Just over a year ago, we organized a big customer event in Volvo’s capital of Gothenburg to discuss the ways in which technology is creating a better world for all of us. Technology is without a doubt an enormous contributor to making our lives healthier, more agreeable and prosperous. Driverless cars are a great example to demonstrate this trend. For telcos and service providers, opportunities to add value abound.
The Human Factor
Technology has always played a major part in the development of cars. Electronics gave us ABS security systems, airbags, four-wheel drive, electronic fuel injection, power steering and many more innovations that have made life on the road safer and more comfortable. Connected cars and driverless vehicles are now taking this evolution to a higher level. They no longer target just the car, they seek to erase human error from the driving process. Just prior to our Gothenburg event, Volvo had announced the ‘Drive Me’ experiments it was starting with autonomous vehicles. Since then, several families have begun to test these cars. The purpose: collect data from these test SUVs to refine the system that will eventually be launched on Volvo’s production cars within the next few years.
Many people still resist the notion of a driverless vehicle. They cannot imagine not being in the driver’s seat or handing over the reins to a robot. The prospect of no longer owning a car, but sharing one with other people, abhors them. Fortunately, technological innovations do not wait for the approval of customers. In the 19th century, horsemen did not ask for cars, all they wanted was faster horses. And there’s another compelling reason why we would do well to invest in connected, autonomous vehicles: every year, 1,25 million people worldwide die in traffic accidents. This is 20 times more than the number of casualties from military conflicts. Though the number of auto-related deaths had declined for many years, the popularity of texting and smartphones have produced a recent uptick in the number of accidents. I am convinced that eventually everyone will warm up to the idea of being chauffeured around, allowing them to spend their driving time in different ways. Working, for instance, or enjoying in-car entertainments systems. A big surge in human productivity would be enabled!
The possibilities technology delivers to the driving experience are limitless, and a number of interesting projects are currently in testing. The French city of Montpellier has installed IoT devices in a number of parking lots, so people can more quickly find a spot to park. As a result, people now spend less time driving around blocks in search of a free parking space. This not only helps them save time and fuel, it also reduces congestion and pollution within the city center. This is a great example of how emerging technologies such as IoT and Connected Cars interlock and strengthen each other.
The secret to success lies in scaling these experiments up from a few simple parking spaces to a system that encompasses an entire city. The investments will naturally be huge, but so will the rewards. At the recent Gartner Symposium in Barcelona, analysts compared these initial trials to cooking: feeling comfortable making a meal for the family does not mean you can just as effortlessly prepare a meal for 100 guests. But over time, these experiments will scale bigger and we will all reap the benefits.
Technology Pushes Technology
It’s amazing to see how technology leads to innovations that in return put pressure on technology. As more connected cars begin to exchange data, the current cloud computing model will find itself challenged. All data will not be able to be processed in a central location, and this has given rise to Edge Computing, as I have explained in a previous blog. If a car approaches an obstacle, an immediate decision needs to be made. Even using the fastest communication lines and infrastructure possible, it doesn’t make sense to send data back and forth to a central system. Processing the data should be done very close to the data source, at the edge.
As technology is so crucial to both connected cars and autonomous vehicles, there is plenty of room for telcos and service providers to add value to these emerging solutions. Telecom providers are speeding the development of 5G, the only standard that can cope with the huge amounts of data traffic that will be exchanged by all these computers-on-wheels. Service providers have a multitude of services they can develop. After all, the zetabytes of data that sensors capture will need to be stored, processed and protected. Companies offering Data-Lakes-as-a-Service have a golden decade ahead of them, and analytics skills are certain to be in great demand. Ecosystems are already forming between complementary solutions and partners, but this is just the beginning.
Connected cars and autonomous vehicles will change the face of our cities for the better in the near future. They are also poised to provide limitless possibilities and opportunities for technology partners. I am convinced we will be pleasantly surprised by new developments in this area. If you think we have already seen everything, it is time to reconsider. Thus far, we have barely scratched the surface.