Internet of Things paves way for connected cars of the future, says BT’s sustainability chief

The automotive industry has the power to become a lynchpin of the 'Internet of things' (IoT) phenomenon, connecting cars with homes and transforming the way we use and store energy, BT Group's head of sustainability Niall Dunne has said.

Speaking at the recent Business and Climate Change Summit in London, Dunne explained how the rise of disruptive electric vehicle (EV) giant Tesla serves to highlight the huge potential of carmakers and ICT providers to collaborate to create fully-customisable vehicles that offer a personalised customer experience.

“When companies like Tesla start to scale up, they can provide transportation services to people as opposed to just products,” said Dunne. “I think the potential is there for the whole automotive industry to leverage the ‘connected car’ and integrate that with the ‘connected home’. The winners are the ones who are good are leveraging big data, who will effectively allow you to personalise the automotive experience.

“You don’t have be limited to one car, but actually have a fleet of cars readily available to the consumer that will carry information such as the iTunes playlist and DAB radio that are with you when you drive. The personalisation of that whole experience is what enables it to be a much more conscientious form of consumption, where you’re not actually trapped in this whole model with cars sitting in driveways and not being leveraged.” 

Exploiting data

Dunne echoes the views of Tesla’s UK director Georg Ell, who recently told an audience of business leaders that convenience and customisation will shape the electric cars of the future. “What is really convenient is being able to have a driverless electric vehicle come to you – wherever you are in the country – and take you where you want to go, cheaper than any other form of transport,” Ell said back in May.

For BT, this customisation and IoT connectivity of cars opens up a huge opportunity for the ICT industry, and the telecoms giant is looking to tap into it as soon as possible. In Milton Keynes, for example, BT recently partnered with the City Council to establish a data-informed parking system that has helped to ease congestion and is set to save the city some £105m when fully deployed.

Using Machine to Machine (M2M) technlogy, BT fitted studs to the tarmac alongside parking spaces, which send real-time information through the network to show which car spaces are filling up or emptying – reducing idling time and greatly improving the parking experience for drivers in Milton Keynes.

Writing about the project in a recent blog post for edie, BT Group’s head of sustainable business innovation Richard Waters stated: “The power of data sharing has only just started to be exploited, with fleets of self-parking autonomous EV vehicles supporting route-optimised ride-sharing mobility platforms no longer a pipedream.”

Disruptive thinking

At last week’s Business and Climate Change Summit, Dunne went on to discuss the “phenomenally transformative” opportunity of the automotive, energy and ICT industries working together to develop vehicle-to-grid energy storage systems – a concept being rolled out by Tesla, Nissan and BMW among other carmakers. 

“EVs can completely disrupt the way we can power the whole energy grid,” Dunne said. “EVs are power sources and they move us away from centralised generation assets to a much more decentralised grid. When you actually plug into that asset digitally, you start to be able to sweat the asset in a much more effective fashion. Energy not used can then be sold across the grid or sold into communities or co-operatives.

“The potential for value creation for big brands, small brands and the consumer is absolutely transformative – we have a completely decentralised energy system and also a complete transformation in the way we are providing transportation as a service as opposed to a product.”

Dunne concluded that well-established brands and green SMEs alike will need to collaborate in order to innovate when driving the global IoT-based shift to a low-carbon economy. “We need the big and the small playing together,” he said.

“The small, dispruptive, innovative businesses need to come in to leverage the scale of bigger providers. Working together on pre-competitive things that we can all agree on – such as how all of this technology speaks to each other – is vital.” 

Luke Nicholls & George Ogleby

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