Between smart phones, tablets, smart watches, activity trackers, smart TVs, and laptop computers, people today spend more of their waking hours connected to the Internet – and to each other – than ever before. The Internet isn’t just something you use on a computer anymore – smart devices mean that connectivity is changing every aspect of the way we live our lives.
But what about the way we get from place to place and transport goods?
Yes, the Internet is changing that, too. The Internet of Things (IoT) – this growing network of connected devices is also changing the way we ship goods and travel from place to place. Driverless cars are just the beginning; soon air travel, freight shipping, and even public transport could be revolutionized by IoT used in combination with technologies like AI and Big Data.
Smart Cars and Self-Driving Transport
By 2020, there could be 10 million self-driving cars on the road. But that’s just the beginning; 250 million more smart cars may not be entirely autonomous, but will possess high-tech networking capabilities that could open up new navigational and safety possibilities for drivers. Many new cars being sold right now already come with features like lane-keep assist, automatic forward-collision braking, back-up cameras, automatic parking, and sign recognition that make driving safer and take some of the burden of transport off of the human driver.
But, in the near future, car ownership may become an old-fashioned relic of an unenlightened past. Soon, most people may not even own their own cars; when they need to go somewhere, they’ll call a driverless car that will appear, ferry them to their destination, and then scuttle off to fetch the next customer. Instead of the four front-facing seats found in today’s cars, driverless cars of the future may feature two sets of seats that face each other, so that passengers can socialize while the car does all the work. Car sharing is already a popular means of transport, especially in cities, where owning a car of one’s own often isn’t worth the hassle. The only difference will be that, instead of going to find a car and then searching for an appropriate place to park it, you’ll just sit back and wait for the car to come to you.
One of the great disappointments of modern life may be that, when the future came, it did not bring flying cars. But that could be about to change. A company named Volocopter recently tested a flying taxi service in Dubai. The taxi, which is similar to a helicopter, is still in the development phase; the initial test, with passenger Crown Prince Shiekh Hamdan bin Mohammed, lasted only five minutes. But someday soon, residents and tourists in at least one city will be able to escape rush-hour gridlock in an air taxi.
Autonomous Freight Shipping
It isn’t just individual transportation that’s become more automated. Freight trucks, cargo ships, and front-door delivery is on its way to automation. Companies including Uber, Daimler Trucks, and Einride have already launched fully-autonomous freight shipping trucks that could soon leave many in the trucking industry looking for work. Some of these prototypes require a human operator to take the wheel when conditions become dangerous; others are entirely self-driving, and can be operated remotely. Self-driving truck platoons are expected to make freight shipping more efficient and sustainable.
International freight shipping via cargo ships is also changing. Rolls Royce has developed a remote-controlled cargo ship that can be operated entirely without human crew members. The ship is operated from a control room on land. Because the ship has no need for the accommodations human crew require, it can hold more cargo than a traditional ship, and without the need to hire a full crew, moving that cargo is cheaper. The company expects to put a fleet of these ships into commission by 2020. In fact, the day could soon come when the delivery of an item from warehouse to consumer is performed almost entirely by robots; Amazon’s Prime Air service is already promising customers in some areas delivery of their orders in 30 minutes or less, courtesy of an unmanned drone.
Thanks to the growing network of IoT devices, life is changing in ways we couldn’t even have imagined 15 or 20 years ago. Transportation is changing, too. Thanks to embedded IoT connectivity combined with edge computing, the new face of transportation promises to be cheaper, easier, safer, and more convenient.