How Technology Will Shape the Transportation Revolution

IT harnesses availability as a vital metric. How available are your servers, your networks, your applications? Any time they are down, that means they are unavailable to users. Out of that, we get five-nines as symbolic of high availability.

Move over to the transportation sector. Availability stinks. Vehicles sit still for most of their existence. They are either parked outside the home, the office or the mall. Or worse, they idle at traffic lights or in gridlock for a great many hours every week.

This adds up to unbelievable amounts of inefficiency. According to ARC Advisory Group, most cars in the U.S. remain parked well over 90% of the time. And there are more cars on the road than there are adults – 275 million cars for an adult population of 250 million. Those vehicles average an occupancy rate of 1.59 people. Meanwhile, traffic congestion in the U.S. costs over thirty billion hours and nearly $90 billion a year.

Those statistics make clear the waste inherent in the current transportation paradigm: private, low-occupancy vehicles for nearly every journey operated by humans. Everyone it seems wants their own car, and the bigger the better. SUV ownership rates have surged to almost half of all global new car sales. Older couples who could easily share a vehicle often have two or more cars – often an SUV each, plus a truck that might be used a few times a year.

This is why experts view the transportation sector as ripe for a technology revolution. Autonomous vehicles, shared mobility, electric cars, and smart highway concepts lead the charge.

Yes, people will be slow to forfeit their right to ride in their own chariots. But they will give up in the end. Apps similar to Uber and Lyft will let them access vehicles for short-term or long-term rental. A trip to the mall would mean renting a car to take you there. A different vehicle would bring you back. No doubt, subscription services will be available as well as premium access rates that guarantee waiting times.

Commutes will operate similarly. One car or carpool to work, another for the return trip. Sensors in vehicles and roads will make it possible to speed traffic through cities, shortening journey times. When networked self-driving cars hit prime time, traffic progress per unit of time will soar.

Why? The light changes. The first driver is texting and doesn’t notice. The second driver argues with a spouse. The third driver bends back to hand a bottle to the baby. By the time all three notice the light and drive, six others are left stranded. Autonomous, networked vehicles would mean all nine cars would pass through without delay.

Environment and Safety

But efficiency and availability are far from the only reasons behind the coming revolution. Another statistic from ARC: Nearly 40,000 Americans die on roads each year, mostly due to human error.

Certainly, there have been, and probably always will be, some fatalities due to autonomous vehicles. But those numbers will be drastically reduced. Further, the technology won’t be unleashed until it has proven itself safe in pilot projects. It will probably be rolled out gradually starting in places like Silicon Valley, then extended city by city until its reach is nationwide. Gone will be situations like falling asleep at the wheel, drunk driving crashes or text-related accidents.

And what about pollution? The power sector has been hammered for decades on emissions control. Yet it has the best record of any sector in emissions reduction over the past 20 years. At the same time, transportation pollution in the U.S. has hardly changed over that period. ARC reports that the transportation sector is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the economy, and out of 200,000 annual U.S. deaths from air pollution, 50,000 are the result of vehicle tailpipe emissions. The switch from gasoline cars to electric, autonomous vehicles would make a far bigger dent in American emissions totals than ongoing campaigns to shut down natural gas-fueled power stations around the nation.

Technology Opportunities

The transportation revolution will be driven by technology. Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) providers will partner with SaaS specialists and cloud providers. Connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technology will rely heavily on networking and connectivity players.

Tech giants like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM, Dell, Apple, Verizon and AT&T may initially dominate. But watch out for a raft of startups, as well as a great many entrepreneurs and IT startup veterans teaming up with the latest batch of college geniuses to accelerate the revolution.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been writing about IT and engineering for more than 25 years. Originally from Scotland, he now lives in Florida.

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