Connected cities means joined-up thinking in Latin America

The concept of connected cars isn’t big news anywhere in the world, even when you’re talking about Latin American countries where having an automobile is still a display of status and economic achievement. However, countries like Brazil, biggest Latin American nation, still struggle with poor infrastructure in its biggest cities, which limits the efficacy of this technologies and raises a question: does it makes sense to have an intelligent car if the city you live in still isn’t?

According to United Nation’s information released on 2014, Latin America and the Caribbean has 80% of its population living in urban areas and this is estimated to rise to 85% by 2030. Thus, it becomes imperative for these cities to become more intelligent and effective on managing its resources.

“In order to be smart, a city needs to be resilient, meaning it needs to be prepared for the challenges that may come up, like water shortage or an earthquake. This city is sustainable, intelligent and humane,” states Stella Hiroki, smart cities expert and professor at Pontifícia Universidade Católica in São Paulo.

An example of smart city for Latin America, in Hiroki’s opinion, is Medellin in Colombia. Formerly known for being the headquarters of the drug lord Pablo Escobar, now it’s regarded by its urbanists and public managers, besides its own population, as a smart city for people and the public transportation they chose.

“Medellin was famous for its violence and evolved to change this concept. People from the community took part on the strategy,” says the expert. A smart city is, therefore, a city for everyone. In Latin America, as with most other nations, technology may be an important ally in this “achievement”.

In the same way as cities, technologies are made by and for people. With apps and software, it’s possible to release relevant information and communicate faster. Besides stimulating creativity, technology used in a smarter way could help the local population solve problems with no help from the city officials.

Latin American drivers struggle everyday with heavy traffic. Cities like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá and Mexico City make their citizens rely on cars, either connected or not, for commuting and wasting precious daily hours spent in endless queues – something that connectivity could allay.

According to Ricardo Barcellar, head of the automotive branch of KPMG in Brazil and executive manager of the SmartCity Business America Institute, the idea of connected cars goes way beyond an ordinary internet connection. “The car must be able to connect with the road mesh and having car crash alerts. It’s necessary the vehicles have communication – drones, micro-trucks and even bikes. Each region must have its best modes of transport,” says Barcellar.

“For instance, in Brazil all cars have some sort of connection, parking, highway toll payment and listening to music on Spotify. It’s so embedded on our lives we don’t even notice. We don’t need to wait for the future’s technology, we already have viable technologies to allow a smarter management of the cities,” he adds.

More information, better journeys

“The more connected the cars, the better the information managers of our cities will get on trips people make inside the municipality. As a consequence, we would be able to have a better planning on mass public transportation, we may provide better services and, consequently, diminish traffic jams, air pollution and noise,” explains Ney Acyr Rodrigues, head of business of the IoT at the Embratel telecommunication company owned by America Movil.

The company launched a connected cars solution allowing the latest technology inside the vehicles, as well as sending data on control, monitoring and technical assistance.With this solution, in the event of dangerous trips or routes, the driver may ask the control centre to monitor the journey. Features like sending a tow truck, a road side mechanic or technical assistance may be requested in specific events, as well as soliciting medical rescue in case the airbags are deployed.

This solution, implemented throughout Latin America, also offers information on weather forecast, daily news headlines, the main economic indexes, traffic conditions and topics of general interest like tourist attractions, restaurants and stores.

Talking about specifically about the Brazilian market, the Rodrigues states: “Researches points to the Brazilian as an early adopter of technologies. They are avid consumers, they pursue and test technologies as soon as they are available and build a society of culture of using these innovations. This culture puts the Brazilian on a constant quest for innovative solutions. The connected cars are part of this landscape. Brazil is a promising market for connected cars, also considering this cultural aspect we have on this country.”

It’s not enough having a connected car. The driver also needs a fitting infrastructure, a viable communication network and the cities interest on being smart for everyone. The Latin America is walking – or driving – fast towards this destiny but there are many issues to be resolved. In order to have a truly connected car, the consumer must be ready to give it a warm welcome.


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