The integrated technology of the smart city is beginning to show up in urban environments worldwide. This application of intelligent connectivity is anticipated to make life better for most of us — and will bring about changes in the day-to-day work of commercial drivers and fleet managers.
In the generally accepted definition, a smart city is one with a coordinated, technology-assisted infrastructure that maximizes energy use and minimizes waste, reducing its carbon footprint. It delivers a broad range of benefits, from cleaner air and water to reduced traffic congestion.
The innovations that we can expect to see in this city include efficient waste management and recycling, an energy grid that adapts minute by minute to manage demand and prevent outages, and — it’s been proposed — vacancy sensors in parking lots that communicate with automobiles to help motorists locate available spaces.
Here’s another technology that’s almost certain to figure in smart cities: GPS vehicle tracking and traffic volume control.
Autonomous motor vehicles are an essential ingredient in this mix. Whether fully self-driving or partly piloted, connectivity between the automobile and the local network will keep things moving. Intelligent traffic routing on urban streets combined with stoplights that are synchronized with this flow will shorten drive time, save fuel and decrease accident rates.
Given the vital role that transportation plays in any densely populated area, it’s a good bet that the focus on intelligent vehicles will increase rapidly—very rapidly--as smart cities take hold. Entrepreneurial support organization Startupbootcamp.org estimates that in these modernized areas, “From self-driving cars to wireless connected trucks, it’s a field predicted to grow from $46.72 billion in 2015 to $138.76 billion by 2020.”
An incremental Shift to Smart Cities
The advent of vehicles and cities in conversation with each other won’t happen all at once; management consulting firm McKinsey & Company describes it as arriving in waves. When the technology is more fully developed, commercial and industrial fleets will be in the vanguard of this change. The next step will include individual consumers, after the hardware and software have matured enough to lower the cost of entry.
The third and last part of the process will see these connected and eventually self-driving motor vehicles edge out the older machines. At that point traffic flow will be — at least in these cities — almost entirely out of the hands of human beings. McKinsey extrapolates that when traffic is fully automated, accidents may be decreased by as much as 90 percent, saving thousands of lives and possibly $190 billion per year.
Public Sector Contributions
Government has been doing its part to help make this a reality. In the U.S., one effort kicked off in 2015 with the passage of the federal Smart Cities Initiative. That program allocated $160 million for research in fighting traffic congestion as well as other civic improvements such as reducing crime and protecting the environment.
A Win for Fleet Operators
Trucking fleets are leading the way toward our smart-driving future. Most of the heavy-duty commercial vehicles produced today feature some level of connectivity, as manufacturers design them to accommodate engine data monitoring that can provide advance warning of a potential mechanical issue while the vehicle is still on the road. GPS fleet tracking is widely appreciated for its help in pinpointing a vehicle’s location at any given moment.
Managers have become accustomed to fleet tracking technology that helps keep them in the information loop regarding driver activity as well, with an ongoing record of driving behavior that allows them to document issues and implement measures to correct unsafe habits.
More effective communications and routing provides a major assist in shortening distances and avoiding roadblocks, enhancing vehicle availability and putting drivers where they need to be.
Most of the larger players in the trucking business are used to these capabilities and they’re steadily diffusing throughout the industry. Fleets equipped with GPS tracking and other techno features represent a future that will someday comprise every motor vehicle.
Right now, commercial fleet connectivity is a private, stand-alone system, operated independently. And some of the efficiencies enjoyed by trucks on the open road — fuel economy at a steady cruising speed, practical point-to-point routes, lack of stoplights — cease to exist as soon as the vehicle enters the city limits.
When smart cities plug into the connectivity grid, these choke points in the highway/street network are eliminated and commercial motor vehicles will gain more efficiency from their surroundings instead of being slowed down by them.