Smart, smarter, smartest

A pioneering mass transit provider, a car-sharing company, and a motoring club – as different the viewpoints of our guest authors may be, they all share one conviction: The outcome of the imminent mobility revolution will be also a question of the technologies used, in the vehicles as well as in any auxiliary systems.

“The next five to ten years are probably going to be the most exiting period ever in the area of mobility.” This affirmative expectation that Markus Schlitt, Head of Siemens Intelligent Traffic Systems, voiced in a recent interview clearly reflects his feelings of great anticipation in view of the emerging mobility revolution. “For us as a global leader in the traffic engineering market, it is a great privilege to be involved in actively shaping this transformation… and also a challenge of at least the same proportions.”

 

That he is anything but alone in this assessment can be read between the lines of the statements provided by our three renowned guest authors, whose contributions constitute the centerpiece of this “Mobility as a field of tension” special. All three – Henrik Falk, CEO of HOCHBAHN AG Hamburg, Oliver Schmerold, Direktor ÖAMTC, and Olivier Reppert, CEO of car2go, an affiliate company of Deutsche Post DHL Group – radiate true pioneering spirit, and many of their answers show how very keen on change they are.

The road network as an Internet of Things

In fact, after the many evolutionary steps that passenger and goods transport has made over the past decades, a true mobility revolution now seems to be in the offing. It is being triggered by a new mega-trend lengthening the list of mega-trends that, all over the world, those responsible for mobility issues have to address now and in the future. We are talking of automation and digitalization of road transport, of course. In the future, mobility policy will not be “only” about urbanization, environmental pollution, climate change, scarce resources, overstrained infrastructure and demographic change, but also about mastering the biggest paradigm change since the introduction of the Ford Model-T. Once self-driving cars, modern vehicle2x communication and self-learning algorithms will have turned the road into an Internet of Things, the solutions of yesterday and today will definitely run up against their limits.

 

Then the municipal authorities will have to cope with two problems of historic proportions: On the one hand, autonomous vehicles will enable more people to be mobile. Just think of all those who are not able or allowed to take the wheel themselves because they are too young, too old or temporarily unfit to drive. And it is no stretch on the imagination to predict that this will push our already frequently overtaxed traffic infrastructure definitely beyond its capacity limits. On the other hand, to counteract the even higher competitive pressure, the public transport systems will have to introduce new services that match the advantages of self-driving taxis. 

Whether this will bring lasting benefits or chronical suffering for cities and towns, will depend above all on the role the municipalities themselves are going to play. The more actively a city is involved in steering the mobility revolution, the greater the chance it has of being among the winners. The reverse conclusion is just as true, of course: The longer a city hesitates to take action, the higher the risk for it to be overrun by fully automated and digitalized traffic, literally as well as metaphorically. Be proactive, not reactive – this must be the motto for cities and all other institutions that are responsible for developing sustainable mobility systems for the future.

Completely novel options for transport planning and control 

From the pragmatic perspective, one thing is certain: All in all, digitalization will bring far more opportunities than challenges for our mobile societies. This is also why Markus Schlitt is clearly optimistic in view of the nearly unlimited possibilities opened up by the new technology in the area of transport planning and control: “This feels as if we were now able to start a Ferrari that had been sitting idle in our garage for some time – and speed off at last.” His reasoning behind that simile: For the cities, the Internet of Things will enable not only close monitoring of their infrastructure, but also active intervention and control of traffic flows, either for all traffic in the entire street network or focused on specific vehicle fleets.

 

Besides optimized traffic flows, this will also lead to improved road safety since our systems will then communicate with computers, which are less prone to making mistakes than people. And intelligent applications of digital control options can of course also be used to reduce traffic-related noise and pollutant emissions. Among the most powerful regulative measures for this purpose are doubtless creatively designed, dynamic road pricing schemes as they do not only contribute to congestion prevention, but can also encourage the use of public transport and e-mobility. “How well city toll systems work in general is demonstrated by the London Congestion Charge,” says Markus Schlitt. „Yet, in the future, even more effective systems could be designed and deployed.”

 

Never before the conditions for improving both the quality of life and the mobility services in a city have been as favorable as they are in today’s era of progressive digitalization. This double goal can only be achieved, however, if any barriers between the different transport modes are eliminated once and for all. For this purpose, Siemens ITS chiefly relies on smart solutions, e.g. those provided by a new member of the Siemens family: The Spanish software company Aimsun uses 'digital twins' for fast and efficient simulation of urban transport networks in order to identify potential weak points and test possible optimization measures. There is also the Siemens solution SiMobility, a virtual platform that integrates different transport modes into a door-to-door travel chain, offering genuine added value for transport users in the form of customized information provided via easy-to-use apps, as well as for mobility service providers and cities by enabling additional services.

Five perfectly interlocking cogwheels 

In the vision of the Siemens ITS experts, the mobility of the next generation will be driven by a smart engine with five perfectly interlocking cogwheels: Besides intermodal mobility management, modern traffic management, charging management for urban electric-powered fleets and supply management for private electric vehicles these include also the management of fleets of autonomous vehicles – for instance an agile system of self-driving mini-buses that promise their users substantially shorter travel times thanks to their high priority within the traffic network. “For people today, time is turning more and more into a limiting factor,” says Markus Schlitt. “So, if mini-buses can take their passengers faster to their destination than a self-driving taxi, they will become a very attractive alternative, opening up a big potential for mitigating the expected further growth in urban traffic volumes.“

 

The holistic interconnection of all means of transport, including the seamless integration of new mobility services such as car-sharing schemes and rental bikes, is paving the way for a truly revolutionary transformation of fundamental mobility clusters. “Public transport will suddenly become public-based individual travel,” explains Markus Schlitt. “That is exactly the point that we need to get to if we want to build a future mobility landscape that does not flood our cities with self-driving cars, but instead offers custom-tailored mobility services for every user and helps improve the quality of urban living.“

Not only higher performance, but also higher efficiency

This is made possible by modern cloud-based services such as ground-breaking fleet and infrastructure management systems, the next generation of traffic management tools as well as easy-to-use multimodal information, booking and ticketing systems that cover all providers of transport services. MindSphere, Siemens’ open cloud platform, is the perfect basis for building a powerful IoT operating system that enables secure vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication in combination with the widest choice of additional functions  – right up to energy management.

For people today, time is turning more and more into a limiting factor.
Markus Schlitt, Head of Siemens Intelligent Traffic Systems

Optimization measures that enhance the capabilities of smart infrastructure in terms of real-time traffic information and the provision of data for assisted and proactive driving and as basic support level for autonomous driving will make it possible to shrink the temporal resolution for monitoring and data supply from hours to mere milliseconds. As a result, today’s macro-management of traffic will evolve into a micro-management system that links everything with everything else and thus maximizes the scope of action for decision-makers and mobility authorities.

 

In the context of the development of tomorrow’s technological solutions, a special focus in on the potential of Artificial Intelligence. A first impression of the enormous added value that can be derived from the ever-growing wealth of data generated by everyday traffic can be gained at the Data Analytics and Application Center (DAAC), where already today, Siemens ITS is working together with pilot customers in developing data-driven applications and services on the basis of data analytics and self-learning algorithms. The solutions range from network analyses and smart traffic management functions right up to fleet management solutions and tools for intermodal mobility management. 

2019-07-18

Peter Rosenberger, a journalist in Bodman-Ludwigshafen

Picture credits: iStock/chombosan, iStock/metamorworks, Siemens AG

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