How was your commute today?

My commute today was relatively trouble-free. No accidents jammed the highways; the rain had stopped for a brief period thus improving visibility; and from what I heard the light rail was running without a hitch. Mind you, it still took me 25 minutes to cover the 13 miles from home to work but that’s as good as it gets in my book.

Progress continues to happen all along the transportation ecosystem. Globally, trillions of dollars will be spent over the next 20 years to improve or add roads, bridges, light rail, high-speed rail, public transportation infrastructure and more. The vast majority of these projects will undoubtedly fall into the ‘bricks and mortars’ category, as aptly noted by the moniker associated with projects being funded with stimulus dollars – ‘shovel ready’. A glaring omission that reflects off the still warm asphalt and, in my opinion, stinks much worse, is that information technology is not being leveraged to the degree that it should in order to help resolve the transportation issues of today.

Bricks and mortar projects are absolutely needed as communities expand, as more cars are added to the roads and for ongoing, regular infrastructure maintenance. But heavy construction projects will not go very far in helping the train ticket buyer in China who often has to wait more than an hour to buy a ticket, leaving some trains at only 60% capacity. Nor will it help the routing problem that occurs when everyone with a GPS device reroutes around an accident only to move the congestion to the side streets.

The next wave of transportation innovation is going to come from IT. IT can help deliver new advances in personal and public transportation, safety, eco-driving and infotainment. In fact, we are starting to see such innovation in pockets such as subscription-based communications services, parking assistants, heads-up displays, WiFi on trains and advanced entertainment devices in your car.

However, with a few notable exceptions in order for any technology to be wildly successful, it needs to be based on standards that provide a framework in which an ecosystem can develop and flourish. Collision avoidance systems don’t work well if a GM vehicle cannot talk to a Honda. Global rerouting will only work if every system can communicate where it is, where it needs to go and what its constraints are. This communication must be in a single language, not 25 proprietary languages.

Intel is already working with leaders in the automotive, Telemetrics and wireless industries to develop intelligent transportation standards through information technology. Among many other initiatives, our researchers are developing new algorithms and standards to ensure that high speed data networks also work for vehicles traveling at high speeds. We are looking at how information is presented to the driver to ensure that the right information is presented in the right way at the right time as well as creating new means of user interaction with the car to ensure safe operating environments. With 100s and 1000s of data points continually sending information, the ability to process the flood of data with real-time processing is critical in a high-speed environment. Our researchers are developing ways to enable local processing of real-time data as well as aggregating data through crowd computing to provide more context and therefore more refined inferencing for better decision making and more precise services.

I am excited about the potential that IT will bring to the transportation ecosystem. It may be a long time before the science fiction promise of vehicles that completely drive themselves, but we are a lot closer to an environment that is more enjoyable, safer, more energy efficient and just might even reduce my commute time and yours.

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