Indians are taking to consumer technology in a big way, most obvious in the adoption of mobile devices and smart phones in particular. Consumers are enjoying the benefits of digital mobility and the convenience of on-demand services at their fingertips. Both private and public enterprises are also digitising at a rapid pace, and as the Internet of Things (IoT) takes shape, it promises to usher in more convenience and connectivity. However, our physical spaces -- our cities in particular -- have not kept pace with the digital world. While we enjoy the advantages of mobility in our digital world, our cities are becoming increasingly congested and inconvenient. Physical mobility has become severely limited as vehicles overwhelm the roads and daily traffic snarls drain away the time we value so much.
To manage traffic intelligently, a city has to deploy smart infrastructure with incident detection capabilities like traffic lights, cameras, toll booth management, number plate recognition, etc. These components all provide real-time information to help manage and ease traffic hotspots.
To manage traffic intelligently, a city has to deploy smart infrastructure with incident detection capabilities like traffic lights, cameras, toll booth management, number plate recognition, etc.
To complement the intelligent traffic management infrastructure, the vehicles on the road also have to be able to "talk" to each other and with their surroundings. Automotive companies have been proactive in this area, and are coming up with smart car solutions that are intended to make driving safer and faster, with the added benefit of being cleaner and more energy-efficient. They have the ability to connect with the outside world which potentially allows them to interact with traffic management systems.
Imagine a car that can talk to the traffic lights along with selected route --the traffic lights broadcast intelligent and real-time information about light changes and traffic congestion. The smart car uses this information to make adjustments and chart a course at the optimum speed with minimum braking, acceleration and idling. It is convenient for the travellers in the car as well as fellow travellers on the road, when driving and navigation decisions are made based on the big traffic picture of the area. It makes way for more streamlined and smoothly flowing traffic. Studies have shown that emissions and fuel usage are highest when travelling at erratic and changing speeds. Therefore, vehicles that travel at a constant and intelligently calculated speed are much more fuel-efficient and will pollute less.
Smart cars also provide a range of conveniences to the driver and passengers. They offer advanced safety features like high-tech cruise control, crash-avoidance systems, automatic emergency calling systems and night vision enhancements. Then there are myriad in-car consumer oriented apps and services at the touch of a fingertip: for entertainment, convenience (garage door starts to open automatically as the resident car comes with range) and comfort.
While it may take a leap of faith to trust our safety to a car and the systems that guide it, a computer-controlled system is much less prone to error than humans.
While it may take a leap of faith to trust our safety to a car and the systems that guide it, a computer-controlled system is much less prone to error than humans. Intersections, for example, are particularly dangerous with a third of all fatalities occurring here. A computer with access to comprehensive and real-time data about timing and traffic at intersections can make significantly safer driving decisions than a human in this scenario. Satellite navigation systems are getting faster and more sophisticated, and along with all the previously mentioned smart traffic artefacts, feed into the repository of real-time data that is vital in managing both vehicles and the roadways manage and enhance our cities.
These smart technologies are the resultant of incorporating dozens of embedded micro-controller units (MCU) and system-on-chip products (SOC) connected via multiple digital networks, controlling and optimising the operation of nearly every system in the automobile. For engineers the challenge is to select next generation MCUs that have the right combination of features that are tailor-made for the automotive environment, that can withstand huge temperature swings and near-constant vibration and, most importantly, never ever fail.
These scenarios may seem to be stretching the imagination, but the technologies that make up the various moving parts of a smart city are already in play and the industry is working furiously to fit them together.
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