Future car

Parallel developments in automotive telematics will lower costs of, and enable the move to, TDP/VMT road-pricing.

In the Financial Post, 09.12.31, Nicolas Van Praet writes about a number of things we can expect to raise the IQ of our wheels in the future.

For these new carbrains he predicts expanded capabilities for entertainment, information, and some very smart navigation and safety features. Some them could integrate navigation and safety very tightly, indeed:
Carmakers … are spending a lot of time and money thinking about how to incorporate next-generation mobile communications technology …. They're also trying to figure out how to respond to a demographic change of immense consequences. Sometime over the next decade, the world's population aged 65 and older will outnumber children under five for the first time... The number of seniors is growing at an average of 870,000 each month. Many of those older people are in better health than ever before. And many will want to continue driving. They will need help to do that, "in a sense, to keep them safe from each other …envision you're driving down a piece of road that you … [are] unfamiliar with. The GPS system knows exactly where you are … and it knows that it's night, that you're heading toward a mountain road hairpin turn, and that you're going too fast. You know none of this. But the car suddenly starts to slow down, literally takes complete control of the vehicle away from you."
Many of these carsmarts are already available as individual components and there are experimental systems that are designed to decide if you are going too fast for a particular context, and there are even prototype attempts to decide if a vehicle approaching an intersection is likely to be hit by another approaching the same intersection. So with all this automotive telematics engineering in progress at the same time that the market is churning out 65-year olds at the rate of 870,000 month, one can safely predict that demand will coalesce a new market for bundled telematics as we can barely imagine. A single sleek device, targeted after market at first and maybe factory installed as it matures, that will offer as many features in 2011 or 2012 as the laptop did in 2002 or the smartphone in 2008.

But consider another change that is approaching in the same timeframe – pay-as-you-go systems for parking, insurance, and road-use payments. These also need to be tightly coupled to positioning technology, although perhaps one that is more reliable than today’s navigation-grade GPS.

Cramming information (internet node), safety, entertainment, navigation, trip optimization, traveler services, and payment systems into a single system (actually, as apps on a single positioning and communication platform) is not only possible, but desirable. Desirable because dashboard or windscreen real estate is hugely valuable. Desirable because bundling will save motorists a ton of dough compared to purchasing six or ten different systems (my dash is already cluttered with my satellite radio, a GPS and a smartphone – the later two having multiple apps already).

So what will come first? (A) a sophisticated, factory installed, positioning-navigation-safety-management system? (B) a sophisticated aftermarket, self-installed, positioning-payment-management system? Or (C) a couple of generations of after-market systems that attempt some of each until we get it right for factory installation?

Considering that this is a complex integration problem, that we are not yet able to clearly understand the entire requirement, that there will be well over a billion cars on the road shortly, and that only market experience can fully anneal a competent set of system designs (the first cell phones were losers, no?), the correct answer is likely (C).

One of the things that (C) does for governments impatient to move away from the unsustainable fuel tax, is to give them a telematics platform that has some desirable – soon indispensable – features to host, sugar-coat and even help pay for road-pricing payment services.

This means that the upcoming demand for automotive-telematics-based information, safety, entertainment, navigation, trip optimization and traveler information is likely to be a critically important factor to fund the platform for the upcoming shift from pay-by-fuel-tax to pay-by-road-use.

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