The Road to Sensible Mobility – Part 1

The Stakes

Urban traffic congestion has become more than a time-consuming inconvenience: it is having serious effects on local economies and the health of populations around the world.

For example, a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that outdoor air pollution kills an estimated 3.5 million people a year, or nearly three times the number of fatalities resulting from traffic accidents. The cost of the health impact of air pollution in the 34 OECD member nations, including deaths and illness, for a single year in 2010, was an estimated $1.7 trillion. “Available evidence suggests that road transport accounts for about 50 percent of this cost in the OECD, or close to $1 trillion,” the OECD said.

A study produced jointly by the Center for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) and INRIX found that the economy-wide costs of traffic congestion, calculated in terms of the value of fuel and time wasted and the increased cost of doing business, totaled more than $124 billion for the United States in 2013. And if nothing is undertaken to ameliorate the situation, that figure is forecast to increase by 50 percent in 2030.

Traffic congestion has many causes, but the main problem is that too many people are driving too many cars on road infrastructures not able to absorb the volume of traffic.

According to figures from the TomTom Traffic Index Report, there is a direct correlation between high urban population densities and greater traffic congestion. Seven of the TomTom Traffic Index Report's 10 most congested cities in the world are mega-cities, urban areas with populations over 10 million.

This situation is forecast to worsen, if no changes are made. Experts predict that by the year 2030 some 60 percent of the world's population of 8 billion people will be living in urbanized areas and the number of mega-cities is projected to increase from the present 28 to 41.

This will present immense challenges to public authorities managing traffic and air quality and people attempting to enter, traverse and exit these very big and densely populated metropolitan areas. 

The “connectivity revolution” currently underway has already led to a number of solutions that could ultimately make it easier for people to solve the basic task of mobility, traveling from here to there and back again in a safe and timely manner. 

Two fundamental features of the solution are reducing the number of cars on the road through car-sharing and establishing comprehensive multi-modal routing systems that will bring people to their destinations using a variety of transport modes.

Bricks for the Road to Smart Mobility

The ubiquity of connectivity has led to the creation of services, often intended for other uses, which can help construct the mobility of the future. For example, Magnus Lundgren, vice president, Connected Vehicle Cloud, at Ericsson, says his company helped Volvo develop the means to measure road friction in order to detect icy conditions on road surfaces. “The vehicle will then send icy road warnings to the Cloud, where it will be accessible to Swedish road authorities as well as other cars,” he explains.

In addition to making driving safer, this service will allow the road authorities to more efficiently deploy their road maintenance vehicles, he says, reducing costs and the number of maintenance vehicles on the road, as well as decreasing the amount of time cars are forced to drive at reduced speeds. 

Andy Wood, director of Business Development, Smart Energy & Home Security and Automation for Qualcomm, points to a California-based company, Big Belly Solar, which has developed a waste bin equipped with a small solar panel, a cellular radio and a sensor that detects when the bin is full.

“Whoever manages waste pickup then knows when it is time to send out trucks to pick up the trash,” he explains. “This eliminates the fleets of vans that had been driving through city streets to pick up data on trash bins that need to be picked up.” 

Another solution mentioned by Wood that has implications for urban mobility is a “smart” parking meter, developed by IPS, which is also equipped with a solar battery. The meter accepts payment by credit card as well as cash and signals the driver of a parked car when the time is up, allowing him to pay for an extension in the space. It also sends data to a back-end service about which spots are occupied.

“This information is also sent to the car head unit, letting drivers know which spaces are vacant,” Wood says. While the ostensible purpose of the smart meter is to help municipalities better manage their parking networks and increase revenues from them, it will also reduce congestion caused by armadas of vehicles slowly driving through city streets while the driver desperately searches for a vacant space. 

And then, of course, there is the smartphone. Hillol Kargupta, president of Agnik, believes the device, when equipped with proper analytics tools, can be an essential part of smart traffic management.

“Multi-modal routing involves planning based on data and user behavior,” he says. “You have to learn from current and previous data to predict. You have to understand what mode of transport the user is using currently, what means of transport the user used yesterday.”

This function is currently employed in Agnik’s smartphone-based usage-based insurance (UBI) apps, to see if the individual is in a taxi, on foot, on a bicycle or in his car, but Kargupta says the same type of data analytics can be used to analyze and predict mobility patterns.

He points out that much of the smartphone sensor data in their raw form is “not very useful,” but he insists that with a well-designed analytics function in the phone and in the cloud it can be an accurate and powerful tool. “The basic sensor fusion analytics algorithms from Agnik available on the phone are fairly mature in terms of getting quality data and doing modeling from that,” he says. “A smartphone with an analytic engine in conjunction with contextual data will be highly useful for mobility and multi-modal routing.” 

The future of auto mobility will be covered at this year's TU-Automotive Detroit 2015. Sign up to receive the full agenda here. 


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