AHEAD OF HIS TIME
While playing with his Dropbox settings, Andy Graham came across this file dated 2026. He hasn’t been able to work out how this actually happened but it provides an interesting view of the future
So, congratulations on another 10 years to Thinking Highways – or as you are now called in the latest fashion, eHighways.IOT. I have dumped some thoughts down on epaper using the GoogleMindRead application, on how things have changed since 2016, and what perhaps is still the same. 2016 seems so long ago, a year when we thought Brexit might actually happen (maybe by 2036?), the iPhone was only at model 7 and was still owned by Apple and not Walmart, and we were about to start a series of Trump Presidencies (when Washington, DC was renamed “Trumpton”). And we had just been told we would have a new runway at the ecozone that was London Heathrow Airport, rather than the one we ended up with on Boris Island.
It is timely you asked me to do this, as I have just come back from the 4th World Congress for Connected Highways, held in the capital of the Republic of Scotia, Edinburgh. The name change for the Congress, and indeed Scotland, reminds me how long ago the term “ITS” fell into disuse. No-one really ever knew what it meant. Instead, we have been through a “mobility” name phase (“connected mobility” was quite popular for a while) and now are back with a focus on connecting vehicles and highways that customers and politicians really understand.
The connected vehicle really took off once 5G was chosen as the way to connect to vehicles for infotainment – 3D HD Netflix in the back of the car was the feature I bought into to keep my kids quiet. We as an industry simply gave up on ITS-G5/DSRC as there was not a real business case for it for automakers, and as cities and governments could not afford beacons. It was like Betamax vs VHS all over again. And once governments realised that a -peed connection everywhere was essential, not just for transport but for life, and funded the filling of a few ‘not spots’, services like connected parking really took off. Do you remember paying for parking with coins? Isn’t it great that your Applegoggles now just navigate you to a spot and payment is made via your paypalgov account. It is great that you only pay for the time you use too, and that moving from a space stops payment and tells the cloud that there is a space free. I have to say that I really don’t miss a car full of pay and display stickers and finding 20 pences pieces in the dark.
Connected parking rolled out rapidly, worked in old and new cars and really was the step change to services that people used. It also saved roads authorities money in collecting coins and businesses money in fines and overpayment for parking, so politicians liked it. Congestion in towns looking for spaces reduced dramatically and many high street retailers reported a resurgence in business.
Road charging took off, but not at all how we thought. HGV charging by distance and emissions is now global, driving up utilisation of vehicles and encouraging platooning – as only one vehicle pays! The UK adopted it when we were the last country with a daily vignette, as it now does not need an expensive on board unit, as every commercial vehicles has had the equipment on board for years now and fleet management is a pre-requisite for any size fleet today. Nevertheless, the public still does not trust the idea of pay per mile charging (especially after the massive government data breaches of 2022) and so emissions-related charging has taken over based on vehicle type, extending the London model. Emissions really came to the fore when many governments admitted that road-based emission deaths were higher than those caused by vehicles hitting each other, or things or people. Do you remember when diesels were supposed to be the way forward – my hybrid 2-stroke twin turbo Heremobile now has the same performance as my 2016 diesel with half the emissions. (Who would have thought Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz would join forces under the Here brand as a mobility provider, rather than three carmakers.) So the focus on charging for emissions caught on with the public, as parents realised an expensive 4×4 with child car seats and airbags was not going to stop their kids breathing in fumes from the 1996 dirty diesel van in front.
The move to mobility services, as with the brand name change of BMW, caught on with OEMS but really only for cars and human drivers. They simply changed the model of a yearly lease to a daily or hourly one, and didn’t limit the offer to just big cities. The attempts to merge with public transport payment worked in many places, like London, but it took a long time. Fully automated cars are still a long way away. They work fine on motorways, and in urban areas (although recent studies showed most pod-type vehicles are slower than walking as they have to stop so much for pedestrians, and the 2019 YouTube craze for teenagers jumping out in front of pods really set back public acceptance). They caught on for elderly and disabled people and young people without driving licences not served by traditional cars. Mums and dads loved the ability to stay at home drinking Prosecco instead of picking their teenagers up from the cinema, though.
The reason for the delay for the main market adoption of highly automated vehicles is that they cannot cope with the vast variety of things happening on rural and arterial roads. Even the best maps in the world could not detect a horse around the corner, as I predicted back in one of your Thinking Highways paper editions in 2015. People forever had to take over, as the “computer says no” syndrome left them embarrassingly stuck. The whole business case for doing work or having a drink while in a fully automated vehicle could not be delivered, let alone driving you home after a night at the bar. OEMs just didn’t like the customer service impact (bad publicity to say the least) and so didn’t push developments.
And “Jamgate” of 2024 was a real embarrassment to our industry. Surely, we should have spotted while developing standards for connected vehicles that someone could hack in and then set the maximum speed for pods in that major UK city to zero. It was not that hard to predict. Also, the alleged scandal involving the CEO of Tesla, the so-called “Elon-gate”, caused ripples in confidence too, some said it was rather drawn out.
Somethings have not changed though. Prof Eric Sampson’s ties are still a popular topic of conversation, the need for radio traffic news for a large chunk of the population who just like listening to the radio (still on FM in 2026) and retro phones! Who would have thought a 1990s Nokia is worth New£500 (the currency devaluation change to the English minipound still confuses me – is it £10 old to the New£1?). People still want the battery life and security that newer phones have still failed to deliver. Moreover, after model after model caught fire, batteries started getting bigger again too. However, your magazine has changed. I really miss the paper copy to read at home, but the direct to Applegoggles 3D streaming format works well .Wasn’t it great when all those social media apps converged – it made life so much easier. Having the paper copy delivered by an Amazon drone was fine for a bit, but there were so many drones making deliveries at my house the garden was at times like a scene from Apocalypse Now.
3D printing at home of previous deliveries caught on big time – who would have thought IKEA became a website to download plans for what was previously called flat pack furniture, which you print at home and then re-assemble. Their retail shops now have become cafés for meatballs and fries, and showrooms for 3D-printable Billy bookcases and 3D printer cartridges – and didn’t they know how to charge for those. Home 3D printing, freight consolidation and white van bans certainly reduced the congestion for Internet deliveries that plagued 2016-2020.
The other big change has been how we in what used to be called ITS are treated, as connected transport is the new “rock and roll”. “Transport” modelling died out as a career, but “mobility data scientists” doing much the same but with far better data now have rock star salaries. People started to understand what we did and the value we gave, and many university courses in mobility and connected vehicles that included both automotive and traffic engineering and in big data for mobility were really attracting the best and the brightest. So congratulations on 20 years. It has been a very interesting time for us all, and I will see you at the Red Lion for a 3D-printed pint of ecobeer later.
Andy Graham is principal of White Willow Consulting