Smart cities will need a helping hand to maintain momentum

The smart city revolution is gathering pace, with year-on-year growth of 17% predicted from now until 2019.

But there is still plenty to do and many challenges that the smart city must rise to, for example, how can technology be applied to combat congestion and mobility in the city and what impact will this have on the nations fleets?

Yet, success is becoming an imperative considering that the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard estimates the ever rising cost of city congestion to the US economy to be about $160Bn, with rush hour commuters wasting upwards of 42 hours a year in congestion. 

One of the major challenges that need to be addressed before these issues can be tackled, however, is the need for significant infrastructure improvements that will take decades to implement. 

The key item is providing adequate communication lines, whether through fibre optic networks or wireless communications.  Such networks will require installation and flexible networking to allow individual nodes within the city to communicate.  Wireless will probably be required for the first and final communications link, with significant demands on bandwidth. Demands, too, on quality electrical power being required throughout the system and the transition to IPv6 needs to be completed so that each component of the system has a unique and protected id.    

While the idea of smart cities communicating with individual vehicles sounds like a distant pipe dream, it does currently exist with the dedicated 5.9Ghz wifi band used for just this role. Despite it being not at the stage where it can be fully operational, the USDOT is working on developing the 5.9Ghz wifi band yet that may not be the final V2V/V2I communications technology.  Indeed, perhaps that technology has not yet been invented.  It will take a variety of communication carriers and bandwidths, with prioritisation of the data, and safety being the highest priority.

Such systems will require the ability to seamlessly shift between communications modes.   A hierarchy will need to be established so that an appropriate mode is selected to ensure that critical, time-sensitive information is not held in a queue during the transmission of other, non-time-sensitive information.  Non-critical information should not use high bandwidth systems unless there is significant slack in the data flow requirements at that point in time.  All of this will have an impact that availability of data flow over V2X systems that are required to enable safety and mobility applications. 

Naturally other challenges include keeping consumers abreast of the potential benefits offered by the smart city and how they can make the most of them.

Legislation, too, has to be addressed with new laws implemented at both Federal and local levels and this new industry will have to, in time, change the debate from one of prevention to that promoting ongoing reaction to new technology and its applications to the smart city.

However, as Big Data and the IoT gains traction, businesses will use the information to save time and money on travel choices, be they personal travel or for goods.  Intelligent transportation systems, connected vehicles and, eventually, automated vehicles will all play a part in the marketplace of mobility. This will serve to facilitate the transportation network companies’ (TNCs) marketplace, including the likes of Uber, becoming even more real-time to meet the mobility demands of the traveller. Such is the predicted impact of these companies that the DoT is currently researching how TNCs may play a role in the future of multi-modality city mobility and it calls this effort Mobility on Demand (MOD).

Arguably, one of the more immediate impacts of the smart city will be on the fleet industry. Specifically, we will see the timely exchange of information between the infrastructures, fleet operators and individual freight vehicles, greatly facilitating logistics by allowing for point-to-point tracking of freight. 

Fleet operators will be able to serve the same number of customer and freight movements with fewer vehicles and with reduced number of empty runs.  Individual drivers will receive up-to-date information on traffic conditions and recommended routing to avoid long delays in deliveries and in wasted fuel and excessive emissions.  The smart city and new ITS systems will also provide drivers with more reliable travel times and smoother traffic flow by regulating the speeds of vehicles as they approach bottlenecks or incidents.  Precise and timely information on conditions, including weather, work zones, incidents, etc., will allow for better use of existing network capacity by retiming signals to help divert traffic from congested areas. 

This smoother flow will also result in reduced fuel consumption for trips and the resultant emissions, reducing the environmental impact of the region’s traffic.     

Catch up with all the latest thinking at Connected Fleets USA 2015 this November 16-17.

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