The transportation industry is ripe for advancement. With the addition of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, the industry might not be recognizable in 10 or 20 years. More connectivity means fully optimized operations and manufacturing, decreased downtime and accidents, and — what everyone is waiting for — driverless vehicles and ships.

Advancements cannot come soon enough. The International Transport Forum’s 2017 Transport Outlook notes that, due to the combination of population growth, urbanization, and globalization, carbon dioxide emissions from transport are expected to increase 60 percent by 2050. There are more people and goods moving around the globe, which has increased the need for vehicles, planes, and ships, leading to more pollution. To combat this, the transportation industry must undergo changes to accommodate increased global movement. The leading solution is through IoT technologies, which can limit the impact globalization, population growth, and urbanization has on the environment.

What IoT can do for the transport sector

According to the Inmarsat Research Programme report The Future of IoT in Enterprise — 2017, roughly 60 percent of those surveyed in the transportation sector believe the successful deployment of IoT-based solutions will bring “better health and safety across the organization,” and about 55 percent think it will bring “greater workforce productivity.” Plus, 81 percent of respondents believe IoT will revolutionize the transport sector.

Connected vehicles are widely discussed as a way forward in the transportation industry. For both fleet management and individual drivers, IoT can revolutionize the way vehicles function, making for a safer driving experience. Real-time analytics offers predictive maintenance, so drivers are alerted to possible problems before a part breaks down.

Sensors placed around cities that are then connected to apps can help drivers find parking spots faster, reducing traffic and emissions. About 30 percent of cars circling a city at any given time are looking for a parking spot, which means not only wasted time for drivers but unnecessary emissions for the environment. IoT can help make a better driving experience and help cities reduce traffic and improve the air at the same time.

Honeywell’s IoT Connected Aircraft flew around the world last year to showcase how connectivity changes the way we fly. Not only does Wi-Fi provide a more pleasant in-flight experience for passengers, but IoT technologies enhance flight safety and efficiency as well. The connected plane gives pilots real-time weather data during the flight path so that they can take the safest and most efficient route to the final destination.

Furthermore, the GoDirect Fuel Efficiency software collects, monitors, and analyzes data in real time to optimize fuel efficiency for every plane in the fleet. This means that all pilots are taking the most fuel-efficient route possible. Connectivity also means maintaining assets more proactively, so parts likely to break are fixed before problems occur.

Freight shipping is also experiencing an IoT revolution. Rolls-Royce is developing an autonomous freight ship controlled via IoT. Since there will be no need for humans on the ship, it can hold more cargo, which means lower shipping costs. The company expects to put the ships in water by 2020. Furthermore, IoT can collect and analyze data in freight shipping to find inefficiencies that humans can then correct, moving this traditional industry to a more technologically savvy stage. Though the transportation sector has a lot to gain from IoT technologies, there are many challenges ahead.

Challenges with IoT implementation

In the Inmarsat Research Programme survey, respondents were asked about challenges to IoT adoption. First, a clear challenge is talent. Forty percent of those in the transportation industry noted they “they required additional analytical/data science skills to successfully deliver IoT.” All industries feel the effects of the skills gap in IoT, and the transportation sector is no different.

Second, the survey found that data is simply not available to everyone in the company. Twenty-three percent of the included transportation companies restrict access to data to “the IT and senior management,” which suggests these organizations are not maximizing the value of the data.

Third, integrating old and new systems presents complicated challenges. According to Inmarsat, 43 percent of those in the transportation industry noted the problem of integrating IoT technology with current technology systems. Many in the transport sector rely on legacy systems that have been in place for decades, so implementing IoT solutions can and will be a challenge.

Data scientists can help solve the problems

Learning programs train data scientists with the data and analytical skills necessary to implement IoT solutions across a wide variety of industries. CIO magazine identified the top 10 skills necessary to tackle IoT as machine learning, AutoCAD, Node.js, security infrastructure, security engineering, big data, GPS development, electrical engineering, circuit design, and microcontroller programming. While one data scientist will not have all of those skills, many choose to specialize in some of them, especially machine learning. And since the basis of IoT is using massive amounts of data, there absolutely must be a data person on the IoT team.

Furthermore, many data scientist roles help make data accessible to the entire team. Business analysts, for example, do not necessarily analyze data themselves on a day-to-day basis. Instead, they take the already analyzed data and create visualizations so the rest of the company can understand and use the data. This intermediary between the business and IT side will be key for IoT implementation.

Lastly, a data scientist will be crucial to merge legacy systems with new IoT technology. A lot of what data scientists do is clean up messy databases, which is what many legacy systems are. Before a company can implement any new technology, a data scientist might need to extract the current data already housed in the old system so as to not lose valuable information. While many other IT positions will help in this arena, a data person will need to be on hand as well.

IoT, transportation, and data scientists

While the future of IoT in the transportation sector is not 100 percent in the hands of data scientists, they will play a key role in its development. Companies that are considering IoT adoption should begin to find data talent now to implement best data practices and create a solid data infrastructure. A data scientist can make sure more employees in the company who need to use data can access analyzed data to improve efficiencies and eliminate redundancies internally. Furthermore, when the time comes for IoT, transportation businesses will need highly educated data people on hand to help with the implementation

Vivian Zhang is the founder and CTO of the NYC Data Science Academy and also adjunct professor at Stony Brook University.