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Intelligent mobility, smart cities, smart highways, IoT, MaaS...

Intelligent mobility, smart cities, smart highways, IoT, MaaS, what's the latest buzzword and why do we keep changing it?

Over the course of the past ten years, and maybe longer, the ITS industry has attracted buzzwords like the M25 attracts cars (can ITS be classified as a buzzword too?). There's been a lot of them, all of which seem to promise the next giant leap into the future.

But is this a bad thing? Does it really matter? At the end of the day, buzzwords are just that. There to create some excitement, buzz and hype around a particular topic. There to try and raise the profiles of technologies or applications that may have some future potential. It's a way of trying to promote new ideas, new thinking, new ways of working and in that respect, they do a good job.

It gets people to sit up and notice...but the industry needs to realise that it'll be old news tomorrow if it is not capitalised on. For example, 'smart cities' was all the rage 2-3 years ago and there was conference after conference dedicated to it; but the reality was that behind the concept there was lots and lots of ideas but little of substance and certainly nothing revolutionary in terms of technology or application. In Google terms, if you type 'smart cities' into the search engine, it yields 16,500,000 results. In itself, this could sound like quite impressive, fairly large numbers, but realistically this is nothing by today's standards...and this is easily dwarfed by more recent tech terms.

For example, if you type 'internet of things' into the all-seeing search engine, you are presented with over 268,000,000 search results. And whilst the Internet of Things is yet to show the true potential it boasts, organisations and businesses are clamouring to be part of it.

One of the most prevalent areas here that does show promise and more importantly consumer buy-in is smart home technology like the automated heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems such as NEST or consumer infotainment devices like Amazon Echo; all of these are starting to explore new ways of assisting us in our daily lives.

Wearables, on the other hand, have not done so well. Aside from wristband based exercise / health monitoring devices such as Fitbit bands, very few of these technologies have taken off and been anything other than a techy gimmick. And now, people are even starting to question the usefulness of these bands, more on the grounds of whether the advocated 10,000 steps per day makes a difference to your long-term health.

However, for the internet of things to really build beyond the hype and become a sustained part of our transport future, the infrastructure has to be put in place to make it viable. Right now, the 3G/4G service providers are seeing new competition and at the same time trying to work out where they fit in and how they can maintain their business model. The encouraging aspect here is that virtually every other day, a new evaluation kit or module is launched aimed at making IoT possible.

The only challenge here is that with such a proliferation of contenders, who do you back? Which communication standard is going to win out? For companies designing solutions to meet real world problems right now, this is a significant dilemma and it is akin to previous technology battles from bygone's the VHS vs Betamax of this decade.

From what we have seen, they all have their relative strengths and limitations and so a more flexible 'horses for courses' approach will be the sensible route for most system designers; matching the needs of their users and the application with the most appropriate and secure method of communication.

A point that is similarly borne out with the current raft of autonomous vehicle announcements by many of the large car manufacturers. Each seems to have their own ideas on how to develop the technology. Will any of them be universally viable?

It's an exciting and frustrating time with a lot of smoke and mirrors at the moment. There is still a lot of development that must happen before any IoT solutions can be considered mature enough to be truly scalable. But with the investment that is ongoing in this area from some very heavy hitters from across numerous industries, it is only a matter of time before this buzzword becomes more than just hype.
Uploaded 16/03/2017