COP21: The (IoT) Transporter

Thought Leaders

After Energy, the Transportation sector is the second largest contributor of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in both the US and EU (27% and 24% respectively).  That doesn’t include international travel and shipping.  And, in absolute terms, emissions due to transportation have grown more than those due to any other economic sector over the last 20 years. (Sources: EPA and Europa)

The vast majority of emissions (97%) are created by the direct combustion of fuel, but there are also emissions from electricity and Hydroflourocarbons (HFCs) from transport refrigeration and air-conditioning.  HFCs are known as ‘super GHGs’ and ‘super’ obviously isn’t positive in this case.  According to ThinkGlobalGreen, “HFCs are 3,830 times more potent than CO2 with a lifetime of 14 years.”  HFC pollution is growing at a rate of 15% a year.

So how can the Internet of Things (IoT) help transform the Transportation sector?  First, one must understand how what makes up the term ‘transportation.  Generally, there are four sections: Light-Duty Vehicles, Heavy-Duty Vehicles, Air Transport, and Other Transport.  Light-Duty Vehicles can be divided into Passenger Cars, Light-Duty Trucks, and Motorcycles.  Each of those makes up 34%, 28%, and 1% of GHG emissions as a whole (not as only part of Light-Duty Vehicles).  This means that Passenger Cars are the single biggest emitter of GHGs in the Transportation sector.

Graph 01

Source: Climate Dot Gov

Heavy-Duty Vehicles consists of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Trucks (20%) and Buses (1%).  Air Transport includes Commercial Aviation (7%) and ‘Other,’ which includes military and governmental aircraft (2%).

Finally, ‘Other Transport’ includes Ships (2%), Rail (2%) and Pipelines and Lubricants (3%).  Another way to look at the division is thus:

Graph 02

Source: Climate Dot Gov

With these simple division in mind, we can examine how IoT can help mitigate carbon emissions and climate change – whether it be in industrial transport, personal vehicles, or elsewhere.

Fuel conservation is one of the most easily understood goals of automotive IoT.  Devices like Automatic plug into your car and transmit data from the onboard computer to an app on your phone.  It tracks mileage, fuel usage, and cost, as well as acceleration and deceleration.  It can also help diagnose engine problems.  Simple awareness on the driver’s part is one way to help conserve fuel, money, and lower emissions.

Another simple addition are the Connected Parking devices.  They alert drivers to where open parking spaces are.  This obviously has to be implanted into a street grid or parking lot to work with the drivers.  It doesn’t seem like much but Time Magazine reported that 30% of drivers in downtown Los Angeles are simply looking for parking.  Los Angeles drivers who daily look for parking spots downtown use up as much mileage as a cross-country roadtrip every year (4,500 km).  And, as Donald Shoup documented, students and others looking for parking solely around the University of California, Los Angeles, use up 47,000 gallons (178,000 litres) of gas and emit 730 tons of GHGs every year – simply looking for parking.  That’s 1.53 million kilometres spent looking for parking.  And that’s only around UCLA.  You can see why connected parking devices would help immensely.

Another (unusual) IoT device that would help reduce emissions are connected delivery drones.  Amazon has already started piloting a program in New York and elsewhere called Amazon Prime Air.  They describe it as “a future service that will deliver packages up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less using small drones.”  On an individual level, it means that streets will have less traffic and thus idling will be cut down.  And imagine, if the drones run on solar power, there will be no emissions whatsoever.  There’s also Matternet, which aims to be the Internet of Materials using connected drones,  Matternet ONE, the initial model, is cooperating in a trial run with the national postal service in Switzerland.

Road sensors – compact, low-power, wireless sensors that can be embedded into the roadway to measure variables such as temperature, humidity, and traffic volume.  allows road crews to prioritize road maintenance during harsh weather conditions, which are responsible for almost a quarter of vehicular accidents. The system can also alert drivers of potential hazards, through roadway signage or traffic signals

As cars get cheaper and median income rises, more people will own cars, so passenger cars are something we should concentrate on. (Especially in India and China)

On an industrial scale, IoT devices are not fundamentally different from those used in personal transport.  Beginning with fleet management, the solutions are somewhat similar to the personal IoT devices one can get in one’s car nowadays.  Using connected trucks, mobile scanners, barcode sensors, and RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) systems, business can minimise fleet downtime.  Minimising repairs also helps reduce emissions in the form of plastics and device construction.  The fewer new parts needed, the less oil and gas need to be burned to create those parts.  Using different IoT sensors also provides visibility not only into fleet downtime, but also into the supply chain itself, making sure all steps in the chain are functioning well and efficiently.

It’s maybe most important to return to governmental data in understanding the importance of transportation IoT mitigating climate change.  Transportation is the only sector of the economy where the emissions are growing – and have done so since 1990.

Graph 03

Source: Europa

Note, while reading the graph, that even though the chart shows a declining transportation line after 2007, it still means the emissions are growing, as it is above the 1.00 on the X-axis.

Though most of automotive IoT is related to maximising profit and increasing efficiency, almost all of it also provides the boon of helping the environment.  As cars and trucks become connected, emissions actually fall, due to less downtime, fewer repairs, and transparency along the industrial line.  Sometimes IoT might be adopted to help make more money, but it can bring so much more.