Cars: Major Changes Coming Due to Internet of Things

I've long thought that it was just plain silly that we spend so much on cars (the second most expensive purchase for most of us, after houses) yet they sit un-used so much of the time. Add in their terrible environmental impacts and you have an industry ripe for a paradigm shift.

That's why I was so excited by Kevin Maney's article, "Why the Internet of Everything Could Mean Fewer Cars."

He points out that pioneering car-sharing companies such as our locally born-and-bred Zipcar (bought last year by Avis) are really only the first stage in reducing demand for cars by sharing them. After all, Zipcars are only available at designated parking spaces, and none of them may be conveniently nearby at the time you need transportation.

According to Maney, the real revolution will be due to the Internet of Things:

Today, car sharing is an ask-and-approve system, organized around where the car normally lives. But sensors in cars, tied back to GPS positioning, could let the network know where a car is parked at any given moment. A car might be parked all day in a lot at an office building -- miles from where the owner lives, but perhaps near a potential renter. Or a car could be at an airport lot for days at a time, sitting idle.

Many new cars already come with technology, like OnStar, that allows them to be unlocked and started remotely using a mobile phone. That could let an owner open a car in the airport lot for a renter. The efficiency of matching cars to renters may dramatically increase as people wear sensors that declare their locations and cars supply ever more data about themselves.

I suspect that automakers (which Maney points out are hedging their bets by investing in some of the early ride-sharing systems) are going to have to make a paradigm shift: away from just selling cars to instead thinking of them as "products of use." Fewer cars would be sold, and manufacturers would be challenged to instead create new revenue streams by innovations such as software that would change a car's performance from an iPhone app.

I've written elsewhere that the Internet of Things may be our last best hope to save the environment (and, done creatively, to profit from the change!). Given the major role that cars play in environmental problems, we may be on the verge of a major environmental breakthrough -- courtesy of the IoT!