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Internet of Things Part 6: What Will Smart Vehicles Look Like?

By Don DeLoach • October 14, 2013

This is the sixth in the series on the Top 10 area to probe when considering the Internet of Things.

We have now all heard about the Google Smart car. How practical is this today? What needs to happen to make this a reality?

The driverless car is based on utilization of a pretty large number of sensors working on combination with GPS and historical data to allow a car (or vehicle of some sort) to go from point A to point B by understanding where it is at all times, what is around it at all times, and how to best get from point A to point B in a safe and efficient manner. The Google driverless car has clocked some 400,000 or so miles shuttling employees in California.

Cars are getting smarter and smarter. The most obvious examples are the information systems in many cars today. This includes everything from trip computers to navigation systems (with increasingly fantastic maps) to on-board diagnostic systems that alert you about almost everything in the car, from faulty lights to tire pressure. We are now at the point where the dad may pile mom and the kids into the SUV, start the motor, turn around and say “folks, we’re going to need to be here for just a minute. We’ve had an indicator light come on and we need to engage manufacturer maintenance to check into this before we pull away from the garage. It’s shouldn’t be but a few minutes and we’ll be on our way”. We are all becoming captains of our auto-planes. But it gets better. The sensor technology gauging where the car is relative to other cars, objects, people, etc. is getting better and more prevalent as well. That mainly started as reverse indicators to keep you from backing into a tree. Now it is stopping your car from hitting the kid in the street or parallel parking for you. Cool, huh? And practical. When your suspension adjusts for potholes, that saves money and discomfort. But where is this going, and will it really be practical?

For one thing, much of where it’s going is POSSIBLE, but not quite practical right now, like the driverless car. We don’t all have them… yet, but it’s possible. Going back to the airplane example, planes transmit a signal letting other aircraft know about them. Could we do that with cars? Of course. It’s being done already in a pilot program in Ann Arbor. You have probably seen “smart traffic signs” that advise you of specific condition, up to and including your own speed. What if the signs could talk directly to the car? In other words, the car could receive additional information that would be processed on-board to enhance the route or other aspects of driving. And is the parallel parking the height of cool features for parking? Not really. When you (or your car) drives to your destination and your car drops you off and then parks itself, there’s a feature! It’s possible. Now. Becoming practical is a function of much more widespread adoption of these technologies and a reduction in the price points so it becomes affordable for the mainstream. We’ll come back to a few “roadblocks” in a minute. Let’s look at a few more glimpses of where this is headed first.

The information system that is so sophisticated on the LCD panel will become the projected information on the windshield or window that provides not only information about your car, but about everything around you. The data collected (and it will be a ton of data) will be mined for historical analysis and predictive models, making virtually everything more efficient and effective. And the notion that your car can sense the things around it enough to drive from point A to Point B with an optimized route and free from accident is not even the endpoint, however far-fetched that may sound. Depending on your route, your car might “link up” with other cars driving a similar route, then move in “flocks” close together and as one entity. This is extremely efficient in terms of getting from one point to the other, especially in the context of energy utilization.

So aside from the money associated with this type of instrumentation, and the infrastructure enhancements needed to fully accommodate this, what are the other concerns? First, what happens when the computer stops working? Crash? Maybe. What if the network signal fails and the GPS system stops working? Do you drive into the lake? That cuts into the cool experience now, doesn’t it? Then there is the malicious side of society. Can a hacker hack into a car, or a traffic system? What happens when the whiz kid gets his NEON to transmit an emergency signal causing the other cars to get out of the way? These are real issues. Security in the Internet of Things is a big deal. Safeguarding systems, including cars, will be an imperative. But the argument that “it can’t possibly be safe” is ridiculous. Planes are largely computerized and they are arguably far safer than cars. Computers don’t get road rage or get behind the wheel after seven whiskey sours. Computers are as awake after six hours as they were at two. And a given computer can instantly absorb and leverage massive amounts of learning from past experience. That is not so true for a 16 year old. Computers do text, in a way, just not in a way that kills thousands of people each year based on the distraction. And furthermore, the car that drives itself doesn’t care if the occupant is 92 years old, blind, or impaired in any other way. So aside from the practical implications of more efficient traffic patterns and better energy efficiency, quality of life for people can be enhance. Last, insurance companies, healthcare providers, and public safety organizations will all be positively affected by a reduction in accidents and related injuries and deaths. The implications are very, very far reaching. And because of this, it will happen. Absolutely. No question.

Happy Trails.

Get Bloor Group’s whitepaper¬†‘Exploiting the Internet of Things’.


Read the next blog in the Internet of Things Blog Series: What Exactly is a Smart City?

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