Critical Industries: From Science Fiction to Reality
Take-Aways from my Trip to EUW (European Utility Week)
A few weeks ago I had an eventful trip to the European Utilities Week (EUW) in Amsterdam that made me realize how fast critical industries are modernizing and how much further they are going.
My epiphany started on drive down the motorway to catch an exceptionally early flight to Amsterdam and the EUW. However, my trip was complicated by the fact that the motorway was closed and, I had to take an unplanned diversion. It would have been useful if my car and my phone had been able to communication with a highways information system and inform me of this issue as soon as I woke-up and plan me an alternative route. It would have been even nicer if my car had been able to drive me to the airport.
Sound like science fiction to you? However we are at the start of making this a reality. The reason the motorway was closed was to install a digitized information system and CCTV cameras, this is the start of the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) required to provide the interactive communications essential to make my dream a reality. These systems also provide the foundations for the backhaul infrastructure required to make the autonomous cars that we read about a reality.
When I arrived at the airport, I used “pod” parking for the first time, a system of autonomous “pods” that transport you from the parking to the airport terminal. The system is intelligent enough to understand the customer flow in the car park and will allow the pods to depart with a single occupant during light traffic flow, but will wait for multiple occupancy when it is busy. An intelligent CCTV system also allows you locate your vehicle, if you should forget where you parked it. However, whilst on the pod I remembered I had not locked my car, so I had to make a return trip to do this. I mentioned this to a friend, who told me the car company he works for has already developed an app for its cars that allows you to remotely lock/unlock your car, and also track its location.
It occurred to me that airports have truly become a test case of what a smart city can offer. Apps on my phone linked to the airport systems allowing me locate and navigate to where to eat, where to find a gifts for my children, the location of the boarding gate with the phone even providing the boarding pass.
Unfortunately, at take-off we just narrowly avoided a serious accident on the taxi to the runway, with the pilot having to break very heavily to avoid a car that passed just in front of the front of the plane. Implementing autonomous cars linked to the air traffic control systems in the airport could make this sort of incident impossible.
When I arrived at Schiphol, I used the rail network to travel to the conference centre. It would have been useful to have some augmented reality on my phone, to help me translate from Dutch to English and to locate the correct platform to travel from and even better would have been the ability to buy the rail ticket without having to go to the ticket counter or a ticket machine. As it was I waited at a ticket counter for 15 minutes to buy a ticket and ask what the platform was, and then spent a further few minutes locating the platform.
The EUW event itself, was excellent, with a focus on IoT, security and even virtual reality – but more of that in a later blog.
Having been inspired by what is possible, I was pleased that my journey home was completely uneventful. And on the way home I was even able to use my phone to turn my heating on, so that the house would be warm when I arrived.
All the components for a truly connected future are becoming a reality, what we need now is to truly integrate them and provide an easy to use, single point of control. In this reality does your phone and the telecoms network that supports it become a “master controller for our digital lives” providing the ability to integrate, plan and control all aspects of our lives. This certainly has visions of science fiction, and whether this is a utopian future like the visions envisaged in the early Star Trek or the dystopian future of 1984 and I Robot depends on your point of view.
In my view, this technology and the integrated digital life it is bringing is just a tool like any other. Like the internal combustion engine and personnel computing, it has the potential, if used wisely to greatly enhance and simplify our lives.