I am what I wear
The fit bit craze isn’t wearing off, quite the contrary: smart earplugs, earrings, or more conventional watches and glasses are making their way into our daily routines with less resistance by the day. Until recently though, an overwhelming majority of these devices was associated with health and fitness. So what does this have to do with transport? Quite a bit; and a bit more in the years to come.
As much as we like to accessorize ourselves though, we won’t necessarily start wearing a new ring to ease the traffic management centre’s daily hustle. They need to provide us with some value or else it’s doomed to fail. Give us an intermodal itinerary, with alternatives and real-time updates; opportunity to book for carpooling; and of course substitute the ticket on the bus.
Is this happening?
Yes and no. Pilots and tests are out but it’s just not one of those big bangs we may have anticipated.
Beijing is trying out a touch watch, enabling users to pay for public transport by just flicking their wrist while Singapore just launched a pilot where they are using wristbands as a mean of payment. Europe’s most advanced public transport provider, Transport for London isn’t lagging behind either envisioning a key fob and sticker for contactless payment.
Tapping into freight optimization, smartglasses could function as virtual assistants, helping the driver in identifying, approving, or signing off their shipments in a matter of seconds. Smartglasses are equipped with cameras, compasses, and in-built navigation systems all of which make for a great candidate for transport use.
These are all great, but none of them really give that “wow” breakthrough chill. What could really change lives are pedestrian ITS devices aiding those who need it most: those having difficulty with walking on a street due to lacking the sense of sight or sound, or because they use a wheelchair. Some basic features already take people with special needs into account (e.g. traffic lights emitting sound signals) but moving around is still a challenge for the disabled in many cities.
Why don’t’ I see smart canes or a headset aiding the blind to navigate around easier? How about a vibrating device sensing objects nearby alerting those who are short of hearing? Or responsive traffic signals that sense when a wheelchair is crossing the street and keep the green light longer.
Why can’t a car sense that a disabled person is nearing a curb and automatically switch to a more cautious driving mode?
How about not wearing wearables?
What’s wrong with wearables?
Frankly, it’s in the name: you need to wear them; you need to remember to put them on and take them off, and then put them on again.
This is where anti-wearables come in. They’re not the nemesis though; they’re just a more seamless version. There are some really cool examples already out there, like a seatbelt that can measure your heartbeat and respiration, or a bike’s handlebar that doubles as an ECG monitor.
If all this seems a bit far off that’s quite acceptable. There are quite a few barriers to why wearables (or anti-wearables) haven’t made it into our daily transport routine:
- Battery life: We all know it; until the tech industry step up their game on batteries, it will be tough to accept another device needed to be charged every night.
- Spread: the full experience comes as more and more people adopt and use the benefits and provide the necessary data; and vice versa, as long as it’s a few geeky people using wristbands, businesses and transport providers won’t see much of a potential.
- The ever-current topic keeping people eerie: data privacy.
- Reliance: wearables for now are either too connected to smartphones (you get an e-mail notification on your smart watch requiring you to pull the phone out and actually read it) or they have limited business potential (not many apps are designed for wearables).
Wearable or not, I’d like to own a device to tell me how to get from A to B, provide real-time updates, ticketing information, alternative routes, and suggest the best hot chocolate nearby. All of this hands-free. There are plenty of ideas, available tech, and far-fetched dreams out there, we just have to grow up to it and cross our fingers for that next big bang.