Nearly 50% of all cell phone owners now own smartphones, and this figure is ever growing. It’s not just email and Angry Birds, either. The smartphone phenomena means, at its core, is an increase in connectivity. New services that harness our real-world data allow us to land in a new city and book a room with Hotel Tonight, order last minute tickets to a show through WillCall, and find a place to eat near the venue with Yelp. There are countless ways in which these devices have enhanced the everyday lives of millions of people around the world, and it’s only getting better.
We all realize the power of our smartphones to connect us with each other and our surroundings, but the current system typically relies on manual updates. If you forget to check-in on Foursquare at the local cafe, then you might be out of the day's deal or on seeing your nearby friend. The next step, then, is autonomous communication, and advances in technology are beginning to open up our networks and make the world around us smarter and more responsive. When tech starts talking on its own, life in a city will become a seamless experience.
More and more technology is moving from our pockets into our streets. Our vehicles are quickly becoming the most high-tech sensor-packed devices we own, to bolster their capabilities General Motors Company has been working on a system for peer-to-peer (or, rather, peer-to-car) communication. The system would use new technology called Wi-Fi Direct along with existing collision-assistance technologies to create a network between enabled vehicles and people’s smartphones. So when a cyclist rides into a car’s blind spot, or if a pedestrian is set to step into the road from behind a parked car ahead, the driver will be alerted.
New smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus are already being released with Wi-Fi Direct as a standard feature, and more are surely on their way. Older devices using traditional Wi-Fi need to connect through an Access Point (AP) like a router or hot spot before they can communicate with another device. So if you want to send a PDF from your phone to your wireless printer, both devices still need to connect through the central Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi Direct makes any device its own ‘Soft AP’ and, because they can now speak directly to each other, the connection is nearly instant.
This animation from the Wi-Fi Alliance visually explains the concept:
Beyond helping save pedestrians and bicyclists the technology could be used car-to-car to help avoid collisions, or even to warn of traffic and road conditions miles before a driver would be able to see them.
By creating a network of vehicles wherein each is both sending and receiving a constant stream of data—everything from location and direction to speed and proximity from other vehicles—each driver could have access to a real-time description of actual traffic as perceived by the vehicles themselves. What better source for traffic advice than from the actual traffic itself, right? According to Bill Ford, Executive Chairman at Ford Motor Company, easing traffic congestion is just the beginning:
Of course, once we have created a network that enables our cars and our phones to communicate instantaneously, the obvious next step is to tie the conversation into city infrastructure. From sensors in the streets that track available parking spaces like those in San Francisco or the Parker App in Los Angeles, to smart traffic lights that could save you from waiting on red at that empty midnight intersection; or instead of waiting in the rain to hail a cab just open up Uber or GetTaxi to order and track one on demand. The possibilities are really endless. Innovations like these and many others that allow our technology to communicate seamlessly will save us time, money, and in some cases—as with the above example from GM—can even save lives.
Personal technology is advancing at amazing speeds, and we’ve benefited as consumers with the convenience that smartphones allow us. But there is untapped potential when we live in a connected environment that enables the free and instantaneous exchange of actionable information. By networking our personal devices with the world that we’ve built around us, we raise the collective intelligence and ability of the individual, the community, and everything in it.