How smarter cars and digital cities are about to change the way we drive


With the numbers of drivers in Songdo kept to a minimum, those behind the wheel will get a brand new highway spur to Seoul and underground garages – 95 per cent of cars will be kept off the streets when not in use - while both low-emitting and carpool vehicles will be given priority parking. Electric vehicle charging stations are being installed into both residential and municipal garages.

Sensors in the roads will not only measure vehicle loads and adjust traffic measures to react, but they'll also dim the LED-lit streets when there's no one around. And despite the tech-heavy design, the Songo's actual layout takes its inspirations from a trio of 'old world' cities; New York City's Central Park, the pocket parks of Savannah, Georgia, and the canals of Venice.

Still, to retro-fit this kind of tech and city design on an existing 'old' city would be tricky, though the roads to intelligently mobile cities are myriad.


Viral growth of apps

As for the UK, John Miles, chairman of the UK Automotive Council's Intelligent Mobility Working Group, reckons that infinite computing and communications power in vehicles will spark viral growth of web-powered smart apps on driver's smartphones, and other hand-held devices.

"The recent explosion of connected power is anything but 'top down'," he says. "Could this sort of anarchic development, this Darwinian evolution of systems and facilities, achieve for mobility what the top-down approach has never been able to achieve?"

Internet and mobile communications will be embedded in the next generation of smart cars, and while the machine to-machine link that will allow vehicles to respond to remote information systems is merely a bunch of sensors and a faster, more comprehensive 4G network away.

"When cars are capable of connecting with their outside environment, the day of the top-down system will be gone forever," says Miles, confident that a bottom-up, viral world of interconnected and intelligent vehicles can save the day.

"Drivers will participate in an environment of information exchange and automatic control for the benefit of all. Our cities will be retro-fitted with intelligent mobility capabilities without any need for arguments about systems, standards, and enforcement."

The terminology can be confusing, but whether it's called the Internet of Things, 'pervasive computing', telematics or smart city thinking, the advantages brought by smart car connectivity don't just concern the 'harvesting' of data, but in the mapping of urban travel patterns by predicting human behaviours in specific settings.

In short, we humans' erratic, selfish and risky behaviour behind the wheel will ultimately become predictable and controlled by central, all-knowing computers that work for the good of all citizens.

That's what the real 'big society' will be about, with the driverless car perhaps at the end of the road. For now, data-driven intelligent mobility is where the smart money is.

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and He also edits two of his own websites, and that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),