NTT may not be a consumer-facing brand like the IndyCar Series’ former title sponsor Verizon, but the global technology company and INDYCAR have entered into a partnership that runs much deeper than money changing hands for marketing purposes.
“Connectivity” was a buzzword never far from discussion about Verizon’s alignment with IndyCar during the last five seasons. Given NTT’s areas of expertise, it’s safe to assume the word will be sticking around.
The agile machines that comprise the IndyCar field have a home base of sorts in the pit lane during each race weekend, but each team aims to have their car spending as little time occupying its pit box as possible. While circulating the 16 diverse racetracks on the schedule, drivers and even the cars relay crucial information back to the pit box, relying on radio communications and other data collection methods — familiar fields for Verizon as well as its replacement, NTT.
But the competition aspect isn’t the only one NTT can pick up on where Verizon left off. Now that the deal is done between INDYCAR and its new technology partner, the sanctioning body and NTT are set to get to work on enhancing the intersections where fans meet the series.
“I think it’ll make a lot of impact,” INDYCAR President Jay Frye told The Apex during the NTT partnership announcement at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “I think a lot of the stuff they do behind the scenes, it’ll benefit the fans.
“We talked about the app. The app is going to be really cool — it’s going to be really robust. There’s not going to be any restrictions on it in any way.”
Features like listening in on driver-to-pit radio chatter were previously available only for Verizon customers in INDYCAR’s mobile app. Given that NTT has no direct interest in what North American communications company powers fans’ mobile devices, the full capabilities of the updated app will be accessible by all.
As artificial intelligence, machine learning and other buzzwords in their own right become more common, INDYCAR and NTT — two entities proudly positioned on the cutting edge — plan to share a future filled with advancements that far exceed the features and impact of a mobile app, however.
Executed with video cameras, sound sensors and “internet of things” devices, NTT has set up a proof of concept in Las Vegas’ Innovation District after reaching an agreement to provide the tourist hotspot with “Smart City” solutions.
Improvements to situation awareness, traffic management and economic opportunities are the aim of NTT’s Smart City concept, which integrates data from sensors, video and sound as well as historical sources like crime, social media and weather. Centered mostly around public safety, the digital transformation of whole cities is a significant undertaking that INDYCAR’s newest partner believes is possible.
“NTT, along with our partners, aims to bring the Smart World to life as we have done for Smart City, Smart Entertainment, Smart Mobility and Smart Manufacturing,” said Jun Sawada, NTT’s president and CEO.
“Based on our lengthy and successful experience, including work in mobile applications, analytics and user experience, we will help INDYCAR create the next generation of fans globally who aspire to enjoy racing through a more digital experience.”
The newly named NTT IndyCar Series spends much of the year traveling to major North American markets, but the fan experience during one day at one place the series considers home could be transformed by NTT.
“They’re talking about their Smart City initiatives,” Frye continued. “Well, IMS is a 400,000-person city that comes in at 6 in the morning and leaves at 6 in the afternoon. That’s a big deal. How do you get people in and out? How do you make sure the concession stands are operating? All these things they do — it’s in their wheelhouse, we’ll benefit from it and I think the fans will see it.
“Is it a consumer promotion? There’ll be some. But that’s not the main thing. The consumers and the fans will see it at the venues and on TV.”
NTT is far from a household name, but it doesn’t have to be one to transport IndyCar to the future.