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No Apple, No Google, No Uber, Oh, My!

by Roger Lanctot | Oct 06, 2015

How do you talk about the future of transportation in this day and age without talking about Apple, Google and Uber?  Attend the 22nd ITS World Congress in Bordeaux, that's how.

ITS stands for Intelligent Transport Systems and all too often these systems are anything but intelligent. This is too bad, because the ambitions of the ITS community – which is made up of governments, non-governmental organizations, transportation authorities and a modest supplier eco-system – is nothing short of creating “mobility as a service” or transportation on demand – with the broader goal of saving lives, time and money while reducing emissions.

Speaker after speaker at yesterday’s plenary session of the ITS World Congress in Bordeaux spoke of incremental movement toward a world of shared transportation resources, shared data and maybe even shared ownership of autonomous vehicles. In fact, the event is hosting a wide range of demonstration vehicles and concepts, most, though not all, funded by governments. (Don’t expect to see a Google car.)

But all the earnestly expressed enthusiasm resounded in the echo chamber of the ITS silo because key transportation, IT and wireless stakeholders were not on hand to contribute their resources and thoughts to the gathering. Notably absent from the event were wireless carriers, with the exception of Deutsche Telekom and Orange; smartphone application developers; car makers (Honda, Toyota, PSA, Renault as exceptions); and, most glaringly, Apple, Google, Uber, Alibaba and Baidu.

Somehow, the great thinkers in the ITS community have overlooked the fact that smartphones and connected cars are turning to cellular wireless technology in the form of LTE and cloud resources to connect cars to one another and to infrastructure. Cars are finding parking spaces, anticipating the phases of lights, and paying tolls via smartphone applications or embedded modems.

Multiple speakers did pay homage to the importance of interoperability. But interoperability does not mean forcing market driven solutions to come to terms with flawed or ill-conceived and outdated solutions conceived by standards-setting bodies.

A powerful indication of the disconnection of the ITS community from transportation technology developments throughout the world was the absence of a start-up or developer area on the show floor and the utter lack of interest from the venture capital community. The claustrophilic ITS community has almost completely hemmed itself in and away from market forces which are surging forward to solve transportation problems with existing and proven technology or emerging standards, such as 5G.

To clarify my meaning, the ITS community is failing to attract either developers or venture capital or startups. It is almost entirely dependent on and vulnerable to the vagaries of government spending. The standard-setting activity in the U.S. around dedicated short range communication technology (DSRC) for V2V communication is emblematic of this enthusiasm, development and financial vacuum as the entire focus of the program has been to exclude rather than stimulate participation.

While the ITS leadership pushes for mandates and standards, car makers have turned their gaze to technologies already available from the wireless carriers with which they have already established relationships. Wireless carriers not only understand the nature and importance of wireless connections and quality of service and security, they also understand the requirements for commercializing services and customer care.

Wireless carriers also have the scale and the physical and IT infrastructure necessary to support a wide range of connections across multiple application areas. Wireless carriers are also further along than most organizations in coming to grips with the emerging Internet of Things opportunity – something which went without a mention from the dais at the plenary session.

The ITS community has the best of intentions and a wealth of wonderful ideas. But until this community opens itself up to the wider world of wireless connectivity it will continue to miss the market. Apple, Google, Baidu, Alibaba, Uber and a host of automobile companies and wireless carriers have all taken on the V2X opportunity directly – increasingly rendering ITS initiatives irrelevant.

Sadly, in this scenario, the last resort for the ITS community, working in cahoots with transportation authorities, NGOs and governments, is to reach out for the solution of last resort: The Mandate. This rarely works out well – as in the case of Europe’s hopeless eCall mandate and Brazil’s foundering Contran 245 mandate. Time after time mandated solutions lock old technologies into place hindering future developments.

Let’s hope that the 22nd ITS World Congress in Bordeaux can truly open a new chapter in connected transportation. The first step will be for the organizers and participants to open their eyes and ears and tear down their silos to recognize the reality directly in front of them. It is not too late for ITS to embrace market driven technologies, solutions and partnerships destined to deliver the vision of mobility as a service far sooner than the wildest imaginings of the mandate-driven planners could ever have anticipated.

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  1. Robert Pauley | Oct 09, 2015
    Roger, excellent observations. I would like to suggest you look at Cellint. The company integrates speed and location information from wireless carriers, in real time from all the mobile devices connected to the network . Cellint was at the ITS World Congress too.