The Internet of Moving Minds

The four most amazing things in the world are electricity, the Internet, wireless, and GPS. Such is the accumulated wisdom of Robin Chase, transportation entrepreneur and the co-creator of Zipcar, the largest car-sharing company in the world.

Chase includes GPS in her list of transformative technologies, because she sees communication and transportation as naturally linked. While the immense connectivity of the Internet has made certain movements around the globe unnecessary, some things (and people) still have to travel from place to place.

“Transportation is the center of our world and the key to all opportunity — where you can work, your education, your leisure, your friends,” Chase says. “It is the key to people’s individual lives and to how cities feel and thrive.”

The ingenuity behind Zipcar has been its connection to the Internet — cars can be located, unlocked for use, and rented with wireless technology, using  your smartphone or a proximity card. Simple. Seamless. Smart. But Chase says systems like Zipcar are only our first foray into what transportation and the Internet can do together.

For the past 10 years, she has been working on her dream of creating the networking fabric for the “Internet of Moving Things.” As chairman of the board of Veniam, a connected transportation company that has built the world’s largest connected fleet in Porto, Portugal, she is bringing that dream to fruition.

“Veniam is right on the front edge of the connected vehicle wave, and not too early.” Chase says.

What’s happening in Porto — turning vehicles into a fleet of Wi-Fi hotspots — will happen in the U.S., she notes. Wireless has already transformed other sectors, but transportation has lagged by 10 to 15 years behind the changes. Chase says that an “exceptionalist perspective” inside the transportation industry and a resistance to sharing resources, have resulted in the manufacture of only a limited number of smart cars, and those can talk only to each other.

“If you’re just going to connect up a subset of new cars, it takes years to get to a critical mass in specific geographies. Most of the time, you’re not going to pass another vehicle that is similarly equipped to read your signals,” she says.

The fleet of cars in the US takes 25 years to turn over. Therefore, putting vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology in some cars now means that a viable wireless network of moving things is still decades away. What is needed to kickstart connectivity, according to Chase, is a critical mass of fleet vehicles in urban areas that also connects to existing wireless infrastructure.

Veniam, for instance, is connecting both municipal and private fleets (taxis, trucks, buses) to each other and to Wi-Fi hotspots in the infrastructure, not to cell towers. “The vehicles are embedded in the wireless ecosystem and adding nodes to that ecosystem,” Chase explains. More importantly, Veniam can enable Internet access to passengers, while collecting terabytes of valuable, high-definition data that can enable a wide range of applications in connected transportation, industrial logistics, and smart cities.

While Chase is busy strapping the power of the Internet onto moving things and transforming connected transportation and wireless coverage, she sees positive transformation coursing through many other economic and social sectors. Everything is getting smarter, she says. As we seize the two-way interactive capabilities of the web, what lies on the horizon is not just the Internet of things, but the Internet of human minds.

Our ability to give and find intelligence everywhere is just beginning to have an impact on our growing collaborative economy, as Chase explains in her new book, Peers Inc: How People and Platforms are Inventing the Collaborative Economy and Reinventing Capitalism. Real-time interactivity galvanizes people to use assets more efficiently than ever.

“Now we can put that power into everyone’s hands,” Chase says. “People have a lot to contribute. The future really is a meritocracy where the people who get the work are the ones who are the best.”

But Chase notes that the Peers Inc meritocracy is not always about expertise. And it is not always about business. Sometimes it is about having unique attributes that can be accessed at the perfect moment for a diverse set of purposes. Consider Yelp reviews, or amateur videos of unexpected events.

“We are at the inception now of what it’s going to mean to have everything connected — that’s what has yet to unfold,” Chase says. “That ability to find the right person at the right time with the right asset — that is something that we are just beginning to find out.”