By now it’s fairly well known that some of the most exciting and impactful IoT applications have to do with driving. There are numerous tools and machine-to-machine communications processes that now exist to make driving safer and smoother, particularly for company fleets. Perhaps most famously, the connection of GPS technology to modern IoT systems has resulted in unprecedented abilities for fleet managers to track and coordinate vehicles at all stages of the distribution process.
But the IoT is actually affecting life on the road for average drivers as well. We’re still a few years away from the driverless car revolution that so many people are eagerly anticipating, and when that point comes one could argue that the IoT will actually be transporting us entirely on its own power. GPS, cars, and surrounding sensors and points of interest will all be connecting in order to get vehicles where they need to go with minimal, and possibly no direct human input. However, there are still some serious hurdles that remain.
Many point to government regulation as the last serious obstacle to self-driving cars, but in fact there are still a few major things to work out on the design end too. For instance, designers and manufacturers have had mixed success with getting the sensors on the exteriors of driverless cars to perform in bad weather. Additionally, there are questions about what should be done regarding speeding, given that much (or perhaps most) of highway traffic regularly exceeds the speed limit. Programming an automated vehicle to do so would be perceived as dangerous or unlawful (though a recent Tesla crash evidently occurred while a vehicle was on autopilot!). And finally, there’s the subtle but significant problem that for all their technological brilliance, driverless cars cannot yet recognize the actions of other drivers who might be waving, shouting, etc. This could conceivably lead to misunderstandings on the road, and even collisions.
Because of all these issues, it’s easy to understand that even if the technology is fairly sound, we’re still a little ways away from road-ready, consumer-friendly driverless vehicles. But in the meantime, as we await the full advent of these vehicles, we are starting to see some individual IoT applications that ordinary consumers can use to make themselves (or their children) safer on the roads.
Perhaps the most widely publicized application that falls into this category is the SMARTwheel, which was introduced to the world on an episode of ABC’s Shark Tank. Invented by a group of teenagers who want to combat distracted driving among young people, it’s essentially a sleeve for a steering wheel that sounds an alert when a hand comes off the wheel. That means that in real time, before an accident occurs or distracted driving is even practiced, it holds drivers accountable. But that functionality alone makes it a simple tool. The IoT aspect of the SMARTwheel comes into play when the device wirelessly delivers teachable insights to an accompanying app. There’s a built-in grading system that automatically compiles data, allowing parents and teenagers alike to analyze driving performance and form safer habits.
Accomplishing a similar goal in a more complete manner, Verizon’s Networkfleet system can provide a great deal of real time data that can be used to develop comprehensive safety goals. Built on GPS and various WiFi-enabled sensors, this technology recognizes speeding, improves route management, and tracks basic driving behaviors, such as sudden stops and starts, that indicate distractions. It was built for use in large fleets so that fleet managers could effectively keep an eye on all of their drivers at once, but the technology can also be used in individual vehicles as well. The concept is much like that of the SMARTwheel, but in this case it’s not aimed specifically at teens, and it paints a more detailed picture.
These are just a few of the specific technologies that are already helping to make drivers safer. But there are plenty of others as well. For instance:
- Some dealerships and car manufacturers are actually starting to implement systems that can keep tabs on sold vehicles, monitoring when one such vehicle might be due for a repair or even a trade-in, in a leasing agreement. Subaru’s STARLINK and Care Connect ventures are good examples in this category, with the former serving to make it easier for drivers to quickly access entertainment features and the latter functioning as a monitoring service like those previously described.
- The GasBuddy mobile app has been around for a little while now, and works as a simple but effective bit of IoT technology. Basically, the app reaches out automatically to gas stations in a driver’s immediate area and reports on their locations and the different prices at the pumps. In fact, the app can now even report on cash and credit pricing specifically, given that they aren’t always the same. It’s a means of saving money and finding gas when needed, without having to distract yourself with actually looking for it.
- Finally, there are several different tools and mobile apps that have been created to field calls and messages in an automated manner. With no involvement from the driver, these apps can silence an incoming call or message, and in some cases even provide a pre-written response to whomever called or texted. For instance, it might automatically notify the person on the other end that the driver is behind the wheel and will respond when able to.
Particularly for those who are following IoT technology or specifically the smart car movement closely, any one of these tools might seem a little bit like a gimmick. And it’s true that most of them have been developed to solve individual problems. But considering them all together, it’s quite clear that though we may have a while yet to wait before driverless technology enters our day-to-day lives and makes the roads significantly safer, the IoT is already being deployed to accomplish the same goal. Those who want to take advantage of these kinds of tools can significantly improve their driving habits and decrease the likelihood of common accidents.