The Future of Transportation Lies with Big Data and IoT

The changes to transportation with Big Data and IoT revolve around safety, improved efficiency and cost savings.

As with many industries, technology has started to transform transportation, both for companies managing large supply chains and in everyday life.

The question now is not whether Big Data and the internet of things (IoT) are the future of transportation, rather, it’s a question of how many tasks technology can handle, and where human beings fit into the new era.

It’s also resulted in changes in the workforce. Those with degrees in data and other technology-related fields are seeing new opportunities in careers that didn’t exist that long ago.

Trends to Watch

The changes to transportation with Big Data and IoT revolve around safety, improved efficiency and cost savings. A number of innovations have emerged in the past few years.

They include the following. All of them involve the use of advanced software that can analyze big amounts of data, machine learning and IoT.

Self-Driving Cars

This has become one of the most highly anticipated innovations of late. Some estimates call for as many as 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020. For now, it’s mostly high-end carmakers making these features available. Tesla, BMW and Mercedes already have self-driving features on some models, which involve numerous cameras to view a car’s surroundings and software that can compute that information and use it to navigate. IoT also is involved, with sensors on the car that interact with sensors on stationary objects as well as those in other vehicles. The Google Waymo, tested since 2009, already has the equivalent of 300 years of driving experience.

The ultimate goal is to make roads safer. Self-driving cars can reduce the stress associated with driving as well as free up time – people in self-driving cars essentially have the same amount of time to do other things as those on subways and buses.


Technology also is moving forward on creating trucks that can self-drive. Already, systems are being placed in trucks that include cameras and radar systems that monitor the road, as well as sensors that capture the activities of the driver. Controls on the fuel system are designed to improve overall gas mileage. Much like an auto-pilot on planes, computerized systems can regulate speed and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles.

Drone Taxis

The company Volocopter has tested a remote-controlled drone taxi in Dubai, including taking Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed on a five-minute ride. Think of it as the prototype for an eventual Uber in the sky, where drones will pick up riders to transport them to their destination without having to sit in traffic.

Airborne Car Chargers

Speaking of drones, Amazon has already filed a patent (back in 2014) for a drone to connect to your electric car and recharge the battery as you drive. Sensors in the car would communicate with a drone when the battery is low, and the drone would locate the car through those same sensors. Farther down the road, Amazon envisions having stations on public street lights that a drone could land on to charge its batteries.

Cargo Ships

Rolls Royce is developing a cargo ship that can be handled completely by remote control, without the need of a crew onboard.

Less Traffic

Big data and IoT also are being used to lower the amount of traffic people deal with in big cities on a daily basis.

As noted above, self-driving cars should lead to more organized traffic patterns, with cars communicating with each other and lowering the traffic-halting lane shifts and sudden stops that contribute to congestion and delays.

But that’s just the tip of the Big Data and IoT iceberg. Other potential uses, some of which are already being tested, can leverage analytics to make transportation more efficient.

  • In Chicago, the “Array of Things” is expected to start operations by 2018. The system involves 500 sensors placed around the city that monitor traffic congestion, noise pollution, air quality and overall climate issues. These sensors will produce information that can help city leaders make policy decisions on transportation issues, as well as provide real-time traffic updates and even localized weather forecasts for city residents.
  • In Israel, a “fast lane” has been opened that charges fees based on the amount of traffic on the roadway. People pay lower fees during times of heavy traffic. The system employs cameras, sensors and complex software applications to do real-time traffic counts and measure the distance between cars to calculate the amount of road congestion.
  • In Brazil, GPS data is being used to better plan spatial distance between airplanes, improving efficiency in a country where air traffic has boomed this century.

Freight Transportation

Freight transportation also is rapidly undergoing changes. Big data already is analyzed to determine issues such as trip time reliability and communications between freight vehicles to coordinate better transportation of goods.

Uber has moved into freight hauling through the launch of its Uber Freight efforts. It works much like Uber does for people needing a ride.

Companies needing freight service list their jobs. Independent truckers and trucking companies then can use the app to find a variety of information: nearby loads that need to be hauled, destination deadlines and the amount of payment for the job. They then can book the job through the app.

Data also is helping improve supply chains and freight hauling efficiency. Using data from a variety of sources, including IoT sensors, companies now can:

  • Map the most efficient route based on real-time traffic conditions
  • Plan ahead using predictive analytics that forecast the routes most likely to be used in the future
  • Use real-time “environmental intelligence” gathered from sensors on freight trucks that track traffic congestion, pollution, noise, parking spot availability and other issues along a supply chain
  • Use data to predict maintenance needs of vehicles and place them on a maintenance schedule, avoiding costly and time-consuming breakdowns on the road


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