Big ideas

  • 2017-11-23 01:49
  • Dan Hubert, Intertraffic World Magazine
  • Amsterdam

Big data is already helping drivers and road authorities to find and plan parking spaces more efficiently, but the revolution is only just beginning. How much further can it take the transportation world?

Technology in transport has been advancing rapidly in the last few years, with the race to autonomous vehicles dominating the headlines. But many have ignored the smaller, less flashy technology that is making it all possible. While autonomous driving has been taking center stage, transport companies have been quietly investing in big data, installing sensors and trackers to collect information that can provide better insights into the future of our roads. This can range from an app collecting data on parking spaces to a dashboard-based traffic-light countdown, linked to a road authority database. Regardless of the method, the benefits of this data are huge.

Big data analytics can be applied in all sorts of contexts, including to social media and real-time traffic information, and recent advancements in analytical techniques have allowed us to extract insight from data sets with previously unattainable levels of sophistication, speed and accuracy.

This insight and advancement means valuable information gleaned from big data can now be applied a wide range of industries beyond the computer and science labs, with a global study by IMB revealing that companies that have implemented big data projects were around 15% more likely to report a significant advantage from information and analytics than those relying on traditional business analytics alone.

Big data in transportation
One benefit of big data is capacity optimization, which enables traffic and parking systems to effectively forecast demand. By analyzing data, algorithms can draw out patterns and correlations from current and historical data.

This is something being studied by UK-based smart parking company AppyParking. It is currently collecting data, via sensors in cities throughout the UK, that allows it to see if spaces are available. Over time, it hopes to share this insight with road authorities to help them plan where future parking spaces should be built. Being able to see which areas are in highest demand, planners will gain a better understanding of their cityscape, which will be essential during planning stages. As more data is mined, the accuracy of the forecasting and planning models will improve.

Smart asset management
Capturing and analyzing transportation data will also help authorities and transport companies manage and maintain their current systems and improve safety, performance and equipment life through predictive maintenance analytics. Transport for London (TfL) has been leading the way in this sphere for a number of years, utilizing the 20 million interactions that are captured through its ticketing system every day. The organization recognized that simply having the data wasn’t enough, and has used it to build a comprehensive picture of travel patterns across its rail and bus networks. This allows TfL to improve its networks, design interchange planning and review the impact of closures and diversions – making the experience more streamlined for the commuter. These solutions can be achieved by using real-time sensor data alongside data from manual measurements, performance videos and operational data to create a complete picture of transportation demand across the capital.

Eyes on the road
Technology is already heavily used in vehicles, with 74% of motorists using tech devices to aid their driving. This is set to increase, with research from Aviva suggesting that 19 million UK motorists could be using dash cams within the year, providing a wealth of data sources. The dash cams themselves can analyze video information, and also provide a great resource for analytics solutions and reporting, which will help companies improve service levels and reduce the risk of unplanned delays.

However, this information will only be effective if it is used in the right way. At the moment, the technology is only being trialled and applied in isolated areas, creating virtual roadblocks to future innovation. Governments and businesses need to share the information and insight they are collating to make sure the solution is applicable for everyone.

Open data
There has been a move toward this, with the creation of the Transport Sector Transparency Board in the UK in a bid to encourage open data, but a large number of data sets remain inaccessible, incomplete or inaccurate, due to the fragmented industry approach to the sharing of data across multiple service providers.

Global digital mapping company Here is encouraging businesses to share data through its Real-Time Traffic system. With time and money being lost by a driver every time they sit in traffic, Here wanted to create a smarter driving experience, to give the driver access to information about congestion and incidents in order to help them adjust their routes. The company has designed a collaborative model that it hopes will become an industry standard, as it recognizes that a richer data pool for all will ultimately help improve traffic and roads across the world.

This in turn would also help speed up the progress toward autonomous cars. These vehicles will only be as powerful as their surroundings, but if we can get smart communications systems in place before these inventions hit the streets, we will be better prepared to monitor them and ensure a smooth transition. As more cars become connected, more sensors will be in place and better data will become available.

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