The Internet of Things (IoT) is dramatically accelerating the pace of innovation in the transportation industry—especially the cars and trucks we drive every day.

And when you apply the laws that have been driving technology innovation for decades—Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law—it’s not long before our automobiles will resemble smart devices on wheels and your vehicle may very well be the most expensive computing device you own.

Connected cars today

Already, automobiles built after 2010 include numerous connected systems that provide drivers with the ability to listen to satellite radio, view streaming video, display and use smartphone apps, navigate roadways, request roadside assistance, unlock doors remotely, and find open parking spaces.

Today’s Tesla models are equipped with functionality that allows its cars to be upgraded wirelessly. In late 2013, Tesla tweaked the suspension system of its Model S cars by wirelessly pushing an update that automatically raised the height of the cars when they were being driven at highway speeds. Imagine this being done without a connected car. Owners would have to learn about the need for a change, schedule an appointment, bring their cars in for service, and wait for the work to be done. Most Tesla owners probably didn’t even notice the upgrade.

And soon our vehicles will even look like our PCs and smartphones. Toyota is designing a car that allows owners to change the appearance of the exterior and interior, just as you do with your PCs and mobile devices today. No more decorating cars with soap and streamers for “just married” couples. Now all you’ll have to do is pick the “car top” background you want to display, customize the names, and hit “enter.”

After more than 100 years, cars and trucks are finally at the cusp of becoming true “auto” mobiles by going driverless. I believe autonomous vehicles will be commonplace by 2025 — just 10 years away. This is because they offer many benefits, including lower energy consumption and fewer accidents.

Autonomous vehicles will free the “driver” and passengers to socialize, have a business meeting, or learn more about the environment around them. Mercedes imagines a car that is more like a living room or boardroom on wheels. The driver and front passenger seats swivel to allow face-to-face communication.

Additionally, cars of the future will be equipped with touch screens on nearly every surface. Imagine your kids looking at a screen of the actual universe above them as you drive to your destination. Perhaps the age-old question, “How long ‘till we get there?” will be a phrase of the past.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a drone!

Now consider unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as UAVs or drones (badly in need of a new name in my opinion). These remotely controlled vehicles are becoming commonplace. Poised to challenge our definition of transportation, drones will significantly enhance company supply chains and logistics operations by delivering smaller items within the last mile of the transportation system.

While many people have dismissed Amazon’s drone delivery plans, I believe Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, is just scratching the surface of what’s to come. Drones will also transform the way goods are delivered across long distances.

Do you remember this vehicle from the movie Star Wars?

Did Star Wars predict the long-haul delivery drones of the future?
Did Star Wars predict the long-haul delivery drones of the future?

In the near future, drones will have the ability to carry huge loads while hovering just a few feet above the ground. These drones could be remotely monitored and guided using a system of sensors on special cross-country or intra-city roadways.

Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO and founder of Matternet, is already working to create a transportation system for physical goods that operates on the same principals as the Internet.

In his YouTube video, Raptopoulos describes the concept this way. “The enabling technology is the UAVs. We want to harness all of the great work that has been happening in academia in the open source community and build a platform that can allow us to do point-to-point delivery, decentralized peer-to-peer just like the Internet.

“The second vital ingredient of the network is the automated ground stations we use. These are point stations on the ground that the UAVs fly in and out of in order to swap batteries and fly further or exchange loads.

“The third [component] is the OS [operating system] that runs the whole network, that optimizes routes, optimizes the flow of vehicles and goods through the system. It optimizes for weather conditions and guarantees the security of the system so we can guarantee to the authorities that it’s not being used for illegal purposes.”

Matternet ONE has completed three tests with Swiss Post to deliver small packages.
Matternet ONE has completed three tests with Swiss Post to deliver small packages.

The company just announced Matternet ONE, the first smart drone for transportation. The drone is being evaluated by the Swiss postal service, Swiss Post, to deliver mail and packages to its customers. Earlier versions of the drone were used in Haiti to deliver needed supplies to people in inaccessible areas of the country.

Safety and Security

The recent hacking of a Jeep Grand Cherokee has been widely reported. Thankfully, this hack was accomplished by the good guys, with the information already being used to improve automobile security and safety. Even so, the risks of hacking are very real, especially as more and more things become part of IoT.

If connected cars are to become fully mainstream, much more work is needed to ensure that they are safe, reliable, and highly secure. After all, it’s one thing for a computer to crash, it’s another thing when the computer in your car is compromised and causes an automotive crash.

There are already several companies and consortia focused on transportation security in an IoT world. Intel just launched the Automotive Security Review Board (ASRB), a cyber security group and industry board to identify and thwart significant security threats for connected cars. Automobile manufacturers such as GM, Fiat Chrysler, and others are also taking the threat more seriously.

Connections matter most

The Internet of Things (IoT) has the power to change our world. And while we are starting to see the incredible impact of IoT, we are still very much at the beginning of this transformational journey.

The key to knowing how IoT will transform our world, is understanding that it’s more about the connections than the things. When things are connected, they become greater than the sum of their parts. They gain access to data they do not possess, and can share their own data with other people and things.

So the next time you drive to work or go on a road trip, just take a second to imagine what your vehicle could do with even more IoT connections.

David Evans is cofounder and CTO of Internet of Everything startup Stringify.