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Data and future mobility


In the EU, all new cars must now have eCall installed, so that in the event of a serious accident, eCall will automatically dial 112 – Europe's emergency number –  and reports the vehicle's location, the time of the incident and the direction of travel – particularly important on motorways. An Emergency Services operator then uses the in-car eCall microphone to try to talk with the vehicle's occupants. The system uses the mobile phone network – and is given priority over other data users. When the operators have been trained to use this data, this should reduce the time it takes for an emergency responder to attend an accident, thus saving lives and reducing the seriousness of many injuries.

As eCall normally 'sleeps', and only comes on when the car registers an accident (such as the deployment of airbags)  it does not allow vehicle tracking outside of emergencies – or "snooping" of in-car conversations. However, other SOS systems that car manufacturers provide are not dormant, and vehicles can be tracked.

Privacy and security issues aside, a GPS tracking system in every car linked to one huge database could provide very useful data. Congestion could be tracked over time, with vehicles routed different ways – rather than one blanket diversion - to prevent traffic jams.

Accident hot spots could be recognised and public planning and policies written accordingly. Currently, planning authorities must rely on insurance companies or the emergency services to report these locations.

Vehicle location data and all public parking spaces could be analysed and correlated, so you could tell the parking 'app' where you want to park and for how long, and it could work out the cheapest places with spaces. The parking could also automatically charge the car driver, without people having to pay and display.

Insurance companies could change the current insurance system to one that charged per mile, or in relation to where/when you travel or even on how you drive. It would, therefore, be easier to add other people to the insurance, and so a car could become more of a service than a commodity. Many cars are used for only an hour or so every day – so car sharing for the other 23 hours would make much more sense.

Self-driving cars could do away with the need to drive altogether, but the infrastructure – and public and political will, to do away with all 'driven' cars is still decades away.

As cars move away from being powered by fossil fuels, the government is losing income from fuel tax. If electricity is taxed to compensate, this will be detrimental to those who don’t use cars but still need to heat their homes. More roads could become toll roads or you could be taxed per mile you drive (or how long your engine is running).

All of which could, and probably will happen within the next decade – as long as the mobile phone network and the GPS satellites keep working. And the vast amounts of data can be collected and analysed in real-time.

I am an inventor, engineer, writer and presenter. Other stuff: Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor of Engineering: Creativity and Communication at Brunel University London; Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and have a PhD in bubbles; Judge on BBC Robot Wars.

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