Part 2 of 3 on the Future of Transportation and the Internet of Things
In my last blog, I talked about the simplicity of the electric engine compared to the internal combustion engine – and how this changes everything. From climate to the structure of the auto industry to the way we store, manage, and distribute energy – electric cars are having tremendous impact.
But what I left out of that discussion was the Internet of Things.
The fact is, most electric cars are connected cars – connected through the Internet of Things. This means that sensors in the car constantly communicate with mission control (the manufacturer), sending data on the status of components in real time.
By analysing this data, especially in context of historical data, mission control can predict component failure before it happens. For electric vehicles – with engines that already need far less repair than traditional internal combustion engines – this only increases reliability further.
But what’s more, IoT-connected cars also increase convenience. For example, after realising component failure is imminent, your car could also trigger a work order at the dealership to resolve the issue – while ensuring the needed replacement part is in stock when you roll in. And if the car is autonomous, it could drive itself to be repaired while you are at work, and return ready to drive you home once the repair is completed. Speaking of autonomous….
Autonomous and safe
Connectedness is also what makes autonomous vehicles possible. And while some people may distrust driverless cars; the data shows that they’re safer than the self-driven sort – at least according to a report of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Back in May 2016, a Tesla Model S sedan in Autopilot collided with a semi-truck in Florida, killing the driver (or passenger in this case?) – 40-year-old Joshua Brown. The car, apparently, crashed into the truck, passed under the trailer, and kept driving for some distance – only coming to a stop after crashing through two fences and into a pole.
As a result of this incident, the NHTSA conducted an investigation resulting in a report that largely exonerated Tesla. In fact, the report says that after the introduction of Autosteer – a component of the Autopilot system – Tesla’s crash rate dropped by 40%.
The accident in question happened when the semi-truck took a left-hand turn into oncoming traffic. The reason the Tesla did not detect such a large object in its path is because it could not distinguish the white color of the trailer from the bright white Florida sky in background.
Reportedly, Tesla has since analyzed the crash data from this accident, identified the problem, and made fixes to the operating system on which its fleet operates. Perhaps it’s premature to declare the problem solved – but the idea at play here is an interesting one indeed when considering the potential for connected cars and the IoT.
What this scenario shows is a learning platform in action. Because all of its cars are connected on a single platform, Tesla has access to a tremendous amount of driver data that it can analyze to continuously improve product safety. I don’t know exactly how the analysis proceeded in this particular case, but one can certainly envision the use of machine learning technology to continuously analyze patterns and introduce safety improvements on the fly – making the self-learning driving platform a reality.
A future in which autonomous vehicles are not only viable but safer than self-driven cars will result in disruptions beyond those I’ve indicated for electric engines.
Take the insurance industry, for example. With fewer accidents comes lower risk – leading to lower insurance premiums. And in a future where most cars on the road are autonomous – connected and controlled via IoT – the insurable entity itself will likely shift from the driver (who is now a passenger) to the operator of the network (presumably the manufacturer). Certainly, if you decide you wish to drive your car yourself, your insurance will be significantly more expensive than the insurance for an autonomous vehicle.
Of course, if autonomous cars can get where they’re going without a driver, why even bother owning a car? Why not just call up the ride when you need it – Uber style?
One result would be optimal asset utilization – where cars that are far less likely to breakdown can be used on an almost 24×7 basis by spreading usage across individuals. This would mean we’d need far less cars on the road – which would alleviate congestion. It would also hit the auto industry with dramatically lower sales volume.
And with fewer cars on the road – cars that are in use almost all the time – we’d have less use for parking. This would have tremendous impact on the global parking industry. An industry which generates approximately $20 billion annually.
Beyond industry disruption, less need for parking would open up tremendous urban space in the form of unused lots and garages. Maybe this would mean more populous cities with room to build for more people to live more comfortably without traffic congestion or pollution. Or how about using some of the space for indoor vertical farming using hydroponics technology and LED lights to grow more food and feed more people? Of course, this is already happening. But that’s a blog for another time.
Photo credit Nicole Galpern