BYOD – Bring your own device to the car

BYOD – „Bring your own device“ has recently become one of the most debated IT topics. BYOD means that employees use their private computers, smartphones, or tablets at their everyday workplaces and office desks, instead of getting seperate hardware, administrated by the company’s IT department.

More and more people want to use the same technology at work that they have chosen to use for their private purposes. In particular for younger professionals it becomes less and less accepted not to have all their tools at hand. Why would they let themselved get restricted to outdated operation systems, cheep hardware, and crippled internet access? Although some companies set up rules for their employees to use the devices of their choice, for most businesses the concerns outweigh any potential advantages.

What about cars? Some manufactorers provide rudimentary interfaces via bluetooth to connect some functionality of our smartphones with the car’s entertainment system. Most however seam to believe that people would still want to rely solely on the car’s onboard systems. Hardly any model has a proper place to put your device while driving. With our phone stored away in the usual bowl or compartment next to the driver’s seat, we couldn’t use it directly. We would have to access it via the car’s system that support only a tiny fraction of the phone’s functionality. To really use the smartphone, we still have to install cheep third party hands-free car kits.

Using our own mobile devices while driving is not just owed to our lazyness. While our own gadgets are up-to-date, the car’s technology will be totally outdated already when it first hits the road due to the long development cycles that are unavoidable in car construction.
Furthermore our apps have optimized user interfaces, continuously adjusted to users‘ behavior. We might drive various cars, some we might not even own. How convenient would it be, could we use the same interface, no matter what model we would use?

Cars should support the technology of our choice. They should become agnostic to the way, people would want to navigate, listen to music, or even control the climate. Instead of forcing us to rely on their propriatory interfaces, they should give us as much freedom as reasonably possible to control the car with our mobiles. There might be limits due to security concerns.

Just last week, Jeep had to recall millions of their vehicles due to a vulnerability in the car’s computer system. System critical function could be accessed wirelessly. BYOD might be a good way to rethinking the architecture of the electronic systems. Accessing entertainment, air condition, and other passenger support systems is not as dangerous as controling acceleration, airbags, or the breaks. The different systems should be seperated physically. While the core of the car should be protected and not accessable without proper authorization, the peripherals should be as easy to connect as possible.

I have seen people taping their phones atop the car’s dashboard after loosing patience with the clumsy user interface of the built-in navigation system. Does anyone use these dinosaurs of consumer electronics anymore, at all? It is high time to change the way we, car companies treat their drivers. BYOD is a good first step.

Mobility and Net Neutrality

Driving by car is strongly connected with a feeling of personal freedom. While we book flights just for one specific itinerary, and train tickets are usually only valid for a short period in time, we can get into our car whenever we want and drive any route that comes to our mind. Traffic jams, detours, or temporary road blocks apply to every driver the same way. And also speed limits or priority are not depending on how much we pay. This also holds true for toll that might be charged to cross a bridge or a tunnel – every driver is treated the same way.

However can we take this condition for granted that provides a network of roads in a neutral way to every user? Net neutrality is not a matter of fact in every industry, not even in all branches of mobility and logistics. Rail services e.g. charge special rates for express trains. While the tariff structure of rail companies are rather transparent in passenger services, this is not the case for transportation of goods. Depending on the buying power and on the negotiations of the customers‘ procurement, freight will be transported timely or might travel rather slowly to its destination.

In telecommunications, the rate structure is even more notorious for its lack of transparency. Voice and data plans vary by orders of magnitude regarding bandwidth or duration that comes with different plans.

Net neutrality in telecom services became an important issue when ‚over the top services‘ like Youtube or Netflix started to consume significant proportions of bandwidths. It became obvious that in the long run the carriers would be degraded to mere suppliers of infrastructure, just delivering a commodity instead of becoming ‚value added services‘ that could charge their customers extra for their precious entertainment programs.

Until now, users pay for using the service in terms of just transportation of the data packages, no matter whats in the date. Since they are the ones who pay, it should thus follow consequently that the services they want to access must not be charged by the telcos or otherwise the service would be charged twice. In Europa as in many parts of the world it is still mandatory for telcos to act neutrally regarding the services requested by the users.

‚Managed services‘ is what telcos are lobbying for in opposition to net neutrality. The argument goes that companies like Google (with Youtube in particular) or Facebook act like parasites on the infrastructure – skimming the profits without contributing to maintain it. Although there is very little facts provided to prove the allegations, it is not totally implausible. Advocates for net neutrality would respond though, that restricting net neutrality would give telcos a wrong incentive, not to invest in infrastructure to improve the situation, instead to shorten supply to be able to raise the price for services, or even worse, to exclude competition like Skype or Whatsapp and rather continue selling their own products like voice telephony or SMS.

With roads, the situation is fundamentally different. It is comparably easy to add new wires or build additional base transceiver stations to get more throughput for the network. It is much harder to build more roads, in urban environments it is often even impossible to increase the capacity for traffic. The consequence can be seen everyday: Traffic jams, overcrowded parking lots, polluted air. Worst examples are the big metropolitan centers in China and India, but the situation in most big cities in the US is also dire.

Road access without regulations thus leads to a classic example of the ‚tragedy of the commons‘. Each driver will ask herself, why she should be the one to refrain from the benefits of individual traffic and switch to public transport. Some cities have already introduced special tolls, like the congestion fee for entering central London.

Autonomous cars and car sharing services when becoming broadly available would indeed offer another model. Telecommunication carriers license frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum from the state, for which they have to pay a considerable sum. In return they can offer differentiated rate plans to their customers, and realizing a significant upside for themselves. Cities or whole countries could offer mobility carriers a similar deal: Car sharing platforms would rent capacity from the public, and resell their added value mobility service to finance the infrastructure. Rate plans could be fine tuned and automatically adapt demand. It might in this way just become to expensive to use individual means of transport for a commute that you could as well do in public transport or by bicycle.

That this is no far fetched business model at all is shown by Uber. Uber’s surge pricing anticipates such mobility services reacting elastically to actual demand. A major outcry followed when people became aware that instead of being charged a few dollars like usually, they would suddenly face payments more expensive by orders of magnitude.

Since the times of Henry Ford, individual traffic in the own car has been woven into the culture of most societies. It is thus not easy see opportunities and risks from a more distanced, more objective vantage. It will also not be easy to find the right rules and regulations to make a system of managed services for mobility fair and supportive to the economy.

The worst would be a contemporary version of highwaymen. Second worse however would be to go on and waste space, pollute the air, and jam the vessels of urban life like it can be seen in many cities today. Net neutrality for mobility will therefore become an important issue.

Breaking Bad Habits with Self-Tracking

For the forth time, the Quantified Self Conference took place in Amsterdam. Quantified Self is a way to get „self knowledge through numbers“ as the two founders Kevin Kelly and Gerry Wolf put it, learning about one’s life by measuring various aspects of our bodily funcions, our actions, habits, and environment. With all kinds of tracking devices from simple step counters to complex sleep monitors, that are know generally available in every consumer electronics store, Quantified Self has matured from a nerdy, rather esoteric niche to a mainstream trend. In many countries, healthcare institutions are experimenting with self-tracking, and there is a plethora of self-tracking apps for iOS and Android smartphones.

„Self-tracking is about change. But change is more often not about doing, but about stopping to do something.“ Gerry Wolf introduced this year’s conference with a keynote about breaking routines. A routine, he remarked, is a method to fight entropy. It consumes energy to maintain routines. Routines are efficient, as long as the conditions remain unchanged, but it restrains our acting freely. Self-tracking for most people is about uncovering routines in daily life, making bad habits visible, and then guiding the change by supplying an indicator.

When self-tracking is used to break habits, it opens additional degrees of freedom. Thus self-tracking is not so much about self-discipline, about restricting actions, living according to more rules, but about pushing the boundaries, and reliefing from constrains that are not neccessary, but exist just because we are used to do things that way.

Bad habits can creep into all our everyday activities. And self-tracking is not limited to counting the steps or measuring blood pressure. There are already a few apps that support people by tracking their driving. Acceleration (respectively breaking), turing, and speed can easily be tracked with the sensors that sit on every smartphone. From the readings of these probes, indexes can be derived, that give feedback on the quality and safety of driving. Becoming aware of bad habits can not only help the driver to save energy by learning to drive more ecologically, but reduce stress and lower the risk of accidents. Self-tracking can by this help driviers to act more consciously, and thus give them more freedom on the road.