The future of the road: Will big data make roads safer?

Connected vehicles gather incredible amounts of data – from location to speed to seat belt use. As vehicles become increasingly connected, so much so that a new industry dubbed the ‘Internet of Cars’ has emerged, will this big data boom positively change life on the road in communities and towns across Canada?

Innovation and the ‘Internet of Cars’

In 1996, the U.S. un-blocked GPS so that its use could go beyond military application, thus birthing the ‘Internet of Things’. In today’s era of growing digital and mobile connectivity, vehicles have become the ‘ultimate mobile device’. Connected cars now access, consume, create, direct and share digital information between businesses, people, organizations and infrastructure.

As vehicles become connected, they learn and become self-aware through sensors, displays, onboard and off-board computing, in-vehicle operating systems, wireless and in-vehicle communication, machine learning, analytics, and speech recognition. All of this leads to benefits and opportunities like reduced accident rates, increased productivity, improved traffic flow, lower emissions and extended utility, among other important benefits.

Connected Vehicles Provide Big Data Opportunities

One of the biggest opportunities that the Connected Car provides is new insights rendered through big data. According to Ward and Baker in the MIT Technology Review, “Big data is a term describing the storage and analysis of large and/or complex datasets using a series of techniques including, but not limited to: NoSQL, MapReduce, and machine learning.”

At the forefront of collecting big data from vehicles is Geotab, a global leader in telematics and Open Platform fleet management solutions. Telematics extracts accurate and actionable intelligence from real-time and historical trips data that businesses can use to improve productivity, reduce fuel consumption, and enhance driver safety. In a recent interview with Startup Canada, Geotab founder and CEO Neil Cawse explained: “Telematics is the collecting, measuring and reporting on data so that systems can be improved and better decisions can be made.”

An engineer turned global entrepreneur, Cawse has built one of the world’s largest telematics companies. “We are in more than 14,000 fleets including top Fortune 500 companies,” says Cawse.

But, How is Big Data Leading to Safer Roads?

Today, Geotab collects 1 billion points of data each day, providing companies with the accountability and transparency needed to increase safety by improving driver behavior in the field. An example of that is Black & Veatch, a global engineering and construction company specializing in utilities including energy, water, and telecommunications. The company has more than 11,000 employees in over 100 countries, including Canada. Many people rely on their services to keep their everyday lives and businesses going, so it’s essential that their mobile workers arrive safely, and on time. Through the installation of Geotab’s telematics devices and the implementation of a safety scorecard, Black and Veatch saw a 28 percent improvement to their average fleet safety score and an 87 percent reduction in high-risk drivers.

Additionally, a Toronto-based 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise leverages the fleet management solution to improve the safety of its young driving staff between the ages 20 to 30 who have no professional driving experience.  And, Fleet for Tolt Solutions, a retail-focused IT services company, leverages the system to take control of high accident rates, reducing them by 21 percent.

In addition to improving driver and road safety, the data produced by connected vehicles can also  support the streamlining of complex operations; support fleet companies in saving time and money; improving productivity; monitoring, recognizing and rewarding exceptional employees; improving customer service; enhancing communications between drivers; and, preventing theft among many other benefits.

Opening Up Big Data

According to Geotab CEO Neil Cawse, “Big data is not an island.” Cawse has built an Open Platform fleet management solution, allowing businesses to customize their solution through the use of Geotab’s Software Development Kit, or one of the many mobile Add-Ins already available on the Geotab Marketplace. According to Cawse, “Opening up big data requires collaboration to develop an ecosystem of third-party solutions.” Through a community of collaboration and Geotab’s Open Platform, the transportation industry will continue to see advanced solutions that will increase safety and performance.

Beyond being good for business, Neil Cawse believes big data can solve big problems. “There is a tremendous amount of value that can come out of big data for society,” says Cawse. “Through big data, we can hold automotive makers accountable for manufacturing and emissions and help design safer roads by monitoring traffic incidents, patterns and trends and feeding information back to the cities and towns. We need to unlock data and make it available so that we can solve the big problems we face today.”