For automakers and transport authorities, adopting a collaborative platform is vital. Not only can this insight help to reduce congestion and traffic across the country, it can also be beneficial in minimising the number of accidents on Britain’s roads.
While vehicles are finally beginning to cross the digital divide, the reality is that the data they generate doesn’t go far. It tends to be kept by a car brand for itself and little is shared with other brands. When you consider that there are more than 30 different marques of car on our roads, it highlights how fragmented the market is. Each brand offers a traffic service for its drivers based only on a partial understanding of the road network, and none has the complete picture. If you only had access to data from 3% of cars on the road, would you really have a reliable picture of traffic conditions at any given time?
However, the increasing encroachment of technology on the auto industry is hopefully going to help this. For example, the new Audi A8 goes on sale in Britain later this year and will be the first production vehicle capable of ‘Level 3’ autonomous driving, reaching speeds of up to 37 mph entirely by itself. That’s a remarkable feat of engineering and one that reminds us that, while we’re legally not yet able to let go of the wheel, technologically the industry is making big advances towards a driverless future.
There are two major developments underpinning this progress.
The first major development is connectivity. Almost all high-end cars sold today are linked to servers in the carmaker’s back-end and web connections are growing in the mid-range, too. Today, every second car sold in the UK has a web connection; by 2020, it will be three-quarters. This has given engineers access to a car’s vital statistics – enabling them, for example, to remotely assess vehicle wear-and-tear and schedule maintenance, or even sell insurance. The connection also gives carmakers the ability to pipe up-to-date mapping, traffic information and other digital services through to the car.
The second is that cars are becoming more intelligent: they’re able to monitor their environment, understand what’s going on and learn from each drive to inform and improve the next trip. Some have as many as 200 sensors, measuring everything from tyre pressure to windscreen temperature. Armed with this vast quantity of information, cars have the potential to ensure a safer and more efficient drive.
In an industry often regarded slow-moving, these changes are undoubtedly significant. However, they don’t quite add up to an intelligent and connected road infrastructure and part of what is holding us back is lack of scale. The data generated from sensors on-board modern vehicles could be used to warn other cars on the road about traffic flows or possible dangers. The faster that happens, the more efficient and safer our roads will become. But it hasn’t happened yet and even where there is a readiness to share data, there has so far not been any single system that has made it possible.
The solution lies in location technology. Since everything has a location, a digital map infrastructure can serve as a rich, three-dimensional canvas for capturing and making sense of data from diverse datasets – whether coming from a car, a train, smartphone or traffic sensor. When you process different and diverse datasets with location context, it enables you to draw connections between them.
Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are already sharing data with us at HERE Technologies, and our new Open Location Platform, which facilitates the sharing of location-centric information at scale, now receives relevant information from these cars. For example, when a vehicle’s brakes are applied heavily, when it experiences a loss of tyre traction or when its hazard lights are turned on, this data gets sent back to us, identifying an issue or piece of information. For car brands and organisations in the UK this means they are now able to pool their data with others as well as access new services created from the resulting expanded data pool.
At HERE, more collaborative services are also in development. One service for drivers, traffic management centres and local authorities focuses on helping provide awareness of potential hazard warnings. Another of our solutions will be geared towards solving the perennial headaches of on-street parking in our towns and cities. These platforms will help to provide a powerful and scalable engine, whilst at the same time, simplifying the extraction of location insights. Often, large-scale location data processing can be a complex, cumbersome process, when the process can in fact be made much easier with simple and effective tools to suit each individual business model, strategy and privacy requirements.
The crucial next stage of developments with location data is fusing it with existing data with other sources of information. In matching this to government traffic sensors, smartphone GPS signals or live public transport information, a more robust, federated view of the broader transportation network is available – and, importantly, available to any organisation. In the future, transport authorities might also seek to use the data to develop their own services and algorithms. If built with an open back end, even developers can get involved, analysing the data to build and deploy their own data processing pipelines.
The ideal scenario? A collaborative data-sharing environment in which the whole of the UK’s transport sector can participate in and benefit from. As we edge closer to an autonomous future and begin to address the challenges and opportunities that brings, many should see this as a welcome prospect. We still have a way to go, but if automotive brands adopt a connected and collaborative approach now, we are set to eventually succeed.
Alec Beale, Senior Content Acquisition Manager at HERE Technologies
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