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How Big Data will engineer the future of transportation



The world economy is becoming increasingly digitized, and yet the vast majority of global productivity still relies on the movement of goods and people. The future of transportation is looking increasingly digital as well, with Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) poised to alleviate much of the complexity surrounding the simple conveyance of objects from one location to another.

Currently, human error and miscalculation are the chief contributors to waste and gridlock on local, regional, and global transportation infrastructure. As with any complex system, however, greater visibility and faster analytics can do wonders for efficiency, effectiveness, and stability.

Adding smart tech to old fleets

According to MarketsandMarkets, the transportation systems and analytics market is expected to top $57.4 billion by 2018, more than double that of 2013, representing compound annual growth of 15.4 percent. Much of the world is becoming urbanized, with population centers resting on transportation infrastructure that was designed and built in the last century. Since rebuilding is out of the question, businesses and governments are putting high-powered computing to work on tasks like transportation management and control and remote sensor monitoring to chart the easiest way to get from place to place. A major component of this effort is the introduction of smart technologies and machine-to-machine (M2M) capabilities to foster automated systems that are self-learning and autonomous.

A key beneficiary of this technology is the railroad industry. As Progressive Railroading editor Pat Foran noted recently, rail operators have been using wireless sensors and other devices for years to maintain systems and infrastructure, but only recently has technology allowed them to make the leap into real-time traffic management and predictive maintenance. Union Pacific, for example, has deployed wayside hotbox detectors and ultrasonic wheel-crack detection across its layout to identify potential failures ahead of time, improving not just efficiency, but safety as well.

Getting from point A to point B—safely, efficiently, competitively

It isn't just transportation infrastructure that is seeing improvement through IoT and Big Data technology—the entire supply chain industry is on the cusp of an entirely new era, thanks to the ability to track each and every item as it travels from factory to distributor to retailer to customer. This kind of end-to-end visibility is invaluable when it comes to getting products to market quickly and easily, says Global Trade Magazine's Greg Braun. Trucks will no longer sit idle while inventory issues and discrepancies in bills of lading are worked out, and organizations won't have to rely on manual, good-faith reporting to track goods in transit. In fact, it isn't too far-fetched to start thinking about the fully automated warehouse, where smart forklifts locate and retrieve the appropriate RFID-tagged parcels, and a central, automated scheduling system ensures that both truck and driver are ready to go at the right time.

On one level, it's easy to see how the combination of fine-grained monitoring, automation, and advanced analytics can make current shipping and transportation processes more efficient, but the more far-reaching impact will be on the broader business process and perhaps the very business models of many of today's leading organizations. We've already seen how Uber disrupted the public transportation industry. Imagine what someone could do with a fleet of smart, self-driving cars that can be monitored across a wide area and directed to a particular location at the touch of a screen.

The future of transportation is bound tightly to the development of Big Data analytics and broad interconnectivity of virtually everything we buy and use. The transportation sector is already well on the way to an automated, intelligent data infrastructure, but it's ultimately the consumer and the traveler who will benefit the most in the form of lower costs, less gridlock, and an improved quality of life.

To learn more about how to gain a competitive advantage with Big Data, read the white paper, "The disruptive power of Big Data: How Big Data analytics is transforming business."

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