Intertraffic’s series of technology features continues with a focus on developments in Intelligent Traffic Management. Four major players in the field (from SWARCO, Q-Free, Verra Mobility and Signify) give us their opinions on where the sector is heading – and how they are helping to shape that journey.
Products or solutions
Over the last decade or so the word “solutions” has begun to take over from seemingly archaic terms such as “products”. Innovators no longer create new products, they deliver solutions. The key here, though, is for something to be considered truly a solution it has to actually solve a problem. The global pause caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has, perhaps, enabled companies from every industry to take stock of their offerings and evaluate whether or not they do actually solve a problem and can therefore be considered solutions. Otherwise, it could be said, answers are being created before the question has been asked.
We spoke with four true solution providers to ascertain how they are approaching the so-called ‘new normal’ and how they are tackling some of the transport sector’s most enduring issues in differing ways but with the same end-goal in mind.
Three years ago, SWARCO initiated the largest strategic program in the Group’s history with the inception of MyCity. Initially, a fairly heterogeneous central software portfolio covering a range of mobility domains was migrated into a single platform utilizing cutting-edge architecture and technology stacks. In parallel, over 450 in-depth interviews were held with stakeholders from various domains of mobility in order to gain a deep understanding of their customers’ pain points and technological needs.
“This data served and continues to serve as the heaviest weighted data point when it comes to planning our roadmap,” says Niko Stieldorf, Global Business Development Manager, Software Platforms, with SWARCO in Berlin. “The result is a platform which convinces through its modern look & feel delivering the feature-richness of a multitude of our proven legacy software products and new features with the single aim to solving our customers’ most critical pain points in the world of urban mobility management. With our customer-centric approach and modularity we seem to meet clients specific budgetary, hosting, and functional requirements.”
So let’s revert to the initial question that is at the heart of this article: what problem does it solve?
“MyCity offers answers to obvious critical urban pain points such as air pollution, multi-modality, the emergence of connected and autonomous vehicles, or resource shortages within the traffic department,” replies Stieldorf.
Breaking down silos
“We’re moving into the space of becoming a smart and connected city and municipalities understand that this starts with breaking down silos. The urban mobility space must not be managed by a range of completely independent systems where one focuses on classic traffic management, another on wayfinding, the other on parking prices and enforcement and another on monitoring all field devices to minimize downtimes. That is why we ‘architected’ MyCity as a Mobility Management system where the customer can freely choose between different modules from different domains which, once activated, interact with each other and therefore provide tangible improvements to quality of life.
“What has to be embodied in the space of mobility is the challenge of how fast cities can adopt innovations into their operations in a strategically planned and operationally controlled manner,” he continues. “MaaS and the sudden, unauthorized appearance of seemingly countless micromobility devices on sidewalks are examples of rapid disruptive innovations that pose immense challenges for cities.”
MyCity, hosted in SWARCO’s cloud provides an answer to this challenge by continuously and seamlessly upgrading customers’ systems with the latest features as a part of their Software as a Service (SaaS) contract. “Features in return are built based on our customers’ most critical needs and SWARCO’s interlaced involvement in the technology and innovation community,” he explains.
When it comes to protecting critical infrastructure small and medium-sized cities don’t have the in-house expertise or budget to build and continuously support a highly secure IT infrastructure, another critical element of a 21st Century intelligent traffic management setup.
“At a minimum, a possible breach poses substantial risk to their public perception. What we encounter increasingly is the actual penetration and bringing in control of a system. You only have to search on Google for a few minutes to find the latest news about variable message signs showing obscene content instead of safety critical information. MyCity allows cities to focus on their core operations and outsourcing the provision of IT infrastructure following the footsteps of banks, health insurances and hospitals who work with highly-sensitive data.”
Kinetic: Customer-facing traffic management systems
Q-Free, intelligent traffic management has taken a slightly different approach of late. Rather than solely focus on systems to meet the individual needs of urban and interurban transportation operators, the company has concentrated on developing an innovative, customer-focused delivery platform, Kinetic Mobility. The new ATMS platform offers a new approach on the concept: customer choice with traffic management in a single dashboard.
The organisaton's strategy was born from conversations with clients according to Morten Andersson, Senior Executive Vice President of Traffic Management. “Several agencies told us they felt trapped by outdated sales processes that forced them to purchase irrelevant products and costly add-ons just to get the solution they really needed,” said Andersson. “We took those conversations and built a holistic, modular platform that unites all our solutions under a single thin-client dashboard.”
The global pandemic further underscored the importance for customers to manage large-scale, previously disparate local, urban, and interurban systems – whether independently or comprehensively – through a secure, web-based system. Operators must be able to respond to traffic management scenarios regardless quickly and efficiently, regardless of their physical location. Regular rollouts of new Kinetic Mobility offerings, allow agencies to build out their system in a way that best suits the needs of their communities.
The platform also comes with interoperable scalable traffic management. Kinetic Mobility can work across multiple and adjacent jurisdictions. This could be a huge advantage for traffic controllers who routinely have to deal with whatever traffic situations other communities hand them. “Regional coordination is a huge advantage,” says Andersson. “During events or in peak travel hours, the implications of regional collaboration are profound in minimizing congestion and getting people where they’re going efficiently and safely. Not to be dramatic, but in emergencies and natural disasters, coordinated evacuation away from the crisis can mean the difference between a positive outcome, injury or worse.”
Q-Free is a founding member of the #FREEtheMIBS campaign, a broad-based effort to share vendor specific management information bases (MIBs), the language that allows devices to communicate with one another. Kinetic follows directly in those footsteps. Among the planned upcoming releases: video management, ramp metering, and adaptive signal control. Andersson says, “As a technology vendor, we got out of our comfort zone and let our customers design the path. It turns out, they were right all along.”
Renewed vigour: traffic management detection with sensors
Verra Mobility’s recent purchase of Redflex has given Mark Talbot, Executive Vice President for Government Solutions, a new perspective on the global transportation market, but in terms of advancements in smart infrastructure, intelligent traffic management, and in particular safety, detection and enforcement, it’s full steam ahead – only with additional power.
“One challenge we face in traffic management is to come up with technology that allows our customers to be roadway operators, those responsible for congestion management and roadway safety, to gather as much detailed information as they can to make the most efficient decisions and ultimately, not only improve capacity in the roadway to reduce congestion, but to also do it in a way that makes the roadway more safe,” Talbot proffers. “And I think from that perspective, those are the things that we're trying to do as we advance the detection capabilities of our sensors. As we advance the interpretation of the data that we gather it allows operators to make better decisions, really down to the lane level as to what they believe are safe and appropriate activities. Again, they improve the capacity of the roadways as they stand, but it also makes them safer.”
Improving road safety
Now that the sale of Redflex is complete, what is occupying Talbot’s time and what is his team at Verra Mobility currently working on, in the intelligent traffic management sphere, that might see the light of day in the next year?
“The first thing is the further improvement of our Red X solution, which allows operators to manage the shoulder for additional capacity and also distracted driving. We're going to try to understand whether or not there's folks using a phone when they shouldn't be, whether they are wearing a seatbelt and so on,” Talbot responds. “From a roadway safety standpoint, I think long term, you may see actual more lane specific types of regulation or restrictions, to the extent that we can gather information and identify which vehicles are in which lane at which time. I think that will also allow operators to really manage the traffic flow on major motorways. So I think all of it really focuses on ensuring that we get the most information out of the sensors. So that in essence, it sees what's there and allows operators to interpret and make the appropriate decisions.”
When Talbot looks at the intelligent traffic management market as a whole, what trends does he see emerging that are likely game-changers… or if not game-changers, then game enhancers? Talbot is clearly feeling very positive about the future. “One of the benefits of the acquisition is the depth of the subject matter expertise within the company, the resources available and the markets we have access to. Where in the past as Redflex, we may have been following trends, as Verra Mobility will have the opportunity and capability to lead. We can we can move more quickly, and deliver solutions that are forward-looking, because we'll have the luxury of making that investment. We have the capacity to deliver on those solutions, and the subject matter expertise to really market it and sell it to the industry.”
As for Covid-19 and its domino effect on the traffic industry, Talbot agrees that the past 16 months have been an unusual time from a transportation standpoint, but that new methods of gathering and analysing data have come to the fore and aided the intelligent traffic management sector.
“It was such a fascinating gathering of data during the height of the pandemic and to be honest we're still evaluating what happened. The data speaks to us and tells us what happens when you reduce congestion and expand the capacity in the roadway. We actually saw less safe driving. So there's a tremendous amount of data that we could only theorize about in the past, I think we will continue to analyze it going forward as we strive towards better, more efficient solutions.
Smart street lighting and EU Green Deal: an illuminating discussion
For Mehmet Aras, Global Segment Leader for Transportation and Smart Mobility at Signify, the ‘lull’ gave the Dutch company time to take a breath, re-evaluate their approach and take a closer look at city stakeholders’ pain points and needs. While there may be more focus on pedestrians and bicyclists than there was before, one thing didn’t change: safety is still the number one priority for road and street managers.
“The pandemic has changed many things around the world, at least temporarily. Traffic loads and patterns on highways and city streets, for example, were altered dramatically, and in many municipalities reduced, due to business and school closures and the increase in remote working,” he explains. “Many street lighting renovation projects have also been postponed or delayed, although new incentive plans like the EU Green Deal are bringing the renovation rates up again.”
The other priorities that support Signify’s approach to smart street lighting are also still firmly in place. Keeping traffic moving is still an important consideration and with less congestion on the roads over the past 16 months, drivers have been able to experience the advantages of smooth traffic flow first hand.
Says Aras: “Sustainability may well be a more important consideration than ever, as the pandemic has put more focus on finding global solutions to global problems. The need for economic growth is front and centre, as businesses and communities begin to recover from the effects of long-term shutdowns and interruptions. Connected street lighting, like our Interact IoT lighting software and systems, remains a powerful and effective tool for achieving all of these priorities, beginning with safety."
"Being able to deliver the right light in the right location is perhaps that largest contributor to roadway safety at night, where good visibility is at a premium. But being able to do so on demand, dynamically adjusting street and roadway lighting using sensors that deliver data on current conditions, can also support sustainability goals by reducing the amount of energy used for lighting. There’s no point in fully lighting a roadway if nobody is using it.”
Connected street lights for safe, sustainable, smart infrastructure
With more than 2.5 million connected light points globally, Signify has proved how effective connected street lighting software and systems can be for managing lighting infrastructure properly, and yet, only 3% of street lights are connected globally. This number is expected to grow to 29% by 2027, but there is still an enormous opportunity for municipalities around the world to make the future of mobility a reality today.
“The current situation is especially advantageous for cities contemplating energy-efficient lighting renovations,” Aras suggests. “Major sustainability initiatives like the EU Green Deal and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework in the US are making funds available for building smart infrastructure today. And these are no halfway measures: US President Joe Biden’s plan earmarks hundreds of billions of dollars for roads, bridges, public safety, connectivity, environmental remediation, and other critical actions.”
Connected lighting has a central role to play in all of this, but in reality there is no one silver bullet. “Building safe, sustainable, smart infrastructure is an ecosystem game. The real wins occur when different systems, including lighting, are integrated. Then it’s possible to aggregate data from many different sources and analyze that data to gain actionable insight,” Aras adds, enthusiastically.
“Awareness of the benefits and, conversely, of the dangers of doing nothing, is important, but investment must follow. Technology providers, city authorities, researchers, citizen action groups, all stakeholders must share their experience and work together to build the highways of tomorrow. Why not aim to make 100% of all street lights connected, creating the most extensive mesh network in the world? We have the technology. Now we need to work together to get it done.”