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The Car as a Sensor

Today’s cars come with onboard computers as standard and can process up to 25 gigabytes of data an hour. These capabilities were developed in the 1980s to reduce emissions and improve car diagnostics, but now present an exciting further opportunity. Combining onboard computing capabilities in cars with the advances in wireless networks and data handling contributing to the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT), the car has the opportunity to be the most advanced real-time sensor we have.

Using the car as a sensor we could monitor factors such as the weather, air pollution, noise levels, the condition of the road surface, the presence of other cars, and many others to enormous benefit to all road users.

Imagine having this kind of data delivered in real-time from an army of mobile sensors.

Even just looking at traditional traffic data types such as flow, speed, journey time, vehicle class, origin and destination, the granularity of the data would far exceed what is currently available.

If you then add in the ability to gather real time feedback on pollution, road surface conditions and weather, you have a real opportunity to be able to improve predictability, reduce congestion, enhance safety and transform drivers behaviour.

From a technical point of view, the sensor technology already exists and the continued growth of IoT means the world of sensor communications is evolving rapidly.

One of the major challenges could be around the incentive for the general public to adopt such technology when often they are unaware of the impact that intelligent transport solutions have on their current lives.

The growth of connected car solutions has been predominantly led by a focus on direct consumer benefits. The ability to control the climate of your car before you enter and ensuring that your playlist of music is set before you depart.

But there are many more substantial benefits to be had from the proliferation of sensor technology in our cars. Drivers can feel safer in the knowledge that their cars can help avoid collisions with other road users (vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians). A connected car could even warn the driver of icy conditions on the road ahead in the exact place it was detected based on data provided by other cars.

Drivers will also benefit from spending less time sat in traffic with cars providing real-time data on journey times and a reduction in congestion. It is estimated that connected cars have the potential to reduce congestion by 15% through fewer accidents, more intelligent navigation, and platooning.

Platooning involves vehicles operating together as one unit, so all breaking and accelerating at the same time. This reduces the space needed between vehicles, so reducing space taken up and fuel consumed.

While the potential benefits are significant, they can only be reaped once a certain level of adoption is reached. Gartner has estimated that there will be a quarter of a billion connected vehicles on the road by 2020.

But are drivers aware of connected cars and their associated benefits?

General awareness of IoT technology remains low. Consumers may be aware of IoT devices such as wearable fitness trackers or smart meters, but understanding that these are representative of the IoT and exactly what this is, is lagging.

A recent study by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that only 18% of the British public had heard of a ‘smart city’, which connected cars will be part of. It follows that even fewer consumers will be aware of connected cars.

Increasing awareness of this technology and passing the benefits of the sensor data back to the consumer will be vital for everyone to gain the Car as a Sensor.
Uploaded 22/08/2016