IoT: The engine that will transform transportation

Consider the importance of transportation. The ability to move people, goods, and services within and across geographic regions is crucial to the economy. There needs to be an efficient way to deliver goods and services to companies and consumers. At the same time, there needs to be easy ways for people to travel to jobs and perform work. After work is over, people can use transportation to go on vacations and take part in recreational, educational and other activities. Furthermore, the transportation industry contributes to the economy as a consumer of resources and as a supplier of jobs.

If you have any doubt about the size and impact of the global transportation industry, here are some facts:

Now, think about that volume within the context of these troubling statistics:

  • About 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road-traffic crashes. Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists account for half of those deaths.
  • In 2013, there were over 7 million drivers involved in property-damage crashes in U.S. road traffic.
  • In 2014, America’s drivers wasted 9 billion hours stuck in traffic and wasted about 3 billion gallons of fuel and each of the top 10 American highway interchange bottlenecks cause an average of 1.5 million annual truck hours of delay.
  • From the end of 2004 to early 2015, the average transit times to move containers from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to Chicago grew from 84 hours to 120 hours.
  • Jakarta’s Soekarno–Hatta International Airport, which was designed to accommodate 22 million passengers a year, handled more than 52 million in 2013.


Now imagine how a fully functional Internet of Things (IoT) system will transform the transportation industry. Think about a transportation system where people, vehicles (of all types) and the transportation corridor infrastructure (roads, air, water, rail, etc.) are all connected via a massive collection of IoT networks. For example, on the roadway, vehicles are connected to all other vehicles, the roads themselves and the signs along the road. In the air, planes are connected to other planes, airports and air traffic control networks.

And it’s not just about the ability to connect people and things; the real transformation will happen when advanced analytics capabilities are applied to all transportation systems in real time. A self-driving vehicle will interact with other self-driving vehicles while receiving information about every potential delay along its journey. Pilotless planes will fly themselves based on full knowledge of each working part and weather conditions on all potential flight paths. All the while, they will be interacting with the airport on the ground and other aircraft in the sky.

Commercial goods and services will move more fluidly through the supply chain as the network knows every potential delay, and software will work overtime to minimize those delays in real time. The ability to track vehicles and shipments during the entire journey will lead to tremendous efficiencies in supply chain and fleet management. Companies will also use the real-time information to optimize just-in-time inventory systems and determine the optimal method for priority shipments.

The potential benefits of this future transportation system are significant: less congestion, faster travel times for people and goods, less fuel expended, increased worker productivity and fewer accidents. The future transportation system will save lives and property, reduce emissions and cut commuting time and effort.

How does this future vision become a reality? It will take many years to realize, but it will happen with private and public partnerships. It is going to take a lot of work. It will require more innovation in all types of IoT technologies including sensors, cameras and communication standards. But equally important, it will require a significant investment in emerging software technology such as big data, analytics and cognitive computing.

Most developed economies have mature intelligent transportation public and private initiatives in place, researching technologies and critical initiatives in areas such as:

  • Intelligent fleet management systems
  • Public & private transport integration
  • Congestion management systems
  • Vehicle-to-vehicle interaction systems
  • Transportation demand management systems
  • Connected and autonomous vehicle systems
  • Transportation analytics and dashboard visualization apps

One thing is clear: This will all be enabled by a transition to IoT networks. The IoT, enabled by supporting capabilities such as big data, analytics and powerful cognitive computing software, will be the engine that powers the transportation industry of the future.

Additional reading:

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