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Look to Korea for How Connected Cars Can Save Money, Planet

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If you’re impressed by the growing attention that automakers, entrepreneurs, and tech firms have been paying to “connected cars” in the U.S. — using IT to make our vehicles and roadways smarter — then you haven’t been paying attention to the work that’s been done in South Korea. The country has been investing $230 million dollars per year into Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), which includes services like wireless automatic tolls, in-vehicle traffic updates via GPS, and digital bus and subway schedules, and the country plans to continue to make that annual investment until 2020, reports CNN (for more on connected cars come to our Green:Net conference on April 29 in San Francisco).

But that funding — much like the country’s government-led massive financial injection into broadband and mobile infrastructure — has been saving the country more than it’s been spending and could lead to the creation of new markets. South Korea says it has been saving $1.5 billion per year via automatic toll collection, smarter systems that lead to fewer accidents and reduced pollution.

Information technology — computing, software, wireless networks — can save money and reduce the carbon emissions associated with transportation by unleashing information about fuel economy, traffic conditions, and the collective routes of vehicles on the roads, and can make transportation much more efficient. According to The Climate Group’s Smart2020 report, IT can help commercial road transport operators in Europe save more than 33 billion euros ($52 billion) in Europe by 2020.

That type of savings can lead to sizable industries and opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors. In the U.S., GreenRoad has been using basic IT embedded in vehicles — sensors, an accelerometor, GPS and customized algorithms — to calculate the relative risk of different driving maneuvers, then communicating that information back to the driver in order to change driving behavior. The result is that GreenRoad’s customers, which are largely commercial fleet operators, can save on fuel costs, and carbon emissions. The company’s latest backers include Generation IM Climate Solutions Fund, which was created by investor David Blood and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

On top of all the efficiencies, cost savings and business opportunities, there’s the planet-friendly incentive behind connected cars and transportation — less fuel burned equals less carbon emitted. CNN says that South Korea plans to connect its ITS systems to services that will be specifically focused on reducing carbon emissions, like suggesting the shortest and most eco-friendly routes. Combined with South Korea’s aggressive investment into the smart grid, that could make for a country with a winning green IT strategy.

For more research on connected cars on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

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