Robert S. Kinder Jr., MS, Mechanical Engineer ::::
Even though cell phones are physically small, their data storage capacity is quite large. The infotainment system storage capacity in newer cars is also large and includes data from cell phones if it has been connected via Bluetooth or USB. An infotainment system refers to a vehicle system that provides entertainment and information to the end user. The systems include audio and video interfaces, touchscreens, and other features to enhance the user experience. Most newer vehicles are equipped with an infotainment system that assists users with various tasks such as hands-free calling and a rear-facing camera for reversing.
So, what data is stored by infotainment systems and what is recoverable from them? The answer depends on a couple factors such as the vehicle trim and what cell phone was connected. For example, Ford has four different infotainment systems, each with different data recording capabilities. Potential infotainment data includes when a door opens or closes, when headlights are activated, GPS logs, cell phone call logs and text messages, etc. Some data is time-stamped, and some are stamped with latitude/longitude points. A connected cell phone allows the infotainment system to stamp the connection event with a unique device number. Analyzing the data reveals a timeline of events including where and when they occurred and whose cell phone was connected to the vehicle.
Even if data is deleted, the possibility for data recovery still exists for a forensic investigator utilizing the proper hardware and software. Infotainment data usage extends far beyond collision reconstruction or traditional event data recorders (EDRs). In the event a vehicle was stolen and recovered, an investigator can determine the vehicle’s whereabouts starting from the time it was stolen until it was found, helping to uncover other activities in that time frame. The infotainment stored cell phone parameters can even lead directly to the cell phone owner or in the aforementioned example, the car thief.
Robert S. Kinder Jr., MS, Mechanical Engineer with DJS Associates and can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.