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What the Internet of Things and Big Data Mean for Car Safety: An Interview with Neil Cawse

02/09/2016 03:16 pm ET | Updated Feb 10, 2016
  • Phil Simon Speaker, Author, Advisor, President of Motion Publishing

Technology and data have transformed many industries--and obliterated others. (Been to a Blockbuster Video lately? Bought a BlackBerry in the last five years?) It's no overstatement to say that a great deal of change is on the horizon, even in traditional areas. I've said many times that all companies are tech companies. Some just haven't realized it yet.

Thanks to the Internet of Things and Big Data, some of the biggest changes are happening in automobiles. In short, they're becoming smarter. What's more, it's only a matter of time before autonomous vehicles bedeck our highways and streets--and even controlled by our smart watches?

But what about the safety concerns? Foolish is the soul who dismisses them altogether.

To this end, I recently sat down with Neil Cawse. Neil is the CEO of Geotab Inc., rapidly growing Canadian tech firm. The company is doing big things with telematics technology for fleets around the world.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

PS: Connected tech is revolutionizing the car as we know it. Talk to me about in-vehicle technology. How will it change the driving experience? What impact will all this technology have on our safety?

NC:  There have been incredible advancements in technology that are improving driver safety. For example, with telematics, we can connect a small fleet management device to the OBDII port of a vehicle and collect a great amount of data, such as GPS position, trip distance and time, speed and more, even seat belt usage. That data can be used to spot problem areas in driving behavior like speeding or harsh braking, and then correct them through coaching. With a buzzer or spoken alert, your car will tell you to stop speeding and slow down. Just imagine if everyone on the road was more tuned in to their driving, this would dramatically reduce accidents and injuries. Already and in the future assisted driving technology will have a profound impact on safety. By combining an array of sensors around the car and using machine learning computers to monitor the data, the car will prevent you from having an accident. This will reach us sooner than expected.

PS: Technology in cars can be distracting and downright dangerous. How can we use it for good--that is, to help avoid distraction in the car?

NC: Technology can be used to make drivers more focused. Verbal driver feedback is a powerful tool for keeping drivers alert and conscious of what they're doing. If you lose focus, your car will know and alert you to the problem, keeping your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Technology can be used to monitor the components that are distracting, i.e. many companies are now requiring software on phones to make sure people don't text while driving.

PS: Can connected tech help us become better drivers?

NC: Absolutely. Machine-to-machine technology makes it possible to send direct feedback to the driver to correct behaviour. For example, leaving the engine idling too long wastes fuel and harmful to the environment. In a connected vehicle, the driver can be sent an alert in real-time, stopping the idling immediately. When you measure something, then you can manage it.

PS: What role does Big Data play in the connected car?

NC: Big Data is going to transform our lives in significant ways. Storing data from vehicle in the cloud and then analyzing it can help improve productivity, efficiency, and safety. It will also help manage risk. There are so many opportunities for using the data: live traffic prediction, comparing fuel consumption, identifying dangerous intersections, benchmarking, machine learning, and insurance discounts to name a few. Big Data is both an art and a science. You have to know what questions to ask and you need to collect enough quality data.

PS: When do you think that autonomous cars will arrive? Are we ready for it?

NC: Autonomous cars are already here. Bold predictions about autonomous driving have been made by the likes of Elon Musk. I have tried out the autonomous driving in the Tesla and I can say that it's already a very practical technology to help make long-haul driving safer. It's only a matter of time now before they are approved for widespread use. It's an exciting time to be a part of the technology and automotive industries.

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