Smart transport: Why integrating systems is key to improving mobility

4 min read

Traditionally, transport – and passenger transport in particular – has been provided in a non integrated way. The Transport Systems Catapult has been set up to change this. "We call the market we focus on intelligent mobility," stated Paul Zanelli, chief technical officer, "which is the efficient and cost effective movement of goods and people."

It is a global market that Zanelli predicts will grow to £900billion by 2025. To put that into context, that figure is approximately 30% of the UK's current GDP. "Spend on technology and products and services that better integrate transport is becoming an increasing proportion of the transport market," said Zanelli. "We see there are a number of enabling technology markets, like wireless and mobile communications, and the Internet of Things." Looking at transport from a systems perspective is the key step. A classic case would be integrated ticketing and there are several examples where this has provided a rapid return on investment, as well as an improved customer experience. But this has not extended to treating transport as a single system, as the Catapult aims to do, according to Zanelli. "You can't just say 'I want to go from A to B' and rely on transport providers to provide you with the most cost effective or quickest journey. It is up to you to find out all the ways of making the journey, how the different aspects of transport work and configure the journey yourself." There are five main areas into which the Catapult is looking and the biggest of these focuses on smart infrastructure. Zanelli provided the Crossrail project as an example of how this will work. "During the build phase, it's got sensors everywhere and they can still be used during the operational phase, so operators can manage their infrastructure over time and do maintenance based on condition, rather than on a scheduled approach." Autonomous vehicles is another area with big potential and is a sector viewed by the Catapult as being disruptive in terms of how they integrate into the wider transport system. Autonomous vehicles is one of the most interesting areas from the perspective of electronics and sensor technologies. The LUTZ Pathfinder large scale demonstrator (see below), currently underway in Milton Keynes, is responding to the growing need for 'mobility on demand' – with demand and supply balanced through intelligent, data driven systems. Of less direct interest to the electronics sector, but fundamental to the work of the Catapult, is the 'customer experience' – understanding how transport mobility can be delivered in terms of customer benefit, rather than looking at just a train line or a road in isolation. A recurring theme across all of the Catapults is the exploitation of information; the collection of all kinds of data and its integration. This is intended to provide a useful tool and resource for building new products and services. Several of the Transport Systems Catapult's projects are being undertaken in partnership with other Catapults. The Instant Weather project (ITWIP, see page 20) for example, being conducted with the Connected Digital Economy Catapult, uses newly available data streams from the Met Office to provide a platform for new services in Sunderland. ITWIP also satisfies the last of the Catapult's five main areas of interest; that of resilience to climate and sustainability. Zanelli said: "Increasingly, the transport system is affected by the variability of weather and we need to make it more resilient to that. We need a better understanding of what is going on with the weather, we need better knowledge of the condition of the infrastructure and we need to put all of that information into the planning and decision making systems so we can better manage the transport system." When it comes to selecting projects for the Catapult to develop and the technologies that ensue, Zanelli believes that the Catapult must be brave, rather than safe. "We do innovation, and you can't do innovation if you don't have risk. We need to look at big, hard challenges and some of those will fail. That means we need a portfolio approach to our projects to make sure that the overall portfolio delivers and we don't take risk out of the system by looking at individual projects." An obvious example is the uncertainty about autonomous vehicles. With Google doing test drives in San Francisco and Audi claiming its A7 can drive itself, the technology is very close to being with us. Some people think autonomous vehicles might be a reality by next year, while others believe that public acceptance, legal and insurance issues will mean they won't happen for another 20 or 30 years. Zanelli commented: "But it might be that autonomous vehicles are first introduced in the maritime sector because the potential efficiencies from use of data information in terms of navigation, weather, utilisation of sails to optimise shipping and so on are huge." For all such applications, the Catapult is looking for partners to stimulate project ideas and to develop world-leading products and services. "We see the SME community, as well as bigger companies, as a key driver for growth in markets. So we are looking at building up a database of companies working within intelligent mobility – we need to work with them to understand what they are trying to get into the market and how we can help." Case study – Low Carbon Urban Transport Zone (LUTZ) Pathfinder LUTZ, which is running in Milton Keynes, is a large scale demonstrator of autonomous (driverless) pods looking at the potential of cloud-enabled mobility and transport on-demand services. Zanelli said: "We are looking at how aspects of this technology will be adopted more quickly. How do people behave? Will people accept autonomous pods? How will it impact the way in which people travel? How can we better use it to manage demand? Then there is the issue of how can we incentivise people to travel in a different way to make the overall transport system operate more effectively?" The vehicles will be made by Coventry-based RDM Automotive, following a tender process. The company will work with the Catapult and with Oxford University's Mobile Robotics Group to produce three prototype electric-powered pods for testing along the pavements of Milton Keynes in 2015. The research vehicle prototypes can be used to trial a range of operating technologies from SMEs and global companies. Carrying up to two passengers and with a top speed of around 7mph, the pods are intended to increase the number of mobility options available to the public, whilst reducing congestion and carbon emissions. Due to safety concerns, the the three pods in the assessment programme will have one seat permanently taken up by test drivers.