Here’s what IoT will do for transportation

are you ready

The Internet of Things (IoT) is dramatically accelerating the pace of innovation in the transportation industry—especially the cars and trucks we drive every day. And when you apply the laws that have been driving technology innovation for decades—Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law—it’s not long before our automobiles will resemble smart devices on wheels and your vehicle may very well be the most expensive computing device you own.

Toyota envisions smartphone technology for cars. (Or is it the other way around?)

Above: Toyota envisions smartphone technology for cars. (Or is it the other way around?)

Connected cars today

Already, automobiles built after 2010 include numerous connected systems that provide drivers with the ability to listen to satellite radio, view streaming video, display and use smartphone apps, navigate roadways, request roadside assistance, unlock doors remotely, and find open parking spaces.

Today’s Tesla models are equipped with functionality that allows its cars to be upgraded wirelessly. In late 2013, Telsa tweaked the suspension system of its Model S cars by wirelessly pushing an update that automatically raised the height of the cars when they were being driven at highway speeds. Imagine this being done without a connected car. Owners would have to learn about the need for a change, schedule an appointment, bring their cars in for service, and wait for the work to be done. Most Tesla owners probably didn’t even notice the upgrade.

And soon our vehicles will even look like our PCs and smartphones. Toyota is designing a car that allows owners to change the appearance of the exterior and interior, just as you do with your PCs and mobile devices today. No more decorating cars with soap and streamers for “just married” couples. Now all you’ll have to do is pick the “car top” background you want to display, customize the names, and hit “enter.”

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After more than 100 years, cars and trucks are finally at the cusp of becoming true “auto” mobiles by going driverless.  I believe autonomous vehicles will be commonplace by 2025 — just 10 years away. This is because they offer many benefits, including lower energy consumption and fewer accidents.

Autonomous vehicles will free the “driver” and passengers to socialize, have a business meeting, or learn more about the environment around them. Mercedes imagines a car that is more like a living room or boardroom on wheels. The driver and front passenger seats swivel to allow face-to-face communication.

Mercedes reimagines its cars from the inside out with its F015 concept car.

Above: Mercedes reimagines its cars from the inside out with its F015 concept car.

Additionally, cars of the future will be equipped with touch screens on nearly every surface. Imagine your kids looking at a screen of the actual universe above them as you drive to your destination. Perhaps the age-old question, “How long ‘till we get there?” will be a phrase of the past.

Automobiles as sensors

Most cars already do some sensing of the environment, such as measuring the outside temperature. There is even an easy-to-use $99 device from Automatic that senses acceleration and braking to help you conserve fuel, reduce maintenance, and drive more safely.  The Automatic adapter plugs into just about any car to unlock the data hidden in your car’s onboard computer. Accompanied by a free mobile app, the device can help diagnose engine problems, display trip logs and mileage, and even call for help in a crash.

But as sensors become cheaper and more capable, cars will become sensors themselves that can not only improve the experience of getting from point A to point B but also help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

There are already several apps that help drivers find parking spaces. But imagine a car that could identify an empty parking space as it passes by and then upload that information to the cloud. New and existing apps could then use the real-time data to improve alerts to drivers about open spaces nearby. This new functionality could also help eliminate the time and resources we waste parking our cars.

In fact, one study completed by Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and published in Time Magazine reported that 30 percent of downtown drivers are just looking for parking and that these drivers rack up more mileage looking for parking each year than the distance of a cross-country trip. The research also found that searching for parking just around the UCLA campus added up to 950,000 miles of travel, 47,000 gallons of wasted gas, and 730 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. And that is just around one college campus!

Now think about our environment from a global perspective. One of the challenges of predicting weather, fire hazards, and climate change, for example are the number of sensors required to get enough data to make accurate predictions. If we add sensors to cars and connect them to IoT, automobiles around the world can become part of the solution rather than the problem. Vehicles with sensors could collect the needed data and send it to the cloud where it would be available for various businesses and government agencies to analyze and use.

Connected infrastructure

In addition to the vehicles themselves, IoT will create connections between and among vehicles and the transportation infrastructure. This connectedness will offer several benefits. If you live in or near a large city, you’ve probably experienced this scenario. Traffic comes to a standstill due to an accident up the road. Soon you notice an emergency vehicle honking and flashing its lights to get vehicles to move out of the way so it can get to the accident scene as quickly as possible.

As transportation becomes more connected through IoT to create a coordinated system designed to get everyone safely to their destination on time, scenarios like this will be a thing of the past. Sensors installed on the vehicles in the crash could send a signal that alerts nearby vehicles about the problem, enabling them to slow down or take an alternate route.

Already, Google uses the GPS information from Android phones to compare posted speed limits to how fast drivers are actually going. It then uses this information to color in Google maps that show the severity of traffic delays. When fully functional, this type of IoT scenario could save approximately 30,000 lives and avoid 2.12 million injuries each year, according to Morgan Stanley.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a drone!

Now consider unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as UAVs or drones (badly in need of a new name in my opinion). These remotely controlled vehicles are becoming commonplace. Poised to challenge our definition of transportation, drones will significantly enhance company supply chains and logistics operations by delivering smaller items within the last mile of the transportation system.

While many people have dismissed Amazon’s drone delivery plans, I believe Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of, is just scratching the surface of what’s to come. Drones will also transform the way goods are delivered across long distances. Do you remember this vehicle from the movie Star Wars?

Did Star Wars predict the long-haul delivery drones of the future?

Above: Did Star Wars predict the long-haul delivery drones of the future?

In the near future, drones will have the ability to carry huge loads while hovering just a few feet above the ground. These drones could be remotely monitored and guided using a system of sensors on special cross-country or intra-city roadways.

Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO and founder of Matternet, is already working to create a transportation system for physical goods that operates on the same principals as the Internet.

In his YouTube video, Raptopoulos describes the concept this way. “The enabling technology is the UAVs. We want to harness all of the great work that has been happening in academia in the open source community and build a platform that can allow us to do point-to-point delivery, decentralized peer-to-peer just like the Internet.

“The second vital ingredient of the network is the automated ground stations we use. These are point stations on the ground that the UAVs fly in and out of in order to swap batteries and fly further or exchange loads.

“The third [component] is the OS [operating system] that runs the whole network, that optimizes routes, optimizes the flow of vehicles and goods through the system. It optimizes for weather conditions and guarantees the security of the system so we can guarantee to the authorities that it’s not being used for illegal purposes.”

This is a smart approach.

The company just announced Matternet ONE, the first smart drone for transportation. The drone is being evaluated by the Swiss postal service, Swiss Post, to deliver mail and packages to its customers. Earlier versions of the drone were used in Haiti to deliver needed supplies to people in inaccessible areas of the country.

Matternet ONE has completed three tests with Swiss Post to deliver small packages.

Above: Matternet ONE has completed three tests with Swiss Post to deliver small packages.

Safety and Security

The recent hacking of a Jeep Grand Cherokee has been widely reported. Thankfully, this hack was accomplished by the good guys, with the information already being used to improve automobile security and safety. Even so, the risks of hacking are very real, especially as more and more things become part of IoT.

Hacked Jeep Cherokee ends up in a ditch after the brakes were remotely disabled. Photo by Andy Greenberg of Wired

Above: Hacked Jeep Cherokee ends up in a ditch after the brakes were remotely disabled. Photo by Andy Greenberg of Wired

If connected cars are to become fully mainstream, much more work is needed to ensure that they are safe, reliable, and highly secure. After all, it’s one thing for a computer to crash, it’s another thing when the computer in your car is compromised and causes an automotive crash.

There are already several companies and consortia focused on transportation security in an IoT world. Intel just launched the Automotive Security Review Board (ASRB), a cyber security group and industry board to identify and thwart significant security threats for connected cars. Automobile manufacturers such as GM, Fiat Chrysler, and others are also taking the threat more seriously.

Connections matter most

The Internet of Things (IoT) has the power to change our world. And while we are starting to see the incredible impact of IoT, we are still very much at the beginning of this transformational journey.

The key to knowing how IoT will transform our world, is understanding that it’s more about the connections than the things. When things are connected, they become greater than the sum of their parts. They gain access to data they do not possess, and can share their own data with other people and things.

So the next time you drive to work or go on a road trip, just take a second to imagine what your vehicle could do with even more IoT connections.

David Evans is cofounder and CTO of Internet of Everything startup Stringify.

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IoT for food and water: Here’s what the future looks like

VertiCrop growing trays

In the near future, IoT will drive tremendous innovation in the way our food is grown, processed, distributed, stored, and consumed. Plants and animals will literally have a “voice.” Not a human voice, per se, but a voice based on data that can tell people, computers, and machines when, for example, they are thirsty, need more sun, require medicine, or need individual attention.

Vertical Farms

Take vertical farms, for example. These operations bring farming indoors where all of the elements required for rapid and healthy growth can be monitored and controlled. These facilities are built vertically, so growing areas can be stacked. This greatly decreases the amount of acreage needed for farming, which allows vertical farms to be located in or near cities, shortening the time needed to transport and distribute food.

From an IoT perspective, vertical farms are connected both internally and externally. Internally, small sensors in the soil or connected to individual plants tell a control system exactly how much light, water, and, nutrients are required to grow the healthiest, most productive crops. Sensors will also tell vertical farmers when crops are nearing their peak for harvesting at just the right time to ensure it’s still fresh when it reaches its final destination.

Externally, vertical farms will be connected to other networks and information systems, including databases that track local demand. For example, local restaurants could input when they need to replenish their fresh food supplies. And vertical farmers could access that information so they know which crops to grow in what quantities. Vertical farms can also connect to the power grid, using their windows as solar panels to supply the system, creating a tight feedback loop between the food supply, the power grid, and consumers. This type of IoT system would have been unimaginable a generation ago.

Green Sense Farms

Above: Green Sense Farms

Today, vertical farms are in a state of rational experimentation. And while not yet profitable, the numbers point to a bright future for the industry, especially as the world’s population continues to grow and farmland becomes more and more scarce. For example, Green Sense Farms in Chicago is able to harvest crops 26 times a year using 85 percent less energy, one-tenth the water, and no pesticides or herbicides. A side benefit of lower energy use is lower CO2 output of two tons per month, with the added benefit of creating 46 pounds of oxygen every day.

Vertical farms are also sprouting up in other countries. A vertical farm in Miyagi, Japan, built by Mirai Inc. in partnership with GE relies solely on LED lighting, requiring 40 percent less electricity compared with regular fluorescent lighting. This farm is capable of producing 10,000 heads of lettuce a day and annual sales of $2,939,736 (approximately 300 million Japanese yen).

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When we think “vertical,” most people envision something from the ground up. But vertical farms can also be underground. In the United Kingdom, a company called Growing Underground has built a subterranean urban farm 115 feet below a busy south London street uses hydroponics to grow crops free of pesticides. The farm is 1,805 square feet in size and has a carbon-neutral footprint.

Smart Produce — Informed Consumers

A recent National Geographic article, titled, “One-Third of Food Is Lost or Wasted” stated that a collective 3.5 billion acres of land, an area significantly larger than Canada, is plowed to grow food or support livestock and dairy production that no one will eat. To compound the environmental insult, food buried in the airless confines of dumps generates methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest generator of greenhouse gases in the world behind China and the United States.

One way IoT can help decrease this waste is at the point of consumption. U.S. supermarkets lose roughly 10 percent of their fruits and vegetables to spoilage every year, according to the Department of Agriculture.

In 2012, MIT researchers unveiled a new sensor made from sheets of rolled carbon nanotubes with added copper atoms to detect tiny amounts of ethylene, a gas that promotes ripening in plants. The cost at the time of the announcement was about 25 cents per sensor. Applying Moore’s Law, those sensors will soon be cheap enough to economically place them on individual fruits and vegetables.

By detecting the gasses coming off the produce, analyzing the data, and setting alert thresholds, the sensors could keep department managers in the loop about the real-time shelf life of the store’s inventory. Managers can then decide to lower prices on produce so that it sells faster. Consumers would also know how long the fruit and vegetables they just bought will last. If we know when something will spoil, we’re more likely to use it rather than toss it into the garbage. With IoT, everyone wins, including our planet.

Even though sensor prices have not yet reached the point where it is feasible to place one on every fruit and vegetable, similar technology has been used on a larger scale to detect ethylene gas in greenhouses so that special scrubbers eliminate the gas. This lengthens the life of produce, which helps to eliminate waste. Given these advances and the cost- and size-reducing power of Moore’s Law, it’s only a matter of time before your next apple comes with a freshness sensor.

Water, Water, Everywhere …

While water rights are an extremely complicated issue, IoT can also be part of the solution for water shortages being felt in various parts of the world by providing more visibility into water usage, where globally about 70 percent of water is consumed by agriculture, more than twice that of industry at 23 percent, and dwarfing municipal use at 8 percent. As a homeowner, I receive a monthly bill that lists the number of gallons of water I used during the month. While this gives me some helpful data, it doesn’t give me enough information or insights to make intelligent decisions about my water use. I simply don’t have the adequate tools to finely control water usage on a real-time or automated basis.

Using sensors similar to the ones for vertical farming, my yard could tell me when it’s had enough water or which parts need more hydration. In combination with a remotely controllable sprinkler system, this data could be further analyzed and presented graphically on a mobile app to show the impact of my actions. For example, “By reducing water usage for your garden, you saved 8 percent of your target water usage for the month. If you keep it up, you will save $100 compared to the amount you paid last month.”

Now this is information I could use to both make better decisions and to motivate me to achieve certain goals. But, does a drop or two of water really make a difference? Consider this. If just 1 percent of the homes in the U.S. saved 1 drop of water per minute, it would equal 34,715,984 gallons per year. That is enough to water 100 acres of corn. Just imagine what we could accomplish if everyone, including farms and companies, did their part. Collectively, we would have a tremendous impact on the amount of water used while still enjoying the lifestyle we’re accustomed to.

shade ballsRecently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required Los Angeles to cover its water reservoir to keep the water from evaporating. One solution was to build a giant pool cover, however, the city estimated the cost to be approximately $300 million. Then, someone came up with an ingenious idea. Why not float plastic balls on the surface to protect the water underneath? After experimenting on a smaller scale, the city worked with local companies to produce millions of “shade balls” at a cost of $35 million (almost 90 percent cheaper than the alternative method). These chemically-treated black plastic balls now cover Los Angeles’ water supply, saving nearly 300 million gallons of drinkable water from evaporating each year.

Now, imagine if each ball were connected.

Solar or motion powered sensors on each ball connected via a mesh network could gather data about water quality and alert officials when algae, contaminants, acidity, and salinity for example, reach certain levels. The balls could also monitor water levels to determine more accurately how fast the finite resource is being used and replenished. Having this information in real time could help water utility operators make more informed decisions to eliminate waste. From a safety and security perspective, motion sensors could detect when someone has entered the water, either by accident or for a more nefarious reason such as contaminating the water supply, so that quick action could be taken.

Back to the Present

Because food and water are such large and important industries, it’s not surprising that several firms, from the largest technology companies to startups, are working on IoT solutions in these areas. Intel, for example, is looking to be a leader in the food and agriculture industry with projects that address water and food security, safety, and sustainability. The company is working with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) to build tiny sensors that are placed on the backs of bees to help understand why they are dying in massive numbers around the world. Bees, of course, are of paramount importance because they pollinate approximately 33 percent of all human food sources.

Startups are also getting in on the action. Rachio adds intelligence to water usage for people’s yards. The company’s solution calibrates soil, vegetation, slope, sun exposure, and nozzle types to give customers visibility and complete control over their landscaping through a mobile app. Future products will help people manage water usage throughout their homes. Lumense is a chemical and biological sensor platform that monitors liquids and gases to provide real-time analytics and automated maintenance. The company’s focus is to make our food, water, and air supplies safer and better.

And as IoT technologies and solutions proliferate, consortia and standards bodies abound. The rapidly-growing list includes the Internet of Things Consortium, AllJoyn, Open Interconnect, Thread Group, Open Mobile Alliance, and Eclipse IoT to name a few.

IoT Demands a New Way of Thinking

We are on the planet at an incredible period of time in human history. Never before have our challenges been so great. Yet, never before has technology been so powerful. With IoT, we can literally connect anything to anything. This connectedness will require us to think in new ways if we want to use IoT to solve the challenges we face today and tomorrow. Rather than looking at a plastic ball as a singular round object, we can look at it from an IoT perspective by asking, “What could this thing do if it were connected to millions of other balls?” By training ourselves to think in this way, we’ll be to use IoT to better manage our planet including the precious resources such as food and water that we all need to survive.

David Evans is cofounder and CTO of Stringify, a startup focused on IoT. He was previously Chief Futurist of Cisco.

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