Connected cars: Objects in the future are closer than they appear

Today, because some connected products are more clever than critical (see Budweiser’s smart refrigerator) while others generate more buzz than users (see smartwatches), it can be easy to believe our universally connected future is still some distance away. But one device is coming around the bend more quickly than the rest: the connected car.
There is a spectrum of connectivity for cars. On one end, there are the ‘reasonably’ smart cars that connect to a phone or other device to, for example, play music. On the other end is the car that is so smart that it drives itself. While companies like Google and Tesla are innovating on the latter, our very near future lands more in the middle of the spectrum, with humans behind the wheel of a vehicle that is equipped to collect and share data with drivers, other cars and even the broader infrastructure.
A number of factors are fueling interest here. For one, like our smartphone appendages, smart cars offer convenience. The ability to, for example, program your air conditioner to turn on when your vehicle is x miles from home, has a certain amount of appeal. Even more welcome are software updates, such as Tesla’s recent “autopilot” update, that can instantly improve the functionality and value of a vehicle long after purchase. But an even more celebrated benefit is safety; whether through intelligent monitoring of car operations or vehicle-to-vehicle data transfer, the connected car is more consistently and effectively alert than even the most conscientious driver. And, last but not least, the collection and analysis of smart car data also presents a significant opportunity for improvement to our infrastructure, allowing for better traffic control, as well as environmental benefits like reduced emissions.
The infrastructure upsides, in particular, have not gone unnoticed. Last month, as reported by Popular Science, U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx announced that $42 million dollars will be invested rolling out thousands of connected cars in the US. This initiative, the U.S.’s largest vehicle-to-vehicle pilot program, promotes collaboration among the stakeholders—which range from private companies to states to transit agencies—and opens the door to research on what will prove to be a wealth of data gained from the smart cars. The investment represents a meaningful leap forward in our connected car future.
But how ready are consumers? According to a new AT&T Drive Studio and Ericsson study, eighty percent of car buyers globally would opt to delay the purchase of a new car by a year in order to get connected features. Three-quarters of those surveyed considered connectivity features important to their next car, with the ability for the car to serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot ranking most in demand. In other words, we’re ready for our cars to be as smart as our phones, independent of our phones.
This doesn’t come without concern. For all the benefits of connected cars, there are well-documented hacks and cheats that paint a picture of connected cars that is closer to Stephen King’s Christine than Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT). We’re already being exposed to the dark side of our bright and shiny connected future. Is that enough to slow things down?
Not likely. As the public’s initial resistance to “Motordom” in the early 20th century serves to remind us, danger alone is not an impediment to progress. Just as traffic lights, speed limits and stops signs were conjured to mitigate the dangers of the motor age, so the rise of connected cars will prompt a new set of measures to minimize risk. That risk can’t be fully eliminated, but we’ll learn to adapt because the benefits of connected cars—from day-to-day conveniences to less traffic, reduced fuel consumption, and fewer accidents—are simply too great to resist.
This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. For more on these topics, visit Dell’s thought leadership site Power More. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

The hyperloop could be a futuristic California city’s public transit

A county halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles would be one of the first sites to host a hyperloop track under a plan revealed today by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, an organization that has been working to make the futuristic form of transportation a reality since it was announced by Elon Musk in 2013.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is not affiliated with Musk, signed a deal with developers for a tract of land in Quay Valley, California, where developers have proposed a 150,000-person city powered entirely by solar panels. It plans to begin building a five-mile test hyperloop track next year. It is scheduled to start running in 2019.

“With Quay Valley, we’re creating a community built on economical, environmental and social sustainability, and part of this is seeking to reduce car dependency,” Quay Valley developer GROW Holdings’ CEO Quay Hays said in a release. “For these reasons, the Hyperloop is the ideal clean community transit system for Quay Valley.”

A rendering of the proposed test track.

A rendering of the proposed test track.

Musk’s hyperloop design calls for capsules large enough to carry passengers that pass through a steel tube at up to 800 miles per hour. The high speed is made possible by creating a near-vacuum in the tube, reducing drag.

“It’s like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland,” Musk told Businessweek in 2013. “It would have less lateral acceleration — which is what tends to make people feel motion sick — than a subway ride, as the pod banks against the tube like an airplane. Unlike an airplane, it is not subject to turbulence, so there are no sudden movements. It would feel super smooth.”

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies plans to pay for the test track with funds raised via an IPO later this year. It estimates it will need $100 million for construction.

The company was born via crowdfunding site JumpStartFund, where it also gathered its team via crowdsourcing. It now has some competition; Musk plans to build a five-mile hyperloop test track in a location like Texas, and Hyperloop Technologies, another startup unaffiliated with Musk, is considering using the technology for cargo transit, potentially in Las Vegas.

Elon Musk is building a hyperloop test track

The hyperloop is happening; well, at least, it will be tested. Elon Musk tweeted today that his team plans to build a test track for pod testing, with Texas as a prime location candidate. An annual pod racer competition isn’t out of the question either.

Musk, currently keeping busy as CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, has been mostly quiet on the hyperloop concept since he first announced its design in August 2013. The initial plan called for a 35-minute route between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Musk has always stated that he has no firm plans to actually build the hyperloop, but that hasn’t stopped other organizations from trying.

There’s no timeline on the hyperloop test track just yet. I smell a new event for the 2024 Boston Olympics.

How to get around on New Year’s and maybe avoid surge pricing

As I noted in Gigaom’s 2014 roundup, this has been the year of the Uber. The company has expanded across the globe and convinced investors far and wide to chuck billions of dollars behind it.

Fittingly, 2014 also heralded Uber’s year of disillusionment. As its reach and power grew, all of a sudden people started worrying about Uber, the company: Its culture, its operational systems, its values. Some decided to stop using Uber to protest  its treatment of drivers, its hypothetical threats against journalists, and its flouting of regulations. Others just got pissed about surge pricing.

But there’s a fast approaching day of year where such high-minded moral decisions will be confronted by tough practical problems: New Year’s Eve. If there’s any point in the year where your anti-Uber resolution might crumble, it’s as you battle other determined party-goers on December 31st.

But have hope. Uber may be the oldest, biggest, and most powerful next-generation transportation networking company, but it’s certainly not the only one.

Uber-for-taxis

Yellow taxi sign at night1) Flywheel: Transportation’s best kept secret. It’s an app that works exactly the same as Uber, allowing you to see how far away the closest car is, request it through the app, and watch it creep ever closer to you. Flywheel has partnered with a myriad of cab companies in different cities, so its supply is almost as plentiful as Uber. The demand for the service, however, is far less since many people don’t know about it or haven’t gotten in the habit of using it. Best part: No surge pricing. In San Francisco, it’s actually offering a $10 flat fare for New Years. Cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle

2) Curb: Another taxi app like Flywheel, but with less taxi companies on it in the Bay Area. It’s in far more places in the US than Flywheel though, so if you’re not an SF resident it could be your saving grace. Cities: 60 cities across America, from Orlando, Florida to Tucson, Arizona.

Car parking apps

3) ZIRX: This is a car parking app. Before you freak out at the idea of paying exorbitant New Years parking garage fees, or having to stay sober, hear me out. ZIRX charges $5 an hour and maxes out at $15. Just like with the Uber app, you drop a pin to tell the ZIRX attendant where to pick up your car, so if you want to hop out right in front of your venue in the middle of Union Square, they’ll be there. When you’re ready to go home you can tell them to meet you anywhere, so if you’ve party hopped over to the Marina, no problem and no extra cost to get your car dropped off there. Here’s the real kicker: If you want to get your drink on and can’t drive home? ZIRX only charges $15 for overnight parking. Cities: San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles.

4) Luxe: It’s very similar to ZIRX and same pricing, but Luxe doesn’t yet do overnight parking, meaning you’ll either need to stay sober or cough up the $50 overnight parking fee. On the upside, Luxe is the tech industry favorite, beloved by both Wall Street Journal and New York Times reporters, so you’re likely to have a good experience. Cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Uber’s archrivals

A Post-Taxi Population Opts For Ride-sharing

5) Sidecar: The obvious alternatives to Uber are, of course, its arch rivals. I’m in Camp Sidecar, if only because there’s no surge pricing — drivers set their own rates and you can pick from the list. That helps mitigate surge pricing hangover, although if the drivers are smart they’ll probably be bumping up their fare that night. Sidecar, however, has far less cars than Uber or Lyft so it can be hard to nab one when it’s busy. Cities: 10 cities in the States, mostly big urban areas like Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina.

6) Lyft: Lyft is another option, one that’s nearly as reliable as Uber without quite as many ethical problems. But look out for “prime time tips,” Lyft’s version of surge pricing. Cities: Too many to count, but it’s worth noting New York City is in it (unlike most of the other apps on this list). Check here.

The old school choice

7) Public transit: It may not be hip, but on New Years it’s bound to be cheap and reliable. In a lot of cities around the world, public transportation agencies are running transit for free, extending their regular hours, or adding more units to carry people. For the SF goers, BART is running until 3 am on New Years. Since most people in their heels and fancy clothes don’t even think to tap public transit, in some places the buses and subways may well be both free and empty.

San Francisco will charge tech shuttles for using public stops

In a move designed to ease the growing tensions between deep-pocketed Silicon Valley workers and activists on behalf of lower-income communities forced out of their homes, San Francisco mayor Ed Lee announced Monday that tech shuttle buses will now be subject to a fee based on the number of public stops they frequent, according to SF Gate. The tech shuttle buses have borne the brunt of the struggle over the income disparity within the city, and some have been vandalized during protests. The move may take some of the heat off of tech workers’ transportation choices, but it’s unlikely that tensions will dissipate completely.

“The Internet of meters”

Although the hype around the ‘Internet of Things’ may have reached fever pitch, the surface has just been scratched as to applications that will provide innovations and efficiencies. Many of these apps make their contributions by finding new ways to measure and optimize the performance of man and/or machine.

One such product that was rolled out last month optimizes man (or woman) and machine. LinkeDrive guides truck drivers in real time to drive at optimal efficiency given their vehicle, load, route and road conditions. The company was reported to have 11 customers and some angel funding at the time of its official product launch. At industry scale, its targeted savings of five cents per mile adds up.

The real-time processing of multiple, measured inputs for optimal output is a common model for new applications, with new sensor technology at the product’s core. (Stay tuned for an upcoming Gigaom Research report on sensors.) This seemingly low-tech high-tech of new and combined measurements is creating what could well be called an “Internet of Meters”.