The Power of Data Collection

In this day and age, data collection follows us at every turn. Between computers, smartphones, and smart watches, nearly all of a person’s daily information can be recorded and tracked. While some forms of data collection are consensual and commonly known, other types of data collection occur behind the scenes and in places one might not expect.

One such vessel for data collection that many people are not aware of is their own vehicle. The concept of a “black box” that stores crucial information related to a crash was popularized by aircraft accidents, but Event Data Recorders (EDRs) have been present in some automobiles as far back as 1994. Nearly all passenger vehicles manufactured today contain an EDR within the vehicle’s airbag control module (ACM) that is capable of recording data related to a collision. That data is often utilized by accident investigators to assist with their analysis.

More recently, another form of data collection has started to occur within passenger vehicles. Infotainment systems, typically apparent by the inclusion of a touch screen on the center console, have brought technological advancements that enhance the driver’s experience. Much like the name implies, infotainment systems provide information to the user, such as directions or traffic updates, and control the user’s entertainment system, including the radio and smartphone connections. In addition to providing the information to a driver, many infotainment systems are also concurrently storing the data.

The types of data stored by infotainment systems can vary greatly between vehicle models, but some common elements include Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, call logs and contacts from connected phones, media files, and navigation/GPS data. Unlike the data stored within airbag control modules, infotainment data can contain personal information and location data. Additionally, the data from infotainment systems is consistently written while the vehicle is powered and not dependent on a collision for the information to be saved.

Circumstances where an infotainment download may be crucial for an investigation also vary. Criminal cases or special investigative unit (SIU) claims may benefit greatly from the cellphone data that can be pulled by an infotainment system, especially when such data cannot be obtained from a phone company or cellular carrier. GPS data can also play a critical role in the aforementioned investigations as well as for accident reconstruction purposes by deriving the vehicle speed from the timestamped coordinates.

Accessing infotainment data requires specialized equipment and training. Often times, the systems must be removed from the vehicles and disassembled in order to perform a download. However, the download process is still designed to be non-destructive. Berla Corporation has been at the forefront of infotainment system data collection with their iVe Ecosystem. Scott Swinford of American Bio Engineers is a Berla-certified vehicle system forensic technician and examiner. Mr. Swinford has experienced the benefit of obtaining information directly from a vehicle and has seen the increase in the data’s prevalence and importance over his years as an accident reconstructionist. According to Scott, “Vehicle data is so powerful because it’s the closest thing we have to witnessing an event. No argument can be made of any bias or human error when the data is literally a record of what was experienced by the vehicle. As the technology within vehicles has evolved, it’s important to keep up with the changes and emerging capabilities, which is why I engaged in training for infotainment systems. I anticipate the amount of data captured by these systems is only going to increase over time.”

Aperture’s mission to provide truth in focus is exemplified by their dedication to maintain a level of expertise on the most current forms of vehicle data retrieval. By offering the availability to retrieve data from all supported vehicle systems, the clearest picture of the truth can be gleaned during the analysis. Mr. Swinford and the Aperture team strive to provide the best service to their clients, and their investment in infotainment system downloads is evidence of their continued commitment to excellence.