Interview: Digital travel guides are “simple as Lego“

No time-consuming search for the best travel mode or route. No lines at the ticket vending machine. Michael Frankenberg, CEO of Siemens subsidiary HaCon explains how Siemens can intelligently integrate various transportation modes into a holistic ecosystem and turn mobility entirely into a service.

Mr. Frankenberg, how do you get to work every day?

 

In the fastest and cheapest way of all: walking. I live very close to the HaCon headquarters in Hanover. So asking me about my general travel preferences would probably be more helpful.

Well then, let me rephrase that. How do you travel when you’re under way on business or privately and what does your perfect intermodal trip look like?

 

I’m an absolute fan of public transport systems and don’t even own a car. Whether it’s on a vacation or getting to a business appointment: I always use all the available means of transport. You experience more of real life and also the mobility problems. I’m always astounded how the combination of various transport providers can offer faster connections than would be possible using only rail transport or a car. The ideal trip for me would be, upon reaching my destination, automatically being able to pay a single charge for all the transport modes I used along the way. And all I would need is my smartphone. Siemens already has such ticketing solutions.

Intelligent infrastructures provide valuable data

Just how much digitalization stands behind the trend toward “intermodal trips?”

 

It’s more than just a trend. Today’s generation is optimally networked and uses smartphones and apps to organize and control their lives. Social contacts, streaming services, shared use of apartments, cars or bikes – all this functions online. Thanks to these digital technologies, multimodal travel has been given an enormous boost. Whether in their own car, a rental car, a bike or with bus and train – customers can be picked up right at their doorstep and guided to their destination. The intelligent combination and integration of all types of transport modes is growing in popularity. And with the right app on a mobile device, it’s far more comfortable. This includes guiding you to a seat on a train, providing information on transfers, booking tickets or selecting the right coach, all the way to routing right to the door. The infrastructure of streets, highways and rail is becoming more and more intelligent and already delivers valuable data and information that we can bundle in just one app. For travelers, this means far greater comfort, convenience and the greatest possible flexibility. All the various means of transport are evolving into a holistic ecosystem.

So does digitalization primarily mean providing good apps to the customer?

 

No. That’s an important aspect, of course, but just one of many. The decisive factor is the seamless networking of all stakeholders. With the advent of the Internet of Things, we can now securely connect devices and transportation modes that were separate in the past. Transportation operators collect valuable data, can replace hardware digitally, and can save time and money for maintenance because the devices themselves say when they need service, and when it’s not yet due. For users, smartphones and smart watches are the key to this new mobility, to an entire mobility universe. Apps are being transformed from simple sales channels to complete mobility offerings. And mobility itself is becoming a service. In the past, transportation operators communicated unilaterally with their customers via their apps. But why can’t travelers also pass on relevant information to the service provider? Communication between the driver and customer is growing in importance. Our solutions offer already offer, for example, the possibility of activating the red “stop” button in the bus on an app, or better yet, displaying the exact travel route, including transfers and secure connections, on the smartphone.

Well informed at all times

What solutions does Siemens offer?

 

With our solutions like HAFAS or SiMobility, Siemens and HaCon ensure that millions of passengers and transportation operators are optimally informed about their connections and systems. Even more: We deliver a door-to-door intermodal digital travel advisory service. App contents are becoming increasingly detailed because the transport modes themselves – as well as the infrastructures – have growing numbers of sensors capable of delivering more data in real-time. These sensors also include so-called beacons (see infobox on the right), whose data can, among other things, deliver information on passenger flows so transportation operators can, for instance, direct their customers to available seats. We can use displays in trains, for instance, to show information about available capacity in the cars. We can easily display where seats are still available by combining timetable information and capacity tracking in the cars themselves. This requires that we integrate growing volumes of data from various service providers in the apps without affecting their functionality.

And how can we do this?

 

We as well as transportation operators rely on the cloud and components of Industrie 4.0. They enable us to exchange data among vehicles, operators and customers. The Internet of Things and solutions like Siemens’ MindSphere provide the basis for networking all participants. That’s why it’s so important to have open interfaces here – software systems that can be easily and quickly supplemented or integrated into other systems. We also design our solutions so that they can be combined in various ways. The result: small, modular software components that can easily be adapted to the wishes of the respective transportation operator. We compile these components according to operator need – tailor-made, flexibly configurable and literally as simple as Lego. 

Mobility as a future service

What is your goal for the future?

 

I’d like to establish mobility as a full service. Up till now, travelers had to choose a particular transportation mode and buy a ticket, and often had to deal with confusing tariff systems. But the fact is, there are already solutions and examples that show the system can function differently and be user-controlled. Today, it’s no technical problem to integrate tickets from diverse providers – including even Uber drivers – in each app. It’s all up to the transportation operators. But let’s think ahead a bit: Right now the basis is being prepared for autonomous driving, with completely new demands on navigation and traffic forecasts – and this will be a new and exciting field of work for us. We see ourselves as the engineers of next.

The sensible combination of all types of transport modes is growing in popularity. And with the right app on mobile devices, it’s far more comfortable!
Michael Frankenberg heads HaCon, the software specialist acquired by Siemens.

Where, for example, can I already travel intelligently?

 

Our “abilio” app for Schweizerische Südostbahn (SOB) has just been successfully introduced to the market. The be-in/be-out ticketing system (BiBo) registers passengers wirelessly via their smartphone and a bluetooth transmitter on the train when they board, and automatically checks them out at the end of the journey when they get off. The IT SiMobility JustGo application running the app calculates the most favorable tariff for the distance traveled (SOB on YouTube).


Also in Switzerland, we’re currently testing an app for Schweizerische Bundesbahnen (SBB) that can be used to book a journey using various modes from public transport and car-sharing to cableways, and that issues a combined ticket. An intermodal travel dream come true! This system works with the cooperation of all participating operators in the market. So you see, the possibilities of effortless intermodal travel are already here! Just try it out!

2017-11-16

Traffic, transport and logistics have been the focal themes of HaCon for over 30 years. HaCon established itself as the leading software specialist in Europe for planning, disposition and information systems. HaCon has been a member of the Siemens family since 2017. Whether it involves trip planning, mobile ticketing or fleet management, the HAFAS product portfolio covers all aspects of intelligent mobility. HAFAS apps and web-based solutions combine public and private transport modes and provide over 100 million door-to-door route calculations every day. The renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has included HaCon in its list of the “50 Smartest Companies” worldwide.

Apps for smartphones are increasingly used as traveling companions and guides. They pick up travelers at the doorstep and guide them via various transport modes to their destination. With the help of sensors, the infrastructure also is intelligent and, using secure interfaces with the Internet of Things, can perfectly coordinate private cars, taxis, rental cars, buses, trams, trains and bicycles with one another. Intermodal travel means that a single provider handles the entire journey and also the ticketing. Multimodal travel offers the same service in a variety of transport modes, however through different providers and with different forms of booking.

Beacons are tiny transmitters that send signals at specific intervals and thereby facilitate routing and orientation during a journey. With the help of beacons inside buildings, smartphone users can pinpoint their location where no GPS tracking is possible, such as in railway or metro stations. The tiny, battery-run transmitters locate mobile devices precisely, within a radius of 30 meters. Using a suitable app, travelers can, if desired, receive the beacon signals. When travelers move pass the beacon, departure times, platform information or also possible delays are automatically displayed on their smartphone.

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