to many insurance managers.
Though they’re planning for the eventual upsurge in autonomous vehicles, most insurance companies are presently focusing on using telematics systems to collect actual vehicle data. The advent of integrated connectivity and closer links between cell phones and vehicle electronics is prompting a number of joint agreements between automakers, insurance companies, and data aggregators.
Germania Insurance and Cambridge Mobile Telematics just teamed up. EMC Insurance Co. recently partnered with Octo Telematics, which is investing $40 million to update a platform that is already being used on over 5 million vehicles. LexisNexis recently began a concept program to let insurance companies collect vehicle information for UBI.
“Four months ago, we entered a joint program with Mitsubishi,” said Pavan Mathew, Director of Automotive Business Development at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. “We will use [Google] Android Auto to gather data from vehicle sensors, GPS, accelerometers. We will collect over 30 parameters. The day will come when this type of data is paramount.”
Analyzing all the data that’s generated by cars will be a big challenge, regardless of whether humans or computers pilot the vehicle. Autonomous vehicles themselves will generate terabytes of data that can be analyzed when accidents occur. Other information can also be critical when insurance claims are made.
“We’re collecting weather conditions, traffic levels, and other parameters,” said Jonathan Hewett, Group Chief Marketing Officer at Octo Telematics. “We also have multiple inputs from the vehicles that will go through the final analysis. Crash algorithms will be used to examine crash events.”
Startups are getting involved to help insurers collect all the data that’s necessary to fully understand how to set UBI rates. For example, hard braking is often viewed as a negative factor because it can mean drivers were going too fast. But that’s not always the case.
“Cameras provide context,” said Amit Klein, Head of Product at Nexar, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze smartphone camera data. “If the reason the brakes were hit hard is that a child ran into the path, that’s good. It shouldn’t hurt the driver’s score.”