Connectivity and big data

We now live lives where we are constantly connected to the world around us. There is almost no element of our lives where we aren’t in contact with others and this constant and all pervasive connectivity will soon spread to cars.

Technology will allow us to receive the level of information we take for granted in our homes and phones. It will also allow cars to broadcast information about themselves; their speed, position and performance can be communicated to other vehicles, and infrastructure and network operators.

Eventually almost all manufactured items may contain sensors to provide feedback on their performance. If all elements of transport could communicate with each other simultaneously there are significant potential benefits to both safety and efficiency. Details of hazards, changing conditions and failing infrastructure could be communicated directly to vehicles, which could adjust their speed or route accordingly. It is easy to imagine the safety benefits that could be achieved especially in emergency situations.  

It could also make preventative measures easier to plan. For instance, if vehicles could update a network operator about deteriorating road surfaces it could be possible to schedule maintenance before major problems and closures are necessary. There will be significant costs in upgrading existing infrastructure in this way and questions about who will own data generated by private vehicles and how it can be used.    

We have already seen with the Highways England lorry platooning trial that the technology involved in connecting a series of vehicles exists. These developments improve efficiency and safety by making sure that vehicles interact with each and changes speeds simultaneously in the most efficient way. There are few limits about the amount of data that could eventually be shared between vehicles, infrastructure and the people running a traffic network. 

This greater connectivity will produce huge amounts of data. Processing all of that data in a way that provides insight will prove a significant new challenge for councils. Handling and understanding the huge amounts of data that connected vehicles produce is likely to become a key function of local highways authorities in the near future.