The Internet of Emergency Situations: How Connected Vehicles Can Save People

Japanese ambulances  after the 2011 earthquke; with the power of the Internet of Things, it will be easier for one to add one’s own vehicle to this ambulance train. Pictrue courtesy of×309.jpg

One of the benefits of connecting vehicles is the recognition that vehicles are computers on four wheels. Regardless of whether they are automated or not, this means all vehicles gather, process, and transmit information. Just as one can use smart phones to create Bluetooth-powered mesh networks through the FireChat app, we can potentially use vehicles, refrigerators, and a variety of other devices to create emergency networks to serve other purposes. Vehicles are no longer independent items on the road, but can now take part in a larger picture that can at minimum improve transportation and at most help save lives. We should take advantage of this potential by using connected vehicles and other devices to perform a variety of services to make our emergency services better than ever before.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a powerful concept that can greatly aid humanity as a whole, whether it is by helping to automate vehicles or by acting as an advance warning system (AWS) for certain diseases, but it has a critical flaw: it requires access to the Internet to work properly. For instance, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication are impossible without a continuous and resilient connection to the Internet to communicate location, help discover other objects that are also connected to the Internet, and perform a variety of other tasks such as broadcasting the vehicle’s future plans and whether it needs repairs. If one cannot access a satellite, then one cannot use the global positioning system (GPS) that has also proved critical for modern transportation. Such a loss is not catastrophic; humans drove without access to networking technologies for decades, and the autonomous vehicle does not require the Internet to function either. Ernst Dickmanns led a team that built an autonomous vehicle capable of driving itself in 1986, before networking technologies were widespread. However, connected vehicles, regardless of their state of automation, can drive more effectively and safely if they can share information and coordinate with other connected devices. It is also true that other smart devices can work more effectively if they are connected. Smart refrigerators cannot help their owners keep track of their contents without the Internet, heart devices cannot broadcast the status of the people they are monitoring, and disaster could strike if an oil drill loses contact with its controllers. The Internet is too important at this point to leave without backups or aid, and connected devices in general and connected vehicles in particular can help solve this problem.

The recognition that connected vehicles can receive and transmit data opens the door to using connected vehicles as emergency network broadcasters. Dr. Yuji Inoue of the Toyota InfoTechnology Center has spoken in the past about using vehicles as a hub for creating an emergency communications network (note: this is a PowerPoint file). This system can help create ad hoc networks in situations where the main providers have been disrupted. Vehicles in particular can act as mobile Internet connection points or as a sender or recipient of information requests while evacuating. For example, if an earthquake strikes and breaks down the main Internet broadcasters, evacuating vehicles could provide an ad hoc emergency communications mechanism by transmitting data from one vehicle to the next in an evacuation train. The vehicles can also serve to amplify any remaining signal and help the emergency communications network connect to the greater Internet while the connection is down. This capability can be used to boost the cloud in emergency situations (as well as non-emergency situations).

Flooding in Venice, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina

Connected vehicles can be quickly impressed into emergency service. Just as people in the United States can join the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary to help the U.S. Coast Guard whenever they can, people could register their vehicles and other connected devices with local emergency services. In case of a crisis, the local government could send out a request to connected devices to quickly ask for aid. In an autonomous environment, autonomous vehicles can be quickly impressed into service as soon as they receive the request. These vehicles can evacuate, transport disaster survivors, supplies, and act as make-shift ambulances. One should also remember that unmanned autonomous vehicles can go to places that are toxic to humans but not to vehicles. For example, vehicles can be sent to places with toxic fumes following a volcanic eruption or areas prone to mudslides.

Finally, connected vehicles can act as inventory management tools. Cameras and other such devices could be added to the vehicles to better track what they are carrying. When. When emergency responders see a shortage of fresh water, blood, and other materials, they can recall the vehicles that are inside a disaster zone and restock them. This will allow them to create a persistent supply of goods necessary to survive. They can send out fully stocked vehicles, recall the ones that will soon be emptied, and send out new ones just as the empty ones are about to leave. These vehicles can also transport Internet broadcasters that can temporarily reconnect the area during the times when the vehicles are not there and the Internet is still down as well.

One can see from the above that the IoT and automation can greatly benefit emergency services. Just as vehicles can carry sensors that can measure how much salt is on the ground, they can also act as mobile communication network broadcasters to ensure that services that require the Internet to function well can continue to function. They can be quick aids to sudden situations, whether it is by automatically adding extra devices to emergency services (while allowing people to use their connected vehicles in normal situations such as personal driving and loaning out their cars through ride-sharing programs) and ensuring everything goes where it is needed. We know the IoT is a boon to businesses, since it allows them to make existing services more efficient, makes it easier to track when an item needs to be repaired or replaced, and gives some goods new capabilities they never had before. As the world continues to innovate, technology will not just improve our lifestyles, but also our ability to help others. Once the IoT truly gets going, it has great potential in helping the world become safer than ever before.


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