According to the World Health Organization, roughly 4 million people die from car crashes each year. Another 20 to 50 million suffer non-fatal injuries, many subsequently incurring disabilities. Today’s metropolitan cities are quickly growing, as is the average commute time to and from work.
This problem has two causes. The first is obvious – the world’s population is growing at an increasingly fast pace. The second is that public transportation has not evolved concurrently. As a result, individuals rely on personal modes of transportation, rather than communal ones, for day-to-day travel.
The solution to this problem is a two-pronged approach. Public transportation is slow and unreliable. For commuters trying to get from point A to point C, it is difficult to find a route that seamlessly combines travel from A to B and B to C. A potential solution is a mobile application that provides suggested travel routes, alerts commuters of unexpected delays, and offers alternatives in real-time, across all public transit providers. That being said, how could this alleviate traffic congestion and reduce traffic-related fatalities?
Increasingly, commuters will see public transit as a reliable service around which they can plan their daily schedules, and an alternative to private transportation. Public transportation will become an alternative to parked and moving vehicles on the road, lowering the risk of accidents. In addition, commuters will be more relaxed and less tired, decreasing the chances of traffic-related fatalities due to driver fatigue. And this is a big deal, given that 90% of accidents are caused by careless, distracted or tired motorists. Ultimately, increased dependency will also lead to an expansion of cities’ public transportation systems.
While the previous solution offers great promise, the reality is that people will still rely on cars in the future. In fact, our affinity for motorized vehicles is at a high, despite the fact that their design has changed – up until now – very little over the last century. Cars have become faster and safer, but the number of cars on the road has yet to decrease significantly.
Today, car manufacturers are developing self-driving vehicles, comprised of as many sensors as possible. Proximity, radar and infrared sensors help vehicles make calculated decisions that human instincts cannot, decreasing the chances of driver error. Combined with GPS services, cars seem to take care of navigation and safety entirely. Sounds perfect, but we’re not there yet. Vehicles’ sensors have limited visibility around corners due to the field of view being obstructed by adjacent buildings or obstacles.
Continental, an international automotive supplier, and IBM have recently tested a solution to this issue on heavy trucks. In 2012, semi-automation was tested on trucks made by Scania, a Swedish automaker. IBM and Continental are harnessing already existing onboard vehicle computers with the help of Watson to gather, interpret, analyze and decide a course of action for the vehicle.
Think of a future in which vehicles communicate with the streetlights and traffic cameras to see what’s around the corner, and incorporate weather reports and traffic conditions into their routes. The vehicle of the future will connect to a wireless information grid, which will then be interpreted and used to make decisions for the driver. By harnessing big data, the cloud, and advanced computer systems, we can decrease traffic related fatalities and reduce CO2 emissions by decreasing driver involvement. IBM and Continental plan to implement semi-automated vehicles in 2016 and move towards a fully automated vehicle by 2020.
By implementing new connected technologies that perform routine tasks, such as checking public transit problems and rescheduling daily commutes, as well as personal motorized vehicles that map and navigate, we can reduce traffic related fatalities and reduce driver fatigue.