The pandemic and the lockdown have reduced our mobility, but our connectedness – via IoT, the Cloud and AI – has helped us overcome this.
As society gets moving again, connectedness will redefine the way we do it, writes Pierre Bruwer, MD of Netstar.
The ever-accelerating pace of technological innovation promises an era of mass, high-speed connectivity with the potential to not only boost human progress but improve the living standards of all the world’s people.
The oceans of data that the Internet of Things (IoT) generates will equip humans with a better understanding of our world. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will enhance our ability to process this data and apply it.
Already, it is estimated that 30-billion IoT devices will be connected to the internet by the end of 2020. IoT spend may reach $15-trillion in the six years to 2025.
At the same time as connectivity is becoming indispensable, mobility has never been more important. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown have made us painfully aware of how dependent we are on fleets to bring cargo from source to the retailers that provide our essential goods.
Protecting that cargo, and ensuring it gets to us as efficiently as possible, is the realm of telematics and IoT. This is contingent on connectivity. Our success as a society will depend on how well we connect to each other, and how well we use the information generated by IoT.
A carmaker partnership
A current global partnership with major automaker Toyota has given Netstar interesting insights into the future of personal mobility using connected technology.
The connected-vehicle approach allows carmakers to acquire vast amounts of consumer data, which can be used by engineering teams to build better motor vehicles and improve the mobility of their customers.
Our approach has been to build a network that transcends location. At times, it happens to be mobile, but it integrates seamlessly with user devices and their home and office networks. The goal was to eliminate the idea of the vehicle as an intermediate stage where connectivity is lost, or where mobile data is expensive. Now the vehicle functions as the hub of a connected life.
Everything from work to banking to information and entertainment is now available from the vehicle’s mobile wi-fi hub.
Connectivity also ensures optimum driver safety. Any vehicle fault codes are reflected on the companion app. If the vehicle is involved in an accident, roadside assist can contact the customer directly, and arrange suitable help at the location.
The next phase of connectivity sees carmakers enter the infotainment space, providing in-vehicle content as part of the car purchase package.
In the public mobility space, connectivity can revolutionise the industry. The minibus taxi industry, empowered with high-speed mobile broadband, can become a hub of news and educational content.
The opportunities to improve driver and passenger safety are great. Shift bosses can monitor driver vital signs via wearable devices, and make interventions on the fly, which can make public transportation safer.
With 35-40 road deaths daily, South Africa has a horrendous road safety record. Telematics and other connected technologies are critical to improving this, by monitoring driving behaviour and encouraging safe driving.
There are significant first-mover advantages for developers and service providers in this space, as well as for the companies best able to productively process the large amounts data generated from connected motoring.
Connected innovation approaches
With electric vehicles (EVs) already available in many markets, charging is set to become a key consideration. Charge alerts will indicate when to charge the vehicle, where, and how much time to budget for the process.
Navigation now involves automated communication between vehicle and infrastructure. The connected vehicle can now be expected to communicate with access gates at parking facilities, negotiating immediate, seamless access. Parking payment can be automated, as can fuel and charging transactions.
The safety advantages of connected mobility are clear. Geofencing functionality allows us to set time, speed and location alerts for loved ones or co-workers. In the time of global pandemics, curfew alerts can be automated. Automatic roadside assistance and collision alerts ensure help arrives even when occupants may be incapacitated.
Connected mobility also allows constant video monitoring of scholar-transport services. Parents can now also have the peace of mind of being able to remotely monitor every minute of their child’s school journey.
Netstar, for instance, has partnered with road-safety organisations in KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape, providing telematics to monitor the drivers of school-transport vehicles. Drivers are incentivised to drive safely and monitored with telematics technology, and it was found that monitoring led to safer driving behaviours.
The insurance industry has been an early adopter of technology to unlock the benefits of connected mobility. Whether through connected vehicles or customer devices, insurers are now able to monitor driving behaviour and incentivise positive change. Essentially, products are now being customised to consumer needs.
Connected fleets: Commercial opportunities
Fleet intelligence, obtained through telematics and IoT, enables a fuller understanding of logistics processes, where inefficiencies can be eliminated, and how profitability can be optimised.
A partnership between Netstar and Putco, for instance, was able to cut accidents and also enhance COVID-19 compliance through a network of onboard cameras.
Putco reduced accidents by 70%, and damage claims by 36%. In 2016/17, Putco reported 61 accidents, but by the end of December 2019, this number had dropped to 18.
However, driver connectivity, often used simply for monitoring – has other positive possibilities. Free, centralised, high-speed connectivity in the vehicle means drivers parked overnight at a truck stop can video-chat with their families, or complete an e-learning course. Data, food or coffee vouchers can be offered as rewards incentives.
With the monitoring of connected fleets, precision maintenance can be used to improve profitability. Servicing schedules can be adjusted to ensure a longer life for the vehicles.
A new role for connected vehicles
The next opportunity for service providers in the connected mobility sector is in Big Data. With multiple devices, sensors, and users constantly generating real-time data, the true differentiator will not lie simply in the provision of hardware or software.
The mobility leaders of the future will be those organisations that can sift and analyse the data, interpret it, and apply its insights for the benefit of drivers, organisations and society at large.