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Smart transport

Woman using smart bus stop to call CAV

What does the growth in CAVs mean for the future of mass transport?

By | CAV, Infrastructure, Multimodal transport, Public Transport, Smart transport | No Comments

How things change. Just a decade ago, the majority of people wouldn’t even know what a ‘Connected vehicle’ was. The past few years, however, have seen several transport technologies shift from the realm of fantastical to entirely possible.

The rapid pace of technological development has brought us to a point where an entirely connected transport infrastructure is not just possible, it’s becoming a reality as we speak. Likewise, the growth of data-sharing devices and AI has given rise to a new form of transport; the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV). These AI-driven, data-guided vehicles represent an opportunity to improve safety, reduce congestion and revolutionise travel as we know it.

What are CAVs?

The term CAVs actually covers a broad range of vehicle types. Some of these are already on our roads, while some (despite what excitable tech bosses might tell you) are still several years away from commercial deployment.

‘Connected vehicles’ refers to vehicles with the capability to ‘talk’ to each other and to the infrastructure around them. These vehicles communicate through onboard devices that connect to the internet, which then send information to other vehicles containing the same technology. These devices usually take the form of a dynamic onboard router, but they can also be GPS units, tachographs, or even a smartphone hooked up to an onboard computer. Connected vehicles have also been in use for several years. Features like automated emergency braking and lane assist technology are already included as standard in many new vehicles.

Fully automated vehicles, where the vehicle can navigate without the need for a human driver, however, are still in their tertiary stages. Although there have been some highly publicised test cases, we’re still several years away from seeing them overtake the human-driven car.

Why now?

Transport is in dire need of change. Cities can no longer continue to permit any and all vehicles on the road. Ageing infrastructure, increasing car ownership and dwindling public transport ridership are contributing to record levels of congestion and dangerously poor air quality.

Governments are responding to the demand for more sustainable travel initiatives by integrating technologies like big data, the Internet-of-Things and AI to usher in an era where CAVs are increasingly seen as the most viable option for transport networks.

In Edinburgh, where the government is set to trial it’s first autonomous buses, MSP Michael Matheson said: “The deployment of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles has the potential to bring transformative change to people’s lives, not just in how we travel, but in how we work; where we live; how we can achieve an environment with fewer emissions; and travel more safely.” The potential for CAVs to usher in a new age of clean, efficient transport is clear.

Reducing congestion through demand-responsive bus services

Growth

CAVs can help countries achieve a greater level of sustainability while encouraging greater economic growth and creating a more inclusive society. The market for CAVs in the UK (specifically, for road vehicles with CAV technologies) is estimated to be worth £28bn in 2035, capturing 3% of the £907bn global market. Simultaneously, UK jobs in the manufacture and assembly of CAVs could reach 27,400 in 2035, according to a study commissioned by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).

It’s not just the potential industrial benefits that should push cities to invest more heavily in CAVs, however. Streamlined urban transport allows passengers to get where they need to be faster. With the total cumulative cost of congestion in the UK estimated to be £307 billion from 2013 to 2030, these improvements couldn’t come soon enough.

Besides the benefits to the economy, using CAVs in mass transit can help entice car users back to public transport. This, in turn, enables more research into new technologies, which allows transport networks to grow and develop. It’s a cycle that, when implemented correctly, rewards everyone.

Queue of despondent people waiting at bus stop

Passenger experience

A streamlined service gives passengers more control over their day. When commuters know exactly when their journey will start and end, they can make informed decisions about other aspects of their routine. CAVs, with connected technologies optimising every journey, mean more reliability, leading to improved passenger satisfaction and increased patronage.

Onboard connectivity also allows passengers to create their own entertainment during the journey. Passenger WiFi enables commuters to browse socials, check emails or catch up on the headlines. With onboard entertainment, meanwhile, passengers can sit back and pass their journey with the latest TV, movies and music.

Perhaps most importantly, CAV’s will be vital to a future in which ‘Mobility as a Service’ (MaaS) is the standard transport model. MaaS means unifying myriad forms of public transport (train, buses, taxis, bicycles) to give commuters access to on-demand transport. MaaS offers the most economically and environmentally efficient solution to urban travel, but it’s only possible with connected vehicles. This form of multimodal travel is also the most convenient, which increases the chances passengers will use it.

Women using smartphones on a bus

Drivers

Whilst fully automated vehicles would render the human driver obsolete, that doesn’t mean vehicles would be completely unstaffed. Operators that have already trialled autonomous buses have so far retained human drivers in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Even with the AI handling navigation, onboarding and interaction with external infrastructure, passengers will invariably expect a human presence.

Of course, the shift from human to AI driver will inevitably lead to a reduction in drivers. Indeed, that’s one of the biggest attractions to transport operators; allowing them to save on wages while improving efficiency. But, at least for the first generation of CAVs, it looks like drivers will still be a required element.

For drivers of public transport today, it’s the ‘connected’ element of CAVs that offer the most opportunity. With connected vehicles, buses can ‘talk’ to every element of connected infrastructure. Other vehicles, traffic lights, road signs, even the roads themselves can provide information inform driver decisions. This helps to reduce congestion and coordinate journeys to reduce travel times.

Driverless CAV vehicle computer rendering

Safety

Reducing road dangers, for pedestrians and passengers, is of utmost importance to every transport operator. A major advantage of CAVs is they remove the margin for human error. Automated vehicles will never be too tired, drunk, or just distracted, to responsibly control a vehicle.

This improvement in safety, however, may not be obvious to passengers. Those already using public transport do so because they trust the driver to deliver them safely to their destination. This confidence doesn’t necessarily extend to new technologies.

A recent survey on public attitudes to driverless cars revealed just 17% of people would feel safe in an autonomous vehicle, compared with 61% in a human-controlled vehicle. This is partly the result of a general mistrust of new, (relatively) unproven technologies. But public reticence also stems from high-profile incidents in which AI failed to anticipate the most unpredictable of all variables; human behaviour. These behaviours; for instance, hand signals from traffic police, are key to maintaining safety on the roads. For now, at least, human driver behaviour is beyond the understanding of even the most advanced autonomous vehicles.

As Google’s Chris Urmson (co-founder of Aurora, an autonomous vehicle start-up) explained, self-driving vehicles are only safe in a vacuum; they can’t guarantee safety as long as there are other humans driving on the same road.

Environment

The transport sector is now the biggest contributor to CO2 emissions in the UK. The latest government figures show CO2 emissions from transport decreased by just 2%, meaning it now accounts for 26% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. For the UK to achieve it’s carbon reduction targets, the transport industry must push measures to reduce emissions now. Public transport, and CAVs, in particular, will be at the forefront of these efforts.

As more cities introduce Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in a bid to improve air quality, public transport must adapt with it. Part of this change requires introducing technologies that reduce congestion and optimise traffic flows. CAVs will play a key role in this change.

At its heart, connected transport is about creating a genuinely open ecosystem. CAVs only function in a cohesive and connected world; a world in which data informs every aspect of the journey. The rapid growth of the IoT sector is a testament to how much faith cities are placing in the power of data. Data from public transport can inform every stage of the commuter journey, and reduce fuel consumption in the process.

Red bus driving through London with Gherkin obscured in background

So far, autonomous transport technology has focused on the individual. Much more important is investment in mass transport options to draw people away from car travel. It’s only through encouraging greater use of the current transport infrastructure that we can hope to develop new services that truly appeal to the needs of passengers.

Even with major investment, rural areas could be shut out of the connected vehicle revolution. The majority of government grants will go to the largest national and municipal transport bodies. Simultaneously, most independent operators aren’t in a position to invest in autonomous vehicles. Sadly, while autonomous public transport could become a reality within the next ten years, it’s still just a dot on the horizon for the majority of transport companies.

Get in touch with Sygnal to for help on integrating onboard technologies into your own vehicles.

Woman smiling using in taxi WiFi

5 reasons in-taxi WiFi is essential for modern taxi firms

By | Passenger Wifi, Smart transport, Sygnal Bites, Taxi | No Comments

As every taxi firm knows, new technologies promising to ‘revolutionise the journey’ are ten to a penny these days. However, that’s not to say there aren’t valuable technologies out there. For every ten new innovations, there is one that can genuinely increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve the passenger experience.

Of all these new transport technologies, it’s safe to say that onboard WiFi has had the biggest impact on the passenger journey. In fact, WiFi is now a ubiquitous feature on buses, trains and even planes. All of this leaves you wondering, why has the taxi industry been so slow to embrace the onboard network? If you’re operating a taxi firm without onboard WiFi installed in your cabs, you probably have your reasons, but it’s worth considering the arguments for WiFi. After all, just as an object will select the path of least resistance, passengers will always opt for the transport with the best connectivity.

Everyone wants onboard WiFi

It’s not exactly news that the world today is fixated on connectivity. At home, at work, at the pub; it doesn’t matter where we are, we want to maintain some kind of digital link with the world. For taxi firms, onboard WiFi represents the next logical evolution in customer service. Your passengers aren’t simply looking for the cheapest and most reliable form of private travel – they’re looking for comfort, consistency and connection.

Even passengers on a relatively short journey will appreciate access to in-taxi WiFi, particularly if they’re young. Passengers on their way to work can use the connectivity to start the workday early. Meanwhile, passengers unsure of their exact destination can use the onboard WiFi to establish where they need to be dropped off.

Businessman using in-taxi WiFi on tablet

Overseas visitors need WiFi

Travelling overseas is great, but it’s not always ideal for connectivity. While data-roaming is now fairly consistent across the EU, visitors from elsewhere often have to shell out large amounts for a data package. That’s why tourists arriving at an airport are more likely to choose a taxi with WiFi.

Whether checking into their hotel, arranging to meet friends or just finding their bearings, in-taxi WiFi is an invaluable amenity for overseas passengers. Additionally, the presence of WiFi in a taxi can be more appealing than that of a bus or a fixed public WiFi because the user will be one of the only people connected through the secure 4G connection. Unlike in bars, restaurants or other public areas, passengers using the WiFi in a taxi can be assured that they are accessing the connection alone without the worry of losing speed because of the other passengers already online.

In-taxi WiFi increases brand loyalty

It’s not just overseas passengers that want WiFi wherever they go. Travellers on their way to the airport will always welcome free WiFi. We’ve all been there – rushing to the airport, frantically trying to recall if you locked the front door, checked in for your flight, remembered your reservation details, etc.

These days, travellers have a whole host of ways to check these things (except for the front door, sorry, you’re on your own there). But these last-minute checks, invariably, require some kind of internet connection. And if a passenger can’t use their own data, they’re going to require connection of some kind. That’s why in-taxi WiFi is such a valuable feature – if your connectivity can help them out in an hour of need, they’re more likely to use your firm again.

Black cab with light on and in-taxi WiFi

Personalisation is essential

A captive portal is a great way to engage with your passengers before they begin browsing, not to mention alerting WiFi users to your terms and conditions. It’s also a chance to get to know your passengers. Many firms ask for an email and other contact details before granting access to the internet. This way, firms can keep a record on who has accessed what on their WiFi and keep customers up to date on company news.

It’s important you don’t then bombard their inbox with unnecessary information or spam. It’s always a good idea to offer something on top of company updates in turn for providing contact details. For instance, the chance to enter a competition and win prizes can be enough to prompt passengers to share their contact details.

With passengers willingly submitting their contact details, you can begin to build up a clearer sense of your customer base and tailor services to their specific needs.

Driver satisfaction improves

It’s not just passengers that enjoy access to WiFi. Drivers, who spend more time than anyone in a taxi, will also appreciate the introduction of onboard WiFi. Of course, drivers should never use a device while driving, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t periods of downtime where a driver is required to sit and wait. As we all know, it’s in those moments of boredom that people reach for their phones.

Onboard WiFi isn’t just designed to improve the in-taxi experience. It can also open up new channels of communication for the driver. Of course, firms will already have at least one established line of communication with headquarters. But with onboard WiFi, drivers can also receive updates on traffic developments and adjust routes accordingly.

Driver using in-taxi WiFi to engage with passengers

For taxi firms considering implementing a mobile app, onboard WiFi in every vehicle is a must. Informing passengers about delays prior to pick-up is only possible if the vehicle can report to head office. Drivers can do this manually, but an inbuilt connection enables automatic updates and ensures passengers are never left in the dark.

Get in touch and find out more about Sygnal Taxi WiFi here.

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Using onboard wifi & GPS to navigate traffic

How can onboard WiFi assist in traffic navigation?

By | Smart transport, Sygnal Bites | No Comments

One of the biggest challenges facing mass transit today is effective route management. Traffic navigation is subject to so many influences, it might seem impossible to accurately predict how best to get around an urbanised area. But that’s not necessarily the case, thanks to the growth in data sharing, smart technology and, of course, vehicle tracking.

Optimised journeys with onboard WiFi

Unlike trains or planes, onboard WiFi for road transport, when coupled with GPS, can improve journey times and lead to route-changes that avoid dangers and delays. Sygnal’s vehicle tracking GPS software enables transport companies to identify traffic bottlenecks and devise potential re-routing solutions in real-time.

Of course, for set-journey transport, directing vehicles to alternative routes might be out of the question. That doesn’t mean, however, that action can’t be taken to alert drivers and passengers to the level of traffic they’re likely to encounter on their route. Through WiFi-based monitoring systems, drivers can use this information to inform passengers of expected arrival times and communicate with central-office for subsequent deployments.

It’s not just passengers that benefit from better communication on travel times. Sygnal’s inbuilt positioning software simplifies sharing data between vehicles. Drivers can alert each other to sudden changes in traffic – for instance, if a route has been blocked off or if there’s been an accident – and adjust their route accordingly.

Using onboard wifi for public transport fleet management

Besides the real-time benefits of using onboard WiFi for traffic navigation, the data gathered from tracking vehicle journeys can be used to manage routes according to passenger demand and reduce operational costs. Fleet analytics can tell companies everything from where a vehicle went to, at what time, at what speed it travelled, and how long it remained at certain locations. Increased accuracy with regards to arrival and departure times, particularly when that information can be communicated directly to a passenger/commuters personal device, builds brand trust and improves the overall journey experience.

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Traffic at night long exposure on a smart road

What does smart road technology mean for the future of transport?

By | Feature, Infrastructure, Smart transport, Technology | No Comments

The past decade has seen a huge number of advances in vehicle technology, while technologies for our roads have taken somewhat of a backseat. Congestion in London alone costs £4bn a year in lost productivity; we need technologies now that are capable of streamlining transport and increasing the resilience of our roads.

Thankfully, transport networks, as well as public and private groups, are waking up to the importance of smart road technology in creating a new age of cleaner, faster and more efficient transport.

The smart road technology of today

Smart road technology isn’t exactly a new concept. While the definition of ‘smart technology’ has taken on a new meaning in the past five years, we’ve been integrating different forms of road technology ever since the dawn of the motorcar.

Traffic control measures like speed cameras, automated diversion signals and warning signs for hazardous conditions are standard features on British roads, but even these are evolving as transport authorities gain access to more advanced technologies. With the integration of data from weather reports, vehicles and peak traffic times, roads are becoming more manageable, vehicles reduce their carbon footprint and, most importantly, journeys become safer.

In India, transport authorities have been experimenting with Smartlife poles in areas with high numbers of road accidents. These poles use radar sensors and electromagnetic waves to determine the speed of oncoming traffic. The poles then alert drivers to cars coming from the other direction by ‘honking’. In its initial trial, the technology significantly reduced the number of accidents, and there’s talk of extending the technology to other roads.

By integrating Smartlife poles with the next generation of ‘smart vehicles’, drivers could receive alerts direct to their vehicles and optimise their journeys with minimal disruption.

Smart road technology on long exposure shot highway

Traffic optimisation

Modern urban areas face significant challenges. Congestion, air pollution, inefficient energy consumption and outdated transportation infrastructure all play their part in preventing cities from achieving optimum mobility and sustainability.

Traffic management has been a key feature of urban infrastructure for years, but a new wave of technologies led by the IoT and increased data sharing is breathing new life into city centres.

The aim is ambitious; to create ‘smart cities’ where traffic can be optimised to increase vehicle efficiency and reduce congestion. These networks combine data from vehicles, CCTV and other sources to do everything from changing traffic lights to alerting commuters to bottlenecks and jams so they can choose alternative routes.

Traffic Management as a Service, a project based in the City of Ghent, Belgium, seeks to transform urban traffic control into virtual traffic management services that are smarter and more accessible to the public. The project aims to develop a centralised, cloud-based Traffic Control Centre (TCC). The TCC platform integrates local and global information sources to monitor real-time traffic data for anomalies.

Not only does this enable authorities to access the platform and manage traffic instantly, it allows citizens to register with the system and, by providing their commuting routes and times, receive updates regarding potential obstacles.

Of course, features like updates to suggest alternative routes present an issue for public transport, where vehicles often have to follow a designated journey. That being said, this same technology can be used to free up key urban areas and create more favourable conditions for public transport. Through intelligently prioritising transport options, major transport hubs can look to decrease congestion and improve public transport services.

Using smart road technology to manage traffic jams London
Taxi Traffic – Image courtesy of Garry Knight CC-2.0

Solar powered and wireless charging roads

Of all the futuristic developments in the world of smart road technology, the solar-powered wireless charging road probably sounds the most far-fetched, but it’s also one of the closest to becoming a reality.

Solar Roadways has dedicated the past decade to develop a fully fledged smart highway. Made up of photovoltaic cells and recycled materials, the roads can store huge amounts of solar energy. This energy can then be redistributed to surrounding street lights, used to highlight specific vehicle lanes and even used to melt snow to improve driving conditions.

Although the prohibitive cost of replacing current paved roads means it’s unlikely we’ll be travelling on solar-powered roads any time soon, the technology is already within reach and the savings to countries could be vast.

For the daily commuter, driving along a solar-powered road would be largely similar to the current driving experience, with added safety features like highlighted sections of the road to alert drivers to lane changes and potential hazards ahead. This means safer journeys for everyone and a massive reduction in fuel consumption. What’s not to like?

In the same vein as Solar Roadways, research by the South Korean based R&D university KAIST led to the development of roads capable of wirelessly charging electric vehicles as they travel. The road transfers power directly to a specially designed ‘Online Electric Vehicle’ (OLEV) using electromagnetic induction. While the ‘wireless charging road’ suffers from many of the same issues as the solar road, a model has already been successfully introduced in South Korea to great success. Meanwhile, trials conducted in the UK in 2015 with the aim to increase the variety of electric vehicles taking to the roads were considered a success, so they could become a common sight on motorways as EV’s become more widespread.

The OLEV designed for smart road transport South Korea

Smart infrastructure: A two-way street

Of course, smart infrastructure isn’t just about creating myriad forms of technology, it’s about designing these technologies to work together to create a cohesive, interconnected network. For smart roads to truly work, they must be developed with smart vehicles in mind.

With almost 40 million miles of roadway around the globe, replacing traditional tarmac with digital infrastructure will be a long and arduous task. Simultaneously, with automated transport still in its infancy, it makes sense to develop the two technologies in tandem. After all, for the technologies to truly cooperate, they must respond to each other’s specific requirements.

On the smart roads of the future, inbuilt sensors and feedback loops send updates on real-time conditions to vehicles. These conditions can cover anything from weather mapping to the physical state of the road, transmitted through infrastructure-to-vehicle wireless communication systems.

Additional dynamic features, such as removable magnetic lane markings that work with automated vehicle sensors and retroreflective signs with better readability for automated vehicles are already being introduced across American highways. When developed in conjunction with the new wave of autonomous vehicles, these transport innovations can improve safety and make transport more responsive to the overall needs of local infrastructure.

A Connected Car using smart road technology

The sticking point for smart tech

So, with all these transport innovations within our reach, why are so many figures in the industry so reluctant to embrace the technology? More importantly, what can be done to encourage a more widespread adoption of smart road tech?

It turns out, governments are already considering the answers to these questions. According to research by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), there will be at least 88 fully developed smart cities in the world in the next ten years.

In the UK, the government has committed to a £4 billion investment in smart road technology over the next decade. This will be no easy feat. Ageing infrastructure is a central issue to integrating new technologies into countries such as the UK. Roads and rail networks, some over 200 years old, simply weren’t built for the sheer volume of traffic they’re now witnessing. Installing smart road technology can be highly disruptive, but it’s also vital transport authorities take the opportunity to develop these systems now. Connected vehicles, still in their infancy, are inextricably linked to the smart road. In order to effectively scale both technologies, they must be developed as one.

Traffic at night long exposure on a smart road

Perhaps the biggest issue for local transport authorities is in developing a cohesive but effective transport management strategy. Increased investment and more focus on managing this network in real-time could minimise disruption, but governments shouldn’t shy away from investigating the power of AI.

The sheer manpower required to effectively manage the myriad transport networks of a city like London is staggering, but machine learning and AI could enable the development of a robust, data-informed traffic management strategy.

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