Who needs a driver’s license when you have a smart phone?
Today, your phone can tell you where the nearest bike, bus or car service is available – or how to avoid traffic in your own car. For the traveling public, it’s been an IT-driven explosion of convenience, and it’s changed the world. It’s even possible that the proliferation of transportation apps accounts for the decline in driver’s license applications over the past few years.
According to a study by the University of Michigan, the percentage of people with a driver’s license decreased between 2011 and 2014 across all age groups, and has been declining steadily for those ages 16-43 since 1983. In 2014, just 24.5 percent of 16-year-olds had a license, a 47-percent decrease from 1983.
Who needs a license when a car is just a click away? But even bigger changes are coming.
As American entrepreneur Marc Andreessen says: “Right now the phone is an accessory to the car, but soon the car is going to be an accessory to the phone.”
He’s talking, of course, about autonomous vehicles that will not only be hailed by a smartphone, but will operate by incorporating data from millions of previous trips, recording where it is optimal to turn left or right, for example, and what obstacles may be encountered along the way.
The powerful combination of AI, big data, sensors, and cloud computing is making it possible for this vision to become a reality within a decade, according to some experts.
Ground-breaking sensor technologies now make it possible for a car to “see” its surroundings, and artificial intelligence allows it to understand sensor data quickly and make course corrections and speed adjustments. And none of these calculations take place in a giant supercomputer in the trunk: they’re in the cloud, along with data from millions of other sources that help an autonomous vehicle understand traffic patterns, the movement of other vehicles –and deliver its passenger in once piece.
The tech revolution isn’t just changing travel by road. On the rails, trains are getting faster, lighter and more energy-efficient – and for congested and outmoded railway systems around the world, it’s not a moment too soon. Across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, electric trains are already traveling at speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour, and some maglev trains are approaching speeds of nearly 270 miles per hour. In some countries, new projects are underway to achieve train speeds of at least 310 miles per hour.
Safely operating trains at this speed requires not only cutting edge energy and propulsion solutions, but innovative sensors and software as well. Systems already optimize power usage along rail routes to maximize energy efficiency, and sensors can tell trains when to speed up or slow down to save fuel, or electrify a section of track as a train goes by. A leap forward is coming to this transportation sector as well. Innovators envision moving platforms to deliver passengers to trains in motion, an operation engineers have compared to docking in space.
Today, Thales systems equip the rail networks of more than 25 countries, and Thales fare collection systems handle more than 50 million transactions in 100 cities around the world every day. We are using technologies such as biometrics, facial recognition and behavior identification that can drastically alter the overall transportation security environment, instead of simply minimizing the risk.
In major cities in the U.S. and across Europe, Thales is also upgrading aging rail systems with state-of-the-art signaling, automation and communications systems. Thales’s innovative computer-based signaling system now controls 23 miles of track and 27 stations in London’s Underground, and has already helped increase capacity on one line by more than 20%. A signaling upgrade has also reduced passenger journey times by 18%. In addition, Thales is delivering an Automatic Train Control system for four of London Underground’s lines. In the not-too-distant future, we are confident that Thales systems will equip some of the world’s first fully autonomous trains.
Building autonomous capabilities, whether for trains or cars, is all about safety, convenience and choices. It’s about answering the critical questions before you decide to hail a ride or jump on the metro: How crowded is the route? How much traffic is there? Is there an emergency disrupting my commute?
Today, smart phones help you determine the best mode of transportation for reaching your destination. Tomorrow, our vehicles will help make those choices for us, and the result will be less time en route, improved safety and more time to check your messages – on a phone that is no longer just an accessory to your car, but the other way around.