3 min read

Are we ready for smart cities with self-driving cars?

Opinion

Using last generation technology will not be enough to power intelligent cities and it’s time for governments and the IT community in Canada to rethink their approach.

Today the digital transformation trend is rewriting the rules of business, government and our personal lives. What this means is that one day in the future our grandchildren will never have to learn how to drive because of the Google self-driving car. Google plans to open a 53,000 Sq. Ft. facility in suburban Detroit for self-driving R&D that puts the road map for mass production of the driverless car on track for 2020.

Even today’s generation entering the workforce will never know what it means to work without a smartphone.

The arrival of the autonomous car is around the corner and cities – especially smart cities – should be prepared. But if governments and the IT sector do not prepare themselves to become a smart city or work out other digital disruptions they will face the consequences that make the current difficult situation with Uber look trivial.

For smart cities a driverless car would mean huge cost savings. A recent City of Toronto report found that self-driving cars had the potential to save the city $6.6 billion, while reducing traffic congestion.

For ordinary individuals the driverless car could bring them costs savings too. Imagine people sending their cars home instead of paying for outrageous parking downtown.

These cars will be collecting data. Look at Tesla which has been acquiring close to 800 million miles of driving data in the last 18 months.

Governments (Federal, Provincial and Municipal) need to collect data in an unprecedented way for better operations in the future. Smart cities are already doing this and some have produced more data in the last two years than in the previous 200 combined.

The challenge is most of that data is unstructured and shifting through that information is hard, but it must be done as it can uncover amazing insights.

Digital technology is disrupting the traditional ways in which we live, work, travel, enjoy and engage with our city. Smartphones, the Internet of Things, robots, cloud computing and data analytics are enabling cities to run more smoothly, more productively and with more democracy.

Networked car at the Geneva International Motor Show

Networked car at the Geneva International Motor Show

Being digital also has the potential to bring a huge economic boom for cities or regions globally. But there is a dark-side to make note of. A cyber security expert told me that a talented hacker could take over 40 self-driving cars and bring a large city like New York to a standstill.

This means now more than ever governments and the IT sector should act immediately to prepare for this new digital reality. Cities have always served as a beacon for human aspirations – and one element of a smart city is the use of IT to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.

As an IT insider in a leadership role – and a woman – I see the engagement is missing something – both inside and outside the IT industry.

Fawn Annan is the president of ITWC, The Content Experts. Annan is also one of seven new board members of Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) and the Chair of the Canadian Channel Chiefs Council.

As president ITWC, Canada’s leading digital media and content marketing services company, Annan leads an organization whose titles include Computer Dealer News (CDN) along with sister publications Canadian CIOITWorld CanadaITBusiness.ca and Direction Informatique.