FROM DRONES TO DIGITS: The Future Of Mobility And Big Data - Information And The City Of The Future

Reprinted with Permission from Banker & Tradesman

We often think of mobility as the transportation of people and goods within and between communities. This is the essential function of our transportation systems. Our transportation system is, and always will be, the lifeblood of our economy – no matter what form our future mobility takes.

The ongoing convergence of our real lives and our online lives is playing out in the world of transportation as well. Our Uber and Bridj accounts are an integral part of our physical world and our digital world. We use apps for a wide range of transportation services and information, including accessing transit schedules, paying for parking and paying our tolls. In the not-so-distant future, we will be paying for transit using our smartphones.

The future of mobility is built on technology. Connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles and smart cities are all going to be commonplace within a generation. Many aspects of goods management and delivery will be supplanted by 3D printers, undermining the economic viability of current rail and highway freight models. The advent of drones built for individual transportation is no longer science fiction – it is coming soon. These technologically driven innovations will revolutionize the way we imagine our mobility needs.

All of these innovations are driven by digital technologies. They will generate reams of data about our lives, our habits, our needs and wants. In short, they will be a big part of our digital footprint. What will happen to all of this data?

Take your future commute, for instance. You are riding in your autonomous vehicle, shopping for a new suit for an upcoming social event on your tablet. Your tablet has a wi-fi connection routed through roadside technology, which skips from wi-fi receiver to wi-fi receiver seamlessly as you travel at 80 miles per hour.

All of that data is being collected, analyzed and parsed by the owner of the roadside technology. The owner is probably Google or Amazon, or some other entity equipped to collect and digest such large volumes of information. As the data is collected, it is crunched through an algorithm, which develops a profile of you as you shop. When the algorithm has developed a sufficiently accurate profile, the roadside technology will communicate with your autonomous vehicle, displaying advertisements for a suggested suit in the heads up display of the vehicle.

Or perhaps the roadside technology will ask you if you would like to pre-order a coffee at Starbucks to be ready when you arrive. Since the system knows your rate of travel and location, it can time your arrival at Starbucks and have it ready for just-in-time pickup on your way to the office. Imagine the convenience!

The truth is the algorithms already exist. They are in use when you are on Facebook and LinkedIn. Amazon is using a similar algorithm when you shop its website. These algorithms are already ubiquitous.

It is also true that autonomous vehicles already exist and their prevalence is growing. The technology associated with autonomous vehicles is staggering. The ability to do whatever you wish as your vehicle drives you to work is absolutely liberating! Hours of work or leisure time would be freed up from the chore of driving your commute.

What is missing from this vignette is the roadside technology. But even that is becoming more common. Take for instance the roadside signs that display the amount of time to your destination using a digital sign that adjusts to actual traffic conditions. The data that drives the amount of time displayed comes from individual cell phones and their Bluetooth devices as they travel down the road. Sensors detect an individual Bluetooth signature at one roadside device and then at a second roadside device. Using the distance and the elapsed time, the system can calculate your rate of travel and input your rate of travel into an algorithm, which calculates the likely travel time shown on the sign. Viola!

The future is here. Each passing day provides another new example of how technology is changing our mobility options and choices. From transit to ride sharing to parking to tolls, our transportation technology footprint is growing by leaps and bounds. It will not be long before our online world and our physical world will merge in the lanes of life. Embrace the flow of change!