In the tech community we talk a lot about convergence -- when technologies break down the barriers between industries. For instance, the merging of video with Internet connectivity now allows us to watch television shows wherever and whenever we want.
Lately, another convergence between two industries has been taking place. Meet the "intelligent car:" the place where advanced wireless connectivity and vehicles come together to make us safer on the roads; save fuel, time and money; and enhance our quality of life.
At the moment these technologies go by several different names. Consumers might hear them referred to as "telematics," or "connected cars." But maybe the broadest and most appropriate term is "intelligent" vehicle technologies.
These technologies can operate in the vehicles themselves, or they can be embedded in the road infrastructure. Your smartphone can host connected technologies as well -- such as apps that do things like unlock your car from your phone.
Some of these technologies are controlled entirely by the driver. Some are autonomous technologies which perform primary functions for the driver, such as automatically braking to avoid an accident. (And in a few years we may see fully autonomous vehicles on the road that are capable of driving themselves).
These intelligent technologies have been talked about at all of the hottest gatherings for tech geeks in the past year -- the Consumer Electronics Show, Mobile World Congress, and South by Southwest Interactive.
So what is the big deal? Why should we care more about these technologies than any other consumer device? Because they can benefit everyone in society, not just the driver of the car:
...They Can Save Lives. Cars that are aware of other vehicles and road infrastructure can compensate for roadway dangers. For instance, private companies and the government are researching cars that let other vehicles know where they are, thereby avoiding crashes. Other technologies being investigated will allow cars to tell drivers when their eyes wander from the road for an unsafe period of time. And other technologies will be able to transmit specific crash impact information to medical personnel before an accident victim gets to a hospital in order to aid treatment.
...They Can Help Save the Planet. The company Cisco estimates between 10 and 17 percent of urban fuel is wasted at stop lights when there is no traffic. But "smart" traffic lights that are aware of how many cars are sitting in line can adjust timing to allow traffic to flow, saving fuel. In addition, autonomous technologies hold the promise of curbing human drivers' tendencies to hit the brakes when it isn't necessary -- thus reducing the "stop-and-go" traffic that contributes to increased emissions.
...They Can Save Us All Time. The Texas Transportation Institute's 2012 Urban Mobility Report estimates that "in order to arrive on time for important trips, travelers had to allow for 60 minutes to make a trip that takes 20 minutes in light traffic." Today, companies that make intelligent vehicle technologies have created products for owners of commercial fleets that track fleet traffic via GPS, allowing companies to increase route efficiency and reduce the amount of time trucks stay on the road.
...They Can Save Our Sanity. Companies that make intelligent vehicle technologies are creating devices that consumers can activate to alert drivers of certain conditions. For instance, there are systems on the market that enable parents to receive an email if their teenaged driver strays outside an agreed-upon perimeter.
Of course, these great breakthroughs also bring up questions such as 'how can we use these technologies safely?' This is why distracted driving is the first -- and highest profile -- intelligent vehicle policy issue to be dealt with by the government. There are other questions that stakeholders in this space have begun to pose around issues such as data privacy and security, and a healthy exchange of information has begun among organizations.
The tech industry has spent years putting their collaborative, solution-oriented style to work on answers to similar policy questions in the Internet space. Sometimes there is a technological solution to these challenges. Sometimes they can be solved by getting stakeholders together to hammer out workable fixes.
Whatever problem-solving procedure, everyone has an incentive for coming to agreement. Stakeholders want to work out these issues because the promise of these technologies to help all of us is so great. The innovations occurring in this sector of the economy will save lives, help save our environment, and add to our quality of life. That's worth working together to accomplish.