Intelligent transport systems (ITS in English) have been used for decades, but the introduction of ICT has made them change at a faster speed, as well as interact with other sectors, such as that of smart cities
Transport is a fundamental activity both for industry and for society as a whole. From the industrial point of view, company logistics -along with production, storage, maintenance and distribution- depends on the correct functioning of economy and other activities that require a smooth, predictable and reliable supply chain.
Transport of goods and supplies has evolved along with technology and marine, aeronautical and aviation engineering, and terrestrial, maritime and air communications. From the social point of view, people had to live with the need to move around all their lives. Driven by need or chosen for fun, migration has been an essential component of our history, and we are currently witnessing an unprecedented transfer of people from rural areas to cities. According to UN predictions, in the second half of this century cities will find themselves hosting 2,900 million people more than they were in the first decade of the so-called “century of the cities”.
In some areas such as tourism, for example, estimations -such as those in the report by the CLSA company- are that tourist trips from China to other countries will be, by 2020, twice as much as they are now: there were 100 million trips in 2013, and as much as 200 million trips are expected in 2020. As much as 40% of such trips will be directly managed by travellers themselves using on-line search services for flights and hotel accommodation. Making airlines, roads, trains, hotels and urban services suitable for the situation requires an additional effort that involves the proper use of technology so that the outcomes are up to the expectations.
In today’s world, everything is transported: from travellers to organs for medical transplants, through works of art, hazardous substances or foodstuff, raw materials and consumer goods in general. This is even more obvious in a globalized economy that makes it economically viable to manufacture trousers in China and sell them in small Spanish villages, for example. Advances in intermodal transport make it easier to manage the transport of goods, making use of nodes that enable clean, fast transitions between several means of transport and do not require cargo handling: specifically-designed containers are used so that goods may be transported using several means of transport. From trains to harbours, from harbours to ships, from ships to lorries or even planes, if light-material standard containers -or else special containers for air transport- are used.
Besides, the magnitude of a city in terms of extension and population makes it essential to design transport systems that consider urban spaces and roads a fundamental part of them. In order to properly supply cities and meet demands of citizens in terms of logistics of assets and services as well as in terms of the transport of people -both in urban spaces and out of them- it is essential to design systems that dynamically adapt to actual movement, whether in a given time frame or in a given set of days, or even in real time according to potential urgencies or to tackle events or incidences. We are used to traffic jams, but taking one extra minute in moving from A to B in a smart city should be the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.
“We are used to traffic jams, but taking one extra minute in moving from A to B in a smart city should be the exception to the rule, not the rule itself”
City challenges in the ITS context
From a general point of view, mobility includes people travelling from one place to another as well as the transport of raw materials and consumer goods. In both cases, roads, airports, railways or sea routes are shared, and so are the terminology and methodology used to tackle intermodality or -as we will see in this case- the implementation of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) to transport management. Whether it is passengers or goods that are to be transported from one place to another, the same essential concepts are considered. Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) broadly include all projects and initiatives that target the optimization of parameters involved in the scaling of transport systems: efficiency, cost, time, ecology and sustainability or safety are just some of them. Besides, some activity areas emerge as a consequence of the spreading out of infrastructure. Six areas may be clearly identified among all the aforementioned, as stated in the report “Towards the Development of Intelligent Transportation Systems”. The areas are listed as follows: Advanced Traffic Management Systems, Advanced Travellers Information Systems, Commercial Vehicles Operation, Public Transportation Systems, Advanced Vehicle Control Systems or Advanced Rural Transport Systems. In fact, this classification system is just a convention, as real-life technology “crosses” nearly all “vertical lines” in the transport and mobility sector.
When moving closer to the smart transportation system area in terms of its applications in the city, we may virtually find examples of it in all interest areas in a smart city. Different ways to distribute urban spaces still exist, but they may be classified according to the categories used in the design of the programme for the benchmark event in the smart city area, Smart City World Congress 2014. The following could be mentioned:
- Managing travel demand is included in the smart society category.
- Planning of multimodal transport connections involves several categories, such as governance and sustainability.
- The management of payments that involve transport-associated activities is included in the smart society and governance categories.
- Energy reduction in transport and mobility is included in the urban sustainability and energy chapter.
- Integration of car park places and electric vehicle charging is also included in sustainability and energy.
- Adapting cities to ensure pedestrian and bikers security is included in the smart society and sustainability area.
- Finally, the adaptation of cities so that the needs of older people are met in terms of mobility is included in the smart society area.
If we turn to transport again from the broader perspective of the activity areas, possible subjects may differ depending on the initiative considered. In particular, according to the chosen criteria to outline the programme for the XV Spanish Congress on Smart Transport Systems (Madrid, April 14th-16th, 2015) such application areas require the integration of ICT in infrastructure, motorway tolls, interurban traffic, Smart Cities, public transport, vehicles and transport of goods. Remarkably enough, this kind of distribution mixes up solutions for people and solutions for businesses. For example, managing tolls is important both for transport of goods and for people’s travel. Car park management is also relevant for commercial vehicles and fleets, not only for individual people needing a car park place in their area of residence.
ITS and digital technology
As happens with any other aspect that involves digital technologies and communications, the ITS field is becoming extremely wide. Nevertheless, this has not always been the case.
The first ITS systems consisted in the implementation of electronic light systems for roads. The design and implementation of a traffic light network was an overwhelming challenge back in the 30s, when technology began to merge with transport systems. To date, technology includes sensors and communication networks, electric propulsion system included in energy distribution and charge networks, computerized systems for traffic management and even systems for autonomous driving or for building smart roads. Fleet management is a business areas where seemingly unrelated companies, such as Telefónica, are involved , as they have ultimately found arguments to offer services and solutions for resource management in companies devoted to transport of goods, vehicle renting or transport of passengers. Companies related to technology are coming closer to logistics of goods and passengers as an area that clearly benefits from disciplines such as Big Data, mobile communications, the Internet of Things or even mobile devices and applications in areas such as Floating Car Data (FCD), in which mobile devices such as smartphones capture data about position, speed and other vehicle parameters in real time. Process digitalization eventually reduces all processes to information bits travelling along communication networks and processed in data centers so that the required calculations may be done almost in real time. They will be translated into a dynamic signaling change, a traffic alert for GPS or in-vehicle navigation or an incident to be reported to the operation center of a fleet.
xFrom the architecture and urbanism point of view, transport is so important that work is already being done on aerotropolitan areas and aerotropolis, instead of metropolitan areas and metropolis. Such areas would have airports and air transport at their core, and the remaining residential and commercial infrastructure would be distributed around it. Smart infrastructure are already coming up which integrate sensors and communication systems so that information and data may be sent and received to and from vehicles. Or even make it possible to charge car and lorry batteries using electromagnetic induction technologies.
Intelligent transport, a growing sector
According to a report by Markets;Markets (www.marketsandmarkets.com), the ITS sector will be worth almost $34.000 million dollars in 2020, and its annual growth rate is expected to be over 11% from 2014 until that year. According to Grand View Research, the global market value of intelligent transport was $14,600 million dollars back in 2012 and it is expected to reach $38,600 million worth in 2020 with an annual growth rate of 13%. The main driving force of such growth will be ATMS (Advanced Traffic Management System), which accounted for 39,9% of the total ITS business volume in 2013, along with ATIS (Advanced Traveler Information Systems) or ATPS (Advanced Transportation Pricing Systems). Advanced Public Transport Systems (ATPS) are expected to become the highest-growing sector until 2020, with an annual growth rate of 13,7%. This sector involves monitoring and management technologies that use cameras, sensors installed in vehicles or roads and short- and long-range communication systems.
Several factors -which have become almost essential to model logistic activities -are to be taken into account: delivery deadlines, carbon footprint reduction, fleet optimization or dynamic assignment of resources according to conditions in roads, airports, seaport facilities and railway networks. Logistics and transport of goods are only one area of activity among those that benefit from progress in the ITS sector, along with passenger transport or even the environmental and energy sectors. In fact, it is difficult to set defined boundaries between these application areas. Systems that make it possible for highway tolls to be automatically invoiced are beneficial to both particular users and professional drivers. And the systems that make it possible to determine traffic conditions are good for both a heavy goods lorry and a private car.
Intelligent transport systems are also taken into account by the European Union when considering an increase in citizen’s quality of life and the optimization of communication networks for the transport of goods. The EU has been funding research in the ITS sector for the last 15 years. Projects have included road safety, traffic management, infrastructure management, intermodality, logistics involving containers and international cooperation. Details are provided at http://ec.europa.eu/research/transport/publications/items/intelligent_transport_systems_en.htm, where further information on the EU and its support to ITS (alon with a detailed description of the projects undertaken in the intelligent transport systems area) is provided.
ITS application areas
Wherever Information and Communication Technologies are involved, the transformative power of digital processes may accelerate and interweave the development of a sector at a much faster speed than that provided by traditional methods. Trends such as Cloud Computing, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile communications or organization of cities in terms of smart city parameters may find, in many cases, an almost immediate application in the ITS field. Reports, case studies and trend analysis in the area have identified several application areas that are currently of interest for companies involved in intelligent transport systems. Depending on the source, ITS may involve any kind of transport, or else inland surface transport only. Anyway, several aspects may be underscored, always taking into account that they are just trends right now; some of them are more established than others, but they are still provisional as all trends are.
ATMS (Advanced Traffic Management System)
This is one of the most developed areas in the ITS sector, as well as one facing more variables to be combined. Infrastructure required includes cameras, sensors, automatic vehicle identification, incident management, roads with different sorts of lanes, weather monitoring and forecast systems… Besides, a technology that manages huge amounts of data gathered by sensors and mobile devices in lines of communication is required.
Expressions such as V2I, V2V, I2V or V2X are becoming more and more usual when talking about intelligent transport systems, and they stand for vehicle to vehicle connectivity (V2V), vehicle to infrastructure connectivity (V2I), vehicle to infrastructure and vehicle (V2X) and infrastructure to vehicle (I2V).
Aspects such as dynamic signalling or changing speed limits are extraordinarily complex to implement, and they require finely tuned technologies in both infrastructure and vehicles, which involve national and international legal frameworks.
There are several current projects in the area, such as dynamic road signaling, which also try to achieve standardization all along the strategic Trans-European Road Network (TERN).
IRIS (Intelligent Roadway Information System) is a particularly interesting resource. This is an open source code developed by the Minnesota Department of Transport, which may be downloaded at http://iris.dot.state.mn.us/. Its functionalities include several areas, such as control and limitation of variable speed, camera management, weather forecast information, dynamic messages, incidence management, real time monitoring of vehicles and traffic, map engine, etc. Besides, it is compatible with hardware devices, so that development of control interfaces is not required if the devices initially intended for that purpose are used.
Electronic charging services
Charging for use of communication lines or infrastructure such as bridges, car park places, charge stations for electric vehicles, etc. is something that can be automated. In case the vehicle automatically manages financial transactions with infrastructure, time is saved and charging systems are simpler than those currently used in traditional in-person models. This is what happens in toll motorways, and several initiatives have already been deployed in Europe to charge for road use in a variable manner, according to several parameters (such as kilometres driven, driving time or the vehicle driven) as well as dynamic price policies depending on time and road congestion.
Such policies should be supported by the corresponding technologies, and in fact they are already widely implemented in toll highway by means of automatic charging system, which are internationally valid to travel around European roads. Anyway, it remains difficult to adapt systems to adjust fares in an automatic and dynamic manner, according to road congestion or time periods. Integration of automatic charge technologies in all vehicles remains a challenge too.
An example of an automatic charging system may be found at http://www.as24.com/, in particular the one using the electronic toll service PASSango. It is already working in Portugal, Spain, France and Belgium.
This is a cross-cutting area that involves many of the technologies used in the development of intelligent transport systems. Right now, implemented solutions focus on vehicles or even drivers themselves (using applications in their personal mobile devices), as a proper network of connected, sensor-containing roads is not yet available. Knowing vehicle conditions, their position and other parameters related to load transport, such as temperature and weight, are essential to optimize the use of resources in a moment where logistics is no longer a rigid, fixed area, but an area open to dynamic changes in the transport of goods and people. Safety of transported goods is also a variable to take into account, either because of the intrinsic value of the goods themselves or because of their hazardous nature. Being able to optimize routes to avoid “difficult” zones in the transport network or coordinate fleet movement with intermodal nodes in order to minimize the time required to shift from one mode of transport to another are abilities that may be integrated in logistic companies by using technology. Technology is becoming widely used, even in apparently exotic technologies such as aeronautics. The ITS World Congress to be held in Bordeaux in October 2015 will focus on a more efficient use of space: not only logistic space but also space regarded as the location for satellites with geopositioning technologies, digital cartographies or weather forecast technologies.
Monitorization of logistic infrastructure, as well as infrared cameras for traffic monitoring or improvements in precision and coverage of geopositioning systems such as GPS, GLONASS, Galileo or Beidou are key to implement better and more reliable and resilient ITS policies.
In the backend, using technologies such as BigData and data analytics makes it possible for logistics companies to make real-time decisions about how to handle the resources available, communicate to vehicles and change routes without it being detrimental to drivers or clients. In the frontend, vehicles are beginning to be equipped with standard navigation systems based on Android (or Android-like) technologies that benefit from a broad ecosystem of applications and from well-known, standard development tools. Along with short-range and long-range mobile communication technologies -whether 3G/4G or satellite- it is possible to be in contact with vehicles while minimizing out-of-range time.
Companies such as Telefónica, Vodafone, Garmin, Tomtom or Navteq, among others, are already involved in this area, which requires handling of much more complex parameters and data than those used in navigation for vehicles. Aspects such as legal restrictions in terms of height, width, weight, hazardous materials, times and dates, warnings on sharp bends or steep slopes, as well as particular points of interest are an added value to manage vehicle fleets.
Car park issues were also given a specific section. Much work has been done in car park regulations (mostly in cities), with different outcomes. Technology is currently producing interesting initiatives, which are in most cases included in the smart city context and have a significant technological background. Parking meters connected to apps that enable managing payment from cell phones are recent, and have been widely introduced in cities such as Madrid. In fact, Madrid was the first city to implement a system with higher fares for older cars (with higher pollution levels), that also permits using car park places in the outskirts for more than 12 hours in a row, in order to encourage using park places away from downtown and moving there using the public transport system.
Some projects go beyond fares and use technologies in the Internet of Things (IoT) sector, such as ground sensors to detect and manage car park places or technologies that make it possible to charge variable fares according to demand, time or vehicles involved (as shown in the parkimeter approach in Madrid). Santander -a paradigm of smart initiatives for cities- has launched a project using Libelium sensors (www.libelium.com/es/) that detects free car park places and provides information on panels and apps about free car park space available in streets (www.libelium.com/smart_santander_parking_smart_city/). Xerox is also doing research on the use of connected sensors to manage parking spaces in a smart way, and they have pilot projects in complex cities such as Los Angeles, where fares are almost tailor-made. In Spain, Apparcar (www.apparcar.com/) is developing a project with Wayra to manage available places in a smart manner with no need for sensors at all. After all, the ultimate goal is to make the time required to park the vehicle as short as possible.
As for the transport of goods, parking issues are important because the time required to park a lorry or a van must be included in the driving time recorded by tachographs. Depending on the arrival point or on how many times the driver stops, time devoted to searching for the right place for the vehicle is not always quantifiable in a precise way, which may even involve not complying with regulations or unbalancing time frames previously assigned to transportation. At the urban level, logistics of goods supply requires a somewhat hand-made control of places to park vehicles for bulk loading and unloading. Some places are reserved, but in a non-efficient, rigid manner.
Progressive introduction of electric mobility will involve making parking places suitable for infrastructure needs in terms of battery reload, and include battery charge points and energy fare systems. Current technologies make it possible to load 80% of the batteries of some cars, such as Volkswagen e-GOLF, in about 30 minutes, but a direct current source is required for that. Right now, electric industrial vehicles are just a tiny part of the total, but they are expected to be adopted in the medium- and long-term.
Electric vehicles will require the association of car park places to charge points, as it will be essential to park the vehicle to charge it, whether for half an hour or for several hours.
Sustainability and safety
In terms of sustainability, reducing the carbon footprint is a significant challenge. One of the goals of the Europe 2020 project is the reduction of gas emissions in 20 percentage points as compared to 1990 emissions, not to mention the need to reduce CO2 emissions as soon as possible. ITS are essential for the optimization of vehicle usage, and industrial vehicles also require optimization of available resources: making routes efficient permits the reduction of emitted CO2, as well as save fuel and reduce the number of hours travelled. Proper management of intermodality, traffic management or climate conditions makes it possible to make decisions in a dynamic way, tailored to the given conditions. Companies such as TomTom, Garmin or Navteq are already taking such parameters into account in their company-wide navigation systems, as well as the planification of routes adapted to the goods being transported in order to avoid problems with warning lights or the use of motorways without the proper infrastructure for heavy load vehicles.
Fleet management systems -even applications installed in mobile devices- are capable of analyzing driving habits of both private citizens and professionals. This makes it possible to advice, or state, modifications to improve efficiency, avoid speed limits being exceeded or even tailor insurance plans to different clients. Good drivers pay less while careless drivers pay more, for example.
Car crash reduction is another essential element, both for people’s integrity and for that of goods and vehicles. Much remains to be done in the field, in terms of smart roads and connected vehicles, for instance. Autonomous vehicles with automated driving systems are already being developed by companies such as Google and manufacturers such as Volvo, Mercedes or even Tesla, but there is a long way ahead before they may become widely used.
Electric and hybrid vehicles
Some hybrid and electric vehicles may currently be seen in roads, but they are mostly private cars intended for the residential market. From a professional point of view, it is already possible to use electric vans and low-tonnage-range vehicles, as long as they are used in the city or in the outskirsts exclusively. The main issue when using electric engines in long-range transport is the absence of a proper charge point network in motorways, so that route planification may indeed be realistic. Be that as it may, vehicle manufacturers are already designing hybrid technologies, but low penetration is expected: estimations are that 350.000 vehicles will have been sold worldwide by 2020.
In cities, distribution fleets, urban transport and service vehicles such as garbage collectors are perfectly suited to include such technologies. For instance, Coca-Cola uses hybrid and electric lorries and takes advantage of this green message to add value to the technology.
Work is being done on induction charge systems to be added to roads, so that battery charge may be done while the car is moving along. Nevertheless, such an approach requires a significant investment, as well as the coordination of several agents to bring it to life: manufacturers, states and users should collectively stand up for this kind of technologies.
Technology, circular references and convergence
When going deeper into some of the aspects involved in the definition of a Smart City, it will be fairly easy to reach a point in which circular references among different elements are obtained. Transport and mobility are two of them. From the smart cities perspective, mobility and transport are fundamental pillars in the definition of urban spaces. From the transport perspective -smart transport systems, to be precise- smart cities are a separate entity that deserves its own treatment, as can be seen in the programmes of several renowned events to be held in the next few months in the ITS area.
Essentially, convergence stands out as the underlying process. Sooner or later, convergence will unify everything that keeps together the use of technology and digital methods, connectivity and practices such as the integration of cloud services in the cloud.
Companies such as ClearView offer specific solutions for mobility and traffic in the Smart City area. The online application http://www.clearviewtraffic.com/smartcity/ is an educational, interactive tool that makes it possible to obtain a global overview of the challenges faced by a city when it comes to traffic integration for vehicles, bikes and pedestrians.
Smart transport systems have been an area of interest for several decades: governments, manufacturers and logistic companies kept an eye on them. Nevertheless, it is now, when the ICT have come to play a more relevant role, that the range of players in the field is opening up. ITS-centered events make it possible to bring clients, entities and manufacturers in contact, as well as discuss further steps to be taken in the area. Three events may be highlighted among all those that are to take place in the near future. In these events, smart cities will be present as an application area for intelligent transport systems:
- V ITS Meeting Euskadi
Donostia, October 24th, 2014
- XV Congreso Español sobre Sistemas Inteligentes de Transporte
XV Spanish Meeting on Smart Transport Systems
Madrid, April 14th-16th, 2015
- ITS World Congress
Bordeaux, October 5th-9th, 2015