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Innovation & Technology

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Innovation & Technology

Invisibility of Technology

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The Frontier for Tech Innovation

Information technology is interwoven into our daily lives. We interact with multiple forms of technology in almost every activity that we perform. These systems simplify our lives, and we hardly ever notice them as most of these systems are either miniaturized or have become completely invisible to us.

On the other hand, there are some activities where we still actively interact with technologies, and those interactions often become the points of friction for us. For the technology innovators, making technology invisible to the users in those active interactions is the frontier for new product opportunities. Interestingly, innovation does not stop this challenge, as new products often open new points of friction. This cycle will repeat itself till we reach the perfect state where all our interactions with technology become passive and technology becomes completely invisible to us.

Innovations in parking technologies follow the similar lifecycle.

Traditional parking involved several pressure points: driving around looking for available parking facilities; finding a garage with available parking that was often far away from their destination; fumbling at the ticket machine at the entrance; driving around in the garage looking for an empty parking space; getting stressed about losing their parking ticket or about how much would they be charged for parking; spending inordinate amount of time standing in lines to pay; and eventually struggling on their way out trying to understand what are they expected to do to exit.

Innovators of parking technologies, using miniaturized Interconnected Sensors (IoT) and Cloud Computing, built parking solutions that remove several legacy parking procedures from the active interaction path of the motorist, thus automating much of the parking process.

Wayfinding systems, aggregator apps, and curb management solutions, working in concert, determine the nearest and most accessible parking for the motorists, and guide them turn-by-turn to that location, Touchless access systems along with LPR systems reduce friction during entry. Digital PARCS systems obviate the need for motorist to carry paper tickets and keep them informed about their parking session and the fees they would incur. Mobile payment systems simplify the parking payment. Touchless access systems and LPR systems enable completely friction-free exit.

But these technologies, while automating the parking process, created new set of active interactions and related points of friction for the motorists. There was also a new kind of inequity created for those who could not afford to take advantage of these technologies or could not understand how to use them.

Motorists now need to have smartphones, need to download apps, need to learn how to use wayfinding systems and make active driving decisions based on what system are telling them, interact with the touchless access systems to establish relationship between themselves and their car for the parking session, interact with mobile payment systems to pay, and so on just to park.

All these new interactions have created opportunities for the parking technology innovators to build even newer products to make the interaction invisible. Now they are using technologies like edge computing, 5G, connected cars, and blockchain to build parking solutions that would target and remove the active nature of these new interactions.

With this next generation of technologies, motorist would not have any active interaction with technology. Connected cars would talk to each other and learn from each other; they would talk to the city infrastructure systems like wayfinding systems, curb management systems, traffic control systems, garage real-time availability and access control systems, and get themselves to their parking spots. The next generation digital PARCS systems would talk to the connected car and use the blockchain-based identity management systems, contract management systems, asset ownership systems, and even digital payment systems to automatically establish the previously missing link that exists in the current generation of parking solutions – the missing link between the car that is getting parked, the payment methods of its owner, and the current generation of the digital PARCS system of the garage.

Taking it fast-forward to the next generation of innovation in parking technologies, the shift would happen from the current focus of removing motorist’s active interaction to moving motorist out of the driver seat, and thus making parking and its associated technologies completely automated and invisible.

The final frontier of innovation is in artificial intelligence when the car becomes an intelligent machine in a world of autonomous vehicles. It will be a perfect world of product innovation by the intelligent machines, rather than the human product innovators, where machines would innovate by simulating unforeseen conditions with digital twins’ simulations, perfecting systems using machine learning techniques like generative adversarial networks (gans), and self-testing systems using AI-based robotic process automation.

In conclusion, I characterize what I see as an “innovation arc”—first we innovate to solve the problems that we see, then we innovate to solve the problems our own solutions created or failed to optimally solve in first place. This is truly the nature of incremental continuous innovation that keeps the product industry always on its toes. Once a while comes the disruptor event in this gradual lifecycle that takes the progression of this lifecycle to a completely different level, but that is the topic for a different column.

Rajiv Jain is CEO of ParkEngage.

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