How Will Net Neutrality Affect the Future of Mobility?

Driving by car is strongly connected with a feeling of personal freedom. While we book flights just for one specific itinerary, and train tickets are usually only valid for a short period in time, we can get into our car whenever we want and drive any route that comes to our mind. Traffic jams, detours, or temporary road blocks apply to every driver the same way. And also speed limits or priority are not depending on how much we pay. This also holds true for toll that might be charged to cross a bridge or a tunnel – every driver is treated the same way. However can we take this condition for granted that provides a network of roads in a neutral way to every user?

Net neutrality is not a matter of fact in every industry, not even in all branches of mobility and logistics. Rail services, for example charge special rates for express trains. While the tariff structure of rail companies are rather transparent in passenger services, this is not the case for transportation of goods. Depending on the buying power and on the negotiations of the customers’ procurement, freight will be transported timely or might travel rather slowly to its destination.

In telecommunications, the rate structure is even more notorious for its lack of transparency. Voice and data plans vary by orders of magnitude regarding bandwidth or duration that comes with different plans.

Net neutrality in telecom services became an important issue when ‘over the top services’ like YouTube or Netflix started to consume significant proportions of bandwidths. It became obvious that in the long run the carriers would be degraded to mere suppliers of infrastructure, just delivering a commodity instead of becoming ‘value added services’ that could charge their customers extra for their precious entertainment programs.

Until now, users pay for using the service in terms of just transportation of the data packages, no matter what is in the data. Since they are the ones who pay, it should thus follow consequently that the services they want to access must not be charged by the telcos or otherwise the service would be charged twice. In Europa as in many parts of the world it is still mandatory for telcos to act neutrally regarding the services requested by the users.

‘Managed services’ is what telcos are lobbying for in opposition to net neutrality. The argument goes that companies like Google (with YouTube in particular) or Facebook act like parasites on the infrastructure – skimming the profits without contributing to maintain it. Although there is very little facts provided to prove the allegations, it is not totally implausible.

Advocates for net neutrality would respond though, that restricting net neutrality would give telcos a wrong incentive, not to invest in infrastructure to improve the situation, instead to shorten supply to be able to raise the price for services, or even worse, to exclude competition like Skype or WhatsApp and rather continue selling their own products like voice telephony or SMS.

Transportation and net neutrality

With roads, the situation is fundamentally different. It is comparably easy to add new wires or build additional base transceiver stations to get more throughput for the network. It is much harder to build more roads, in urban environments it is often even impossible to increase the capacity for traffic. The consequence can be seen every day: Traffic jams, overcrowded parking lots, polluted air. Worst examples are the big metropolitan centers in China and India, but the situation in most big cities in the US is also dire.

Road access without regulations thus leads to a classic example of the ‘tragedy of the commons’. Each driver will ask herself, why she should be the one to refrain from the benefits of individual traffic and switch to public transport. Some cities have already introduced special tolls, like the congestion fee for entering central London.

Autonomous cars and car sharing services when becoming broadly available would indeed offer another model. Telecommunication carriers license frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum from the state, for which they have to pay a considerable sum. In return they can offer differentiated rate plans to their customers, and realizing a significant upside for themselves.

Cities or whole countries could offer mobility carriers a similar deal: Car sharing platforms would rent capacity from the public, and resell their added value mobility service to finance the infrastructure. Rate plans could be fine-tuned and automatically adapt demand. It might in this way just become too expensive to use individual means of transport for a commute that you could as well do in public transport or by bicycle.

That this is no far-fetched business model at all is shown by Uber. Uber’s surge pricing anticipates such mobility services reacting elastically to actual demand. A major outcry followed when people became aware that instead of being charged a few dollars like usually, they would suddenly face payments more expensive by orders of magnitude.

Since the times of Henry Ford, individual traffic in the own car has been woven into the culture of most societies. It is thus not easy to see opportunities and risks from a more distanced, more objective vantage. It will also not be easy to find the right rules and regulations to make a system of managed services for mobility fair and supportive to the economy.

The worst would be a contemporary version of highwaymen. Second worse however would be to go on and waste space, pollute the air, and jam the vessels of urban life like it can be seen in many cities today. Net neutrality for mobility will therefor become an important issue.

How do you think net neutrality will impact the future of mobility? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How Can Self-Tracking Improve the Driving Experience?

Data is not only transforming businesses, but it is also affecting individuals on a personal level. With the help of technology, individuals are tracking every aspect of their lives. Self-tracking or Quantified Self has been used in various industries such as health and wellness, education, gamification and automotive etc. Especially in automotive industry, companies and individuals are using various gadgets, sensors and apps to capture data about driving habits to improve the driving experience.

Quantified Self is a way to get “self-knowledge through numbers” as the two founders Kevin Kelly and Gerry Wolf put it, learning about one’s life by measuring various aspects of human bodily functions, actions, habits, and environment.

With all kinds of tracking devices from simple step counters to complex sleep monitors, that are known generally available in every consumer electronics store, Quantified Self has matured from a nerdy, rather esoteric niche to a mainstream trend. In many countries, healthcare institutions are experimenting with self-tracking, and there is a plethora of self-tracking apps for iOS and Android smartphones.

“Self-tracking is about change, but change is more often not about doing, but about stopping to do something.” Gerry Wolf introduced this year’s Quantified Self conference that took place in Amsterdam with a keynote about breaking routines. A routine, he remarked, is a method to fight entropy. It consumes energy to maintain routines. Routines are efficient, as long as the conditions remain unchanged, but it restrains our acting freely. Self-tracking for most people is about uncovering routines in daily life, making bad habits visible, and then guiding the change by supplying an indicator.

When self-tracking is used to break habits, it opens additional degrees of freedom. Thus self-tracking is not so much about self-discipline, about restricting actions, living according to more rules, but about pushing the boundaries, and relieving from constrains that are not necessary, but exist just because people are used to do things that way.

Self-tracking devices and apps to improve the safety of driving

Bad habits can creep into all our everyday activities. And self-tracking is not limited to counting the steps or measuring blood pressure. There are already a few apps that support people by tracking their driving. Acceleration (respectively breaking), turning, and speed can easily be tracked with the sensors that sit on every smartphone.

From the readings of these probes, indexes can be derived, that give feedback on the quality and safety of driving. Becoming aware of bad habits can not only help the driver to save energy by learning to drive more ecologically, but reduce stress and lower the risk of accidents. Self-tracking can help drivers to act more consciously, and thus give them more freedom on the road.

One of the US-based start-ups introduced a new model called pay-per-mile car insurance. A self-tracking device is fitted to the car to track the driving habits and performance of drivers to provide reduced insurance premiums. Another California-based start-up uses the sensors on smartphone to measure drivers’ behavior. The app gives insights about individual driver’s focus, caution and control on the road to improve drivers’ safety.

What kind of self-tracking devices or apps do you use on a day-to-day basis? And for what purposes? Share your opinions in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How Can “Bring Your Own Device” Enrich Driver’s Experience in Connected Cars

Bring your own device (BYOD) has recently become one of the most debated IT topics. It is not only affecting the IT industry, but also the automotive industry. Smartphones and tablets have made it possible for people to stay connected throughout the day. Both auto and mobile manufacturers are working closely to embed customer’s personal devices within cars to provide better connectivity. However, there are certain challenges to be overcome before this could become a reality.

BYOD means that employees use their private computers, smartphones, or tablets at their everyday workplaces and office desks, instead of getting separate hardware, administrated by the company’s IT department.

More and more people want to use the same technology at work that they have chosen to use for their private purposes. In particular for younger professionals, it becomes less and less accepted not to have all their tools at hand. Why would they let themselves get restricted to outdated operation systems, cheap hardware and crippled internet access? Although some companies set up rules for their employees to use the devices of their choice, for most businesses the concerns outweigh any potential advantages.

Connection between personal devices and cars

Some manufacturers provide rudimentary interfaces via Bluetooth to connect some functionality of smartphones with the car’s entertainment system. Most however seem to believe that people would still want to rely solely on the car’s onboard systems. Hardly any model has a proper place to put the device while driving.

With a smartphone stored away in the usual compartment next to the driver’s seat, people cannot use it directly. They would have to access it via the car’s system that supports only a tiny fraction of the phone’s functionality. To really use the smartphone, people still have to install cheap third party hands-free car kits.

Using personal mobile devices while driving is not just owed to laziness. While personal gadgets are up-to-date, the car’s technology will be outdated already when it first hits the road due to the long development cycles that are unavoidable during car construction.

Furthermore, mobile apps have optimized user interfaces, continuously adjusted to users’ behavior. People might drive various cars, some might not even own them. How convenient would it be, if people could use the same interface, no matter what model they would use?

How cars should support the technology of customer’s choice

Cars should become agnostic to the way, people would want to navigate, listen to music, or even control the climate. Instead of forcing us to rely on their proprietary interfaces, they should give us as much freedom as reasonably possible to control the car with personal mobiles. There might be limits due to security concerns.

Recently, a jeep manufacturing company had to recall millions of their vehicles due to vulnerability in the car’s computer system. System critical functions could be accessed wirelessly. BYOD might be a good way to rethinking the architecture of the electronic systems.

Accessing entertainment, air condition, and other passenger support systems is not as dangerous as controlling acceleration, airbags, or the breaks. The different systems should be separated physically. While the core of the car should be protected and not accessible without proper authorization, the peripherals should be as easy to connect as possible.

People tap their phones atop the car’s dashboard after losing patience with the clumsy user interface of the built-in navigation system. Does anyone use these dinosaurs of consumer electronics anymore, at all? It is high time to change the way car companies treat their drivers. BYOD is a good first step.

For what purposes do you use your personal smartphone in the car? Share your ideas in our comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

How Can Cyborg Technology Shape the Future of Transportation?

The internet, smartphones, tablets and wearable devices have changed the way humans interact with vehicles, but emerging innovations in cyborg technology could potentially allow humans to drive the car with the power of thought. Scientists are attempting to merge brain waves with driving technology to create mind-controlled vehicles.

What is a cyborg and how does this technology function

The term ‘cyborg’ was coined in the 1960 in a paper by two famous medical scientists and drug researchers. Their idea: “altering man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space.”

A cyborg “deliberately incorporates exogenous components extending the self-regulatory control function of the organism in order to adapt it to new environments.”

In a broader sense, every human using bodily aids might already be called a cyborg: the transgression from glasses to contact lenses to implanted seeing aids is fluid – many see the medical potential of bodily augmentation as a threat.

For instance, Enno Park, who not long ago has regained his normal sense of hearing from being totally deaf by Cochlea implants was maligned as an unnatural monstrosity by some. So, he founded the German Cyborgs Association to advocate for cyborgism.

Intuitive connection between cyborgs and transportation

Generally, many see technology as extensions of our bodies, as the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin proposed. After two million years of cooking, our digestive system is fully adapted to processed food – cooking could thus be called our “extended stomach”. Wheels likewise give us faster feet.

The less mediation there is between human and technology regarding control and feedback, the closer technology gets us to become cyborgs in the original sense. There is a gradual transition from the reins of a carriage to controlling autonomous vehicles by direct connection to our minds, as was presented recently by a research group at Free University of Berlin.

The concept uses thought-induced variances in electric currents in the brain measured by an electro encephalogram to control the driving. This technology has been in use as an interface for computer games for some years.

Mobility innovations in the field of cyborg technology

The first step in the direction of cybernetic cars was the navigation system, making automotive technology context-aware (i.e. aware of the location) for the first time. Another interesting development is augmented reality, head-up-displays, that enhance our field of vision by projecting information on the windscreen, that appear floating some meters in front of the car, directly on the pavement. Semi-autonomous driving with proximity scanning via radar, cruise control that adjusts to the traffic and automated parking will also further blur the line between the individual driver and his machine.

Wearable technology like smartwatches can also work as interfaces between driver and car. They work as car keys, unlocking the car seamlessly, as voice recognition interfaces and even realize quite accurately when the driver becomes tired – triggering suggestions to pause and regenerate before driving further.

Experimental designs also work with gesture recognition to control the car. Eye tracking is used to signal pedestrians outside if the driver is looking in their direction via eye-shaped LEDs at the car’s front.

As with body implants those who will benefit the most are people with challenges. Cybernetic cars will have an immediate impact on inclusion, but cyborgization will not stop there. With connected cars, aware of their surroundings, autonomously executing our wishes, transportation will be transformed as publishing was transformed by the internet.

What do you think of driving a car using the power of your mind? Share your opinions in our comment section?

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.