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Driving IT Innovation at the International Motor Show

September 25, 2015 by Michael Zipf, Norbert Steinhauser 98

Connected and driverless cars were the talk of this year’s International Motor Show, and SAP was at the heart of the buzz.

Every two years, almost a million car enthusiasts flock to the Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA), the world’s largest automotive trade fair, to enjoy the legendary spectacle of automakers rolling out their latest models to an accompaniment of flashing lights, throbbing bass beats, and stylishly dressed dancers. While the giant exhibition halls on the ground floor echo to the sound of visitors jostling to examine paintwork and leather, sleek sports cars, people carriers, electric vehicles, and the ubiquitous SUVs, the atmosphere in the “New Mobility World” exhibition on the first floor is altogether calmer. Nevertheless, this is where pressing issues about the future of mobility are being discussed.

The exhibitors here include Samsung, IBM, Deutsche Telekom, and – making its debut appearance – SAP. Awake to the far-reaching revolution that lies ahead of the automotive sector, these IT companies are in Frankfurt to showcase ways in which information technology is already making it possible to connect today’s highly digitized vehicles with each other, with their drivers, and with the technological infrastructure around them. Indeed, it appears that it’s only a matter of time until self-driving cars become a familiar sight on our roads and highways.

Revved Up for a Revolution

Chris Urmson considers the convergence of vehicles and IT to be “the most exciting development of our age”. Speaking in Frankfurt, Urmson, who heads up Google’s driverless car program, described the number of people killed on America’s roads every year – 36,000 – as “unacceptable” and stressed that his company’s intensive research into autonomous vehicles was aimed at improving road safety.

Robert Wolcott, Professor of Innovation Management and Corporate Entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, spoke of “a new industrial revolution” whose impact would be “on a par with that of the railroads in the 19th century”.

So it’s no surprise that the IT sector is steering its focus toward the automotive industry.

At the IAA’s “Smart City Forum”, SAP has teamed up with various cities to present solutions designed to put an end to the daily traffic gridlock. And, to judge by the figures below, their capabilities are sorely needed:

  • By 2050, around 70% of the global population will be living in cities
  • The number of cars on the planet is set to almost double by 2030
  • Experts predict that the volume of freight traffic on Europe’s roads will increase 80% by 2025
  • On average, a car driver in Germany spends 36 hours stuck in traffic jams every year

Smart Cities for a Better Quality of Life

Smart Traffic Control enables cities to optimize traffic-light controls and free up additional car lanes during the rush hour to alleviate congestion, while data collected by RFID chips, sensors, cameras, and induction loops is used to compile congestion profiles and monitor real-time traffic issues. The Chinese city of Nanjing, which is home to 8 million people, has chosen to adopt smart traffic control technology and is already using SAP HANA to crunch the 20 billion data points captured in the city every year to produce actionable information for predictively responding to traffic congestion. And the software even learns as it goes along. In June of this year, the city signed a Custom Development Project with SAP. Currently, SAP HANA analyzes the data generated by Nanjing’s 10,000 taxis: The plan is for other modes of transportation to provide data in the future too.

“Smart traffic is one of the hottest topics for the world’s ever-expanding cities,” says Norbert Koppenhagen from the SAP Innovation Center Network, who is also at the IAA to showcase SAP’s cooperation with the German city of Darmstadt, near Frankfurt. “If we can keep the traffic flowing, we’ll make city-dwellers’ lives a whole lot more livable.”

The SAP Vehicle Insights cloud application links vehicular data with sensor data to provide actionable insight into driver behavior patterns and efficiency. The software helps logistics and mobility services providers monitor live vehicle conditions and manage their services within the constraints imposed by pollution and traffic congestion. The SAP Vehicle Insights also helps fleet operators manage their fleets optimally.

City App is another innovation being showcased in Frankfurt. Developed in collaboration with the German city of Nuremberg, this app features crowdsourcing functions that allow citizens to report defects and damage in their immediate vicinity. Algorithms assimilate these reports with data about factors such as traffic density in the affected city zone to help municipal authorities optimize their response.

There is also considerable buzz around TwoGo by SAP, the mobile app that lets employees at enterprises, institutions, and municipal authorities link up and share their daily commute to the office. “This is an exciting time for TwoGo,” says Alexander Machold, a member of the TwoGo business development team. “We’ve got vehicle manufacturers, parking garage operators, local authorities, and government ministries all looking into how TwoGo could help them cut costs and develop new business models.” What’s more, he says, the app sometimes opens the door to cross-selling opportunities for other SAP solutions.

“The number of connected cars on our roads is growing; more and more vehicles are being outfitted with sensors; and even driverless cars are becoming a genuine possibility. All in all, this is a great opportunity for us to transform cities, industries, and businesses sustainably to create a better future,” says Stephan Brand, Products and Innovation, IoT Moving Assets at SAP.

Top image via Shutterstock

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