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The third screen

Marcus Alexander, Mobile and Web expert at EMC Consulting, writes from cutting edge of mobile and web design and development

On the road...

Almost two decades ago I predicted a future in which automobiles are in constant, wireless peer-to-peer communication. The would contain a device, a "bit", which shares data on location, speed, traffic flow, anything else. Creating a constantly shifting transient network of data that flows back and forth down our motorways.  

At the time, this was just a flippant idea.

Not any more.  Ford, BMW and other manufacturers are now publicising development of their own automotive data sharing platforms.  These give cars information on the precise location, speed, behaviour and metrics of every other car within a radius of a couple of miles. Combining this data with the peer-to-peer network effect, they can literally have a live, immediate map of all traffic - replanning journeys, avoid accidents and so on.  The immediate outcome is fantastic.  Real-time traffic management, accident avoidance and safety improvements.  Wider ramifications are more complex. 

WIth any communication system comes side-effects caused by feedback loops - these are unpredictable and often highly destructive.  

We've seen this with Twitter - where offhand remarks that in the past would have vanished into the ether can now trigger spontaneous outbursts of consumer rage, genuine revolution and the randomness of the Michael Jackson moonwalk.

Imagine the same on our roads.  Rather than smoothing traffic flow, feedback effects could amplify the spontaneous gridlocks that appear in heavy traffic.  Cause unexpected diversions, rerouting, and erratic outburts of high speed activity.  These are just possibilities - we can't imagine what the real effects would be.  Even the best engineers struggle to predict actual feedback results.  Look at the Millennium Bridge.  And who knows what would happen when rogue, "non-bitted" cars enter the system, or corrupt elements subvert the network.

More interesting is what will happen when these automotive systems are combined with our own mobile devices.  Not only will the network have full metrics on every vehicle, but every passenger.  The network will know who is where, doing what, and when.  Not only that, but the cars themselves will capture biometric data - heart rate, stress, tiredness and so on.

Metrics on driver behaviour, health, attitude and emotional state will be mapped back to risk assessments, insurance sales, and ultimately accident predictions.  Imagine your car warning you to steer clear of a driver because they have a history of erratic behaviour.  Or even slowing down automatically to give them a side berth.

Imagine the effect on retail behaviour tracking, on crime prediction, on fuel and energy efficiency mapping.  

This may sound like a Big Brother future, but it's already with us.  But there is no Big Brother.  This is not centralised, it's not data somebody owns.  it's within the network itself, and the devices inside that network, moving through it.  

We don't know where it will lead, but we do know it will be exciting.

Published Thursday, October 13, 2011 12:03 PM by marcus.alexander

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About marcus.alexander

Marcus Alexander is Head of Mobile at EMC Consulting. With a long history of web development and design, he has gained a passionate eye for fine experience and a pedantic obsession with quality. He is now fascinated by the pace of cultural change engendered by technology (and vice-versa). When not playing with small and large screens, Marcus may be found running up mountains or dabbling with paint and canvas. marcus.alexander@emc.com @mdjalexander emc-mobile.posterous.com
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