Are software-defined highways in our future?

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Have you ever wondered why most things need to be “software defined” nowadays? Instead of asking if something needs to be software defined, I would ask: Does that something need to be interfaced with or automated through software? For highways, I would ask: Do the highways of the future have to provide interfaces for traffic management and automation?

Why is it so difficult to go from point A to point B? A road connects location A to location B so that cars can move people, foods and any physical items to a destination. Extend that destination from cities and states around us to countries around the world and you have a countless number of locations that are connected by roads or highways.

highwayHighways are physically fixed objects that, once laid down, cannot be changed. What makes them complicated are the connections. Highways have junctions, multiple lanes, lane divisions, roundabouts and, of course, exits. All of these pass by you in seconds as other cars travel in front of, behind, to the left and to the right of you. More important is that second when you realize that you have just made a wrong turn, followed the wrong lane or taken the wrong exit. These are the critical points of highway infrastructures.

Sure, these days there are many things that can help you make a decision in that split second. For instance, when I drive long distance I have:

• A GPS (global positioning system)
• Hard copy of maps and directions
• Road signs of different shapes
• Traffic lights and signals
• My wife in the passenger seat

Imagine sitting behind the steering wheel in a car traveling 70 miles per hour (mph). The road signs indicate that you should take the fork on the right. But the GPS announced seconds ago that told you should “bear right then bear left.” Add to that the passengers on your right (or left) and behind you who are also trying to help. You have no way of telling which one is correct.

What is missing from the scenario and what you really need is the highway to tell you which way to go. All of the gadgets and driving assistants you can get are for all the possible routes and for any driver at that junction or exit. These devices have no idea what your particular route is. Maybe your husband or wife does, but he or she is in the same “boat” as you. Now you may say it is not possible to build your own route, physically. But what if you drew up a virtual route and told the highway infrastructures about it? Then, at the critical points I mentioned before, the highway would know your destination and be able to figure out which way you should go.

This is what I’ve learned from cloud computing and virtualization: While the bare metal server can be accessed only by the administrator, a virtual machine in the cloud can be accessed by any user. Hardware resources such as servers, networks and storage make up the virtualization infrastructures. Administrators used to work with cables, boxes and power plugs to set up or move these infrastructures around. With virtualization, software-defined infrastructures can be completely managed and configured at the virtual level.

Highways cannot be moved for sure. They do not have cables or plugs to move around either. However, with advanced technologies and the ubiquitous networks in the future, highway infrastructures can be defined using software. Those critical points on the highway can be equipped with solar charged portals. The grids of all critical points can make up these software defined highways. A car can be equipped with gadgets that can interface with the portals.

All you would need to do before a trip is create your virtual routes and load them up to the highway infrastructure grids. Each virtual route would have a unique ID, which would be associated with critical points on your route. When the car approaches a critical point, the portal would have your route information and would signal the gadget in your car which way to go. Advanced highway portals with data analytics capabilities may be able to read your virtual routes from the gadget in your car and point out your next move in seconds.

These scenarios are very possible in the near future and will definitely be feasible before scientists are successful in beaming a person from point A to point B like in Star Trek. Before that happens, highway infrastructures need to be improved to solve the many traffic problems that exist today. If you want to see how software-defined environments (SDE) are changing the information technology world, look no further than the cloud.

To learn more about cloud computing, follow me on Twitter @ThanhLamV.

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