In an exclusive interview with Internet of Business, Tom Blackie, head of automotive at RealVNC, discusses some of the roadblocks ahead for smart, responsive vehicles – and how they might be successfully navigated.
Smart vehicle technologies are developing in leaps and bounds. There are many different strands, some working in parallel and some competing. But whatever their starting point and final destination, these technologies tend to converge around autonomous driving, self diagnosis and the wider development of smart cities.
Internet of Business spoke to Tom Blackie, head of automotive at remote access software specialist RealVNC about smart vehicle developments. Blackie is a former head of operations at the Olivetti & Oracle Research Laboratory in Cambridge, UK and has also worked at Adaptive Broadband, Identify (part of Autonomy Systems) and Ubisense.
Internet of Business (IoB): Tom, we often hear that IoT technologies will help cars avoid future gridlock as cities grow in population and the volume of traffic also grows. What do you see as the most important in-car technologies that will be brought into play to ease the problems of congestion?
Tom Blackie (TB): It’s estimated that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, driving some cities towards gridlock. This is spurring a shift towards cars that use cloud computing and remote access technology to communicate with ‘smart city’ infrastructure to move people and goods more smoothly and efficiently.
Future remote access technology will enable vehicles to ‘talk’ to smart cities, enabling the two-way sharing of real-time audio, video and images between cars and smart city infrastructure and agencies, with drivers receiving audio instructions to change direction or live images of approaching hazards, which in would improve journeys times and avoid gridlock.
Location-based technology in connected cars will generate a mass of valuable driver and vehicle data which can be used by other services that could help reduce congestion. Cars will also get location-based products, services and car upgrades on the road, reducing vehicle downtime.
IoB: Can you give us some ideas about how these congestion-busting technologies might play out in practice?
TB: Cars will exchange data with ‘smart’ traffic lights that change sequences in response to the amount of traffic or type of vehicle, letting bikes or ambulances through ahead of HGVs. In future, successful commercial operators will be those that harness real-time data from their mobile driver workforce to continuously optimise fleet movements, remotely fix problems and connect drivers to a broader data ecosystem.
Easing traffic congestion in real time involves moving beyond basic telematics monitoring to the use of remote access and cloud computing, to link drivers up with everything from service stations to police forces, and give them remote support on the road, just as IT helpdesks can ‘remote in’ to offsite workers’ laptops.
IoB: How will cloud technologies help with performance and maintenance of vehicles; for example, through smart self-diagnosis systems and other techniques?
TB: Connected cars will generate a mass of valuable driver and vehicle data that can be shared with insurance companies and other services that could help make journeys safer. Dealerships will issue personalized new features ‘over-the-air’ and could even beam personalized suggestions for maintenance or car performance on to in-car passenger screens and phones based on live location, weather, and driver behavior data in real time.
IoB: What proportion of future car technical problems do you think might get fixed in future without the driver needing to go to a garage? What kind of problems and fixes might these be?
TB: Cyber security vulnerabilities in cars have recently led to cars being successfully hacked, leading to increased consumer fear around connected vehicles. A clear solution to this would have cyber experts logging into car dashboards to monitor and fight cyber attacks or patch-critical vulnerabilities in real-time.
Auto technicians will also be able to view dashboards and instrument clusters to see if a vital tyre pressure reading is inaccurate and connect into the vehicle to re-calibrate the sensor and correct the reading.
They can even intervene to fix faults affecting cargo safety. An impending breakdown in a chilled cargo refrigeration unit could be corrected by remotely triggering an emergency cooling system to keep food safe. The same technology could be used to ensure fleets comply with carbon targets. If vehicle emissions are unacceptably high, a control centre could remotely inject larger amounts of ‘add blue’ into the exhaust.
Or take, for example, the remote monitoring of engine oil levels, live CO2 emissions, load environmental conditions such as temperature in a refrigerated container or humidity levels in dried goods load. As soon as any out-of-limit reading is detected, this might be used to alert a remote operator, who could connect into the vehicle and make adjustments.
IoB: How will the safety of autonomous lorry fleets be ensured, and how can the driving public be confident that it is safe to drive close to autonomous vehicles?
TB: The key to this will be enabling remote human intervention in vehicle fleets. Britain is already testing driverless shuttle buses and cars, yet it is unlikely that cars will be fully driverless for some time, due to safety considerations. Instead, the absence of a human at the wheel will necessitate a new way for cars to be ‘driven’ through remote access technology, known as ‘teleoperation.’
If they encounter obstacles, driverless vehicles will ‘ping’ a control centre where an operator will remotely view the car cameras or radar and issue real-time guidance, ensuring they drive safely. High-speed, low-latency screen-sharing technology could even enable driverless cars to be remotely steered around cities from call-centres.
IoB: And how might ‘intelligent’, responsive vehicles predict and prevent gridlock or accidents and dramatically improve delivery times?
TB: Emerging remote access technology is set to give fleet managers the power to log into trucks and calibrate and fix environmental or safety defects in real time to prevent infringements. Truck fleets will be run by all-purpose control centres that draw on real-time data feeds, reporting on everything from acceleration to fuel loads, constantly rearranging routes to avoid hazards, to pick up unexpected loads or to compensate for nearby breakdowns.
Location-based hazard forecasts from nearby vehicles, traffic lights, police forces and weather agencies will be superimposed onto drivers’ windscreen through augmented reality head-up displays [HUDs]. This would create ‘intelligent’, responsive vehicles that communicate with external agencies and infrastructure to predict and prevent gridlock or accidents and dramatically improve delivery times.