Population growth presents new opportunities and challenges for city planners especially when it comes to transportation. Sue Tabbitt highlights the technologies that are building more resilient and sustainable urban transport systems.
By 2050, more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban settings, according to the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs. This poses some significant challenges for local authorities and city planners, as they strive to balance a good, safe quality of life for local inhabitants and commuters with carbon reduction targets and available funding.
It is becoming increasingly clear that technology offers a big part of the solution – especially where this supports smarter and more coordinated means of managing infrastructure and its capacity, and when it enables advantageous collaborations between the multiple infrastructure and service providers as well as public-private partnerships across an urban region.
Attracting more people to cities and their expanding suburbs may be good for local economies, and for concentrating investment where it will deliver maximum return, but unless forward planning proactively caters for swelling populations – without degradation to people’s quality of life, convenience and personal safety – an urbanised future could introduce as many problems as it solves.
The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the sensitivity around overcrowding on public transport, as populations have tried to heed the advice about social distancing to keep each other safe.
It has brought home the importance of putting people and their safety and wellbeing at the centre of future urban plans – making sure that they have enough space for their physical and emotional comfort as they move around urban environments. This includes making it easier for populations to plan, book and pay for journeys in a more seamless and contactless way.
Unless forward planning proactively caters for swelling populations, an urbanised future could introduce as many problems as it solves
Maintaining good air quality is just as important, and a vital part of climate considerations which are now central to urban planning. Most countries have now signed up to the Paris Agreement on climate change, a collective effort to reduce carbon emissions and keep the global temperature to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels.
In doing so, they have pledged to work towards carbon neutrality, or net zero emissions, by 2050. Within this collective commitment, many cities have set their own targets to deliver significant improvements to their carbon footprint long before then – often with strong interim measures by as soon as 2025.
It is in the context of all of these developments that smart mobility becomes critically important. Smart mobility involves leveraging technology and innovation to manage multiple forms of transport in more efficient, resilient and sustainable ways, making best use of available capacity, ensuring continuous mobility services despite disruptive incidents and encouraging the take-up of greener options.
Technology plays an important role in driving these benefits. From collecting and aggregating data to analysing and making sense of the data from various modes of transport and infrastructures (trains, buses, autonomous shuttles, and road junctions), smart mobility solutions integrate drivers, vehicles and infrastructure to optimise transport management and operations, and provide more informed travel information to commuters.
The transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. To meet targets around carbon emissions, city planners and transport authorities need to integrate technology enhancements and policy measures as part of their transport ecosystem. These can include encouraging modal shift from private to public and shared transport by making it a convenient and seamless experience for commuters, improving vehicle efficiency, and reducing individual travel demand that can result in wasted trips and congestion on the roads.
At a technology level, smart solutions are now being devised in a much more human-centric way. Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) innovation was concerned chiefly with applying connected sensors (the internet of things), AI-enabled data analytics, and automated controls to streamline manufacture and maintenance of production lines, products and devices.
With ‘Society 5.0’, which came out of Japan a few years ago, it has put people and their wellbeing at the centre of next-generation technology ambitions. It is geared to ensuring technologies such as AI and machine-enabled knowledge and intelligence will be for the service of society.
Cities across the world are moving towards achieving greater connectivity, resilience and sustainability in their urban transport ecosystems
Global technology, defence and engineering group ST Engineering has been at the heart of this phenomenon, transforming transport experiences for citizens and commuters by enabling safer, greener and more seamlessly connected journeys via a suite of smart mobility solutions.
Already, there are many exciting success stories that are deployed in this context. Taking advantage of the increasing affordability of smart sensors, pervasive use of big-data analytics and artificial intelligence and faster data transmission, cities across the world are moving towards achieving greater connectivity, resilience and sustainability in their urban transport ecosystems.
So what does this look like and what are the smart mobility enablers?
Reducing congestion, increasing road infrastructure capacity, ensuring fast response to incidents and decreasing carbon footprint are some of the key driving factors for today’s cities that aim to achieve a more connected, resilient and sustainable transport ecosystem. The influx of big data with diverse standards from various systems has made it essential to have an intelligent traffic control centre that uses an integrated technology platform to harness AI, data analytics and IoT, to better predict traffic flow, improve monitoring and detection of road incidents, and enable faster response and dissemination of real-time information to commuters.
With an AI-driven intelligent traffic management system, cities can experience significant improvement in traffic management and operations with ecological and business benefits through strategic data-sharing across the city’s transport ecosystem. Not only does it cater to the city’s current needs, it also provides for future expansion of road networks. ST Engineering has implemented an AI-driven Intelligent Traffic Management System for one of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated traffic control centres in the Middle East.
It has provided optimal travel experiences for its citizens while expanding the city’s coverage to manage a wider road network with greater efficiency and enhanced situational awareness of the city’s transport infrastructure and resources.
Technologies present vast opportunities to manage traffic proactively with data-driven insights; to automatically detect incidents for faster response; to more efficiently and effectively manage bottlenecks on the road; and to identify and target traffic violations – resulting in smoother traffic, reduced congestion and carbon emission, as well as safer journeys for all.
Smart urban traffic management systems have the potential to leverage emerging technologies such as connected vehicles, faster connectivity, edge computing and IoT, to provide more efficient traffic management and information dissemination between vehicles, infrastructure, commuters and public transport systems, to achieve a more integrated, cohesive and sustainable transport ecosystem that benefits cities of the future.
Conventional signal control is complex and time-consuming to configure and adapt to dynamic traffic changes and has limited capability to make sense of data from more advanced sensors involving connected vehicles, infrastructure and other transport systems. One of the areas which urban planners should look into is to optimise junction management by leveraging technology and digitalisation to manage traffic junctions in smarter ways. Through smart junction management, real-time traffic data can be analysed to offer predictive and pre-emptive signal control, and it can also automatically recognise traffic changes and self-adapt for traffic flow optimisation.
Using a blend of AI, data analytics and IoT, ST Engineering’s Smart Junction Suite can work with a range of sensor types and communications networks, allowing traffic control centres to enhance management of traffic flow by optimising traffic signal control.
Urban planners should look into is to optimise junction management by leveraging technology and digitalisation to manage traffic junctions in smarter ways
Besides improving daily traffic flow, the Smart Junction Suite is capable of setting a network of traffic lights to green for emergency vehicles and public transport to minimise stops at junctions, and minimise delays and congestion that can lead to increase in carbon emissions.
The Smart Junction Suite will also support vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications to facilitate safer navigation for autonomous vehicles, truck platooning (the linking of two or more trucks in convoy, using connectivity technology and automated driving support systems), and other future mobility needs.
Managing smooth traffic flow with minimal stops is essential for urban commuting. The Smart Junction Suite is developed as part of ST Engineering’s Smart Corridor initiative that aims to provide smoother travel from the commuters and drivers’ perspectives. Along the travel route (“corridor”), a few areas that normally stop or delay the traveller include road congestion, traffic junctions, stops for public transport such as buses, taxi and stations and car parks.
Leveraging technology and a human-centric approach, ST Engineering has identified several key solutions that overcome mobility challenges and address the current and future transport needs of cities. These include urban traffic and highway unified management, smart junction, public transport fleet management and smart car parks.
These tech-enabled solutions leverage AI, big-data analytics, IoT and emerging technologies to better understand, visualise and manage the dynamic relationship between supply infrastructure and mobility demand. They enable the deployment of a wider range of mobility services such as multi-modal transportation and mobility-as-a-service (MaaS).
Through a unified approach, account-based ticketing and mobile payment solutions can be incorporated to allow commuters to better plan and pay for their journeys conveniently from end to end, across multiple transport services, through mobile phone, contactless bank card/smart card and other payment modes.
Although it may be some time before autonomous vehicles (AVs) are more commonly found on the road, many cities around the world are already embracing the benefits of shared autonomous transport in the form of buses and shuttles that provide on-demand services as well as first/last-mile connectivity.
They offer to revolutionise urban mobility by making it more accessible, affordable and, more importantly, environmentally friendly. If such options are well integrated into the public transport system, they can potentially transform the mobility landscape and encourage more people to make the switch from private vehicles to public transport.
To perform safely and effectively, vehicle systems must be able to recognise every object and environmental variable the vehicle might encounter in real-world scenarios
Drawing on connected sensors and AI-enabled analytics, autonomous vehicle technologies are developed to overcome some of the challenges associated with self-driving to achieve stringent safety adherence during operations. To perform safely and effectively, vehicle systems must be able to recognise every object and environmental variable the vehicle might encounter in real-world scenarios and respond safely to all situations on the road.
This is where V2X comes into its own, allowing AVs to communicate with each other and with their surrounding infrastructure – whether traffic lights, streetlights and other road fixtures – to enhance the autonomous vehicle’s awareness of its environment, and safety within it.
A lot of progress has already been made here, over the last five years. In 2015, ST Engineering launched Asia’s first fully-operational autonomous vehicle at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. More recently, ST Engineering piloted Singapore’s first commercial on-demand public autonomous bus services at Science Park 2 and Jurong Island in Singapore, and launched Israel’s first public autonomous shuttle service at the Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv, in addition to deployments in other cities.
Having comprehensive situational awareness of increasingly complex rail networks is essential to providing fast response and mitigation of incidents, ensuring optimal train service conditions and an efficient commute for passengers.
The Fusion AnalyticS for public Transport Event Response (FASTER) system, jointly developed by ST Engineering, IBM and Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, uses AI and advanced analytics to deliver a comprehensive situational awareness of Singapore’s rail network and its linkages with other parts of the transportation network.
The FASTER system leverages smart and integrated use of data and technology, and is designed to take a commuter-centric approach to its IoT sensing, situation assessment and event response planning capabilities. Real-time alerts enable transport operators to make swift and accurate situation assessments and respond to potential issues efficiently to minimise any interruption on train operations, providing a smooth travelling experience for commuters.
Other opportunities for smart mobility management include smart car park systems which guide users to vacant places, identify them via automatic number plate recognition to provide hassle-free entry and exit, and allow them to conveniently pay parking fees via their mobile phones. Besides improving operational efficiency for car park operators, it also saves drivers a lot of time and frustration, reduces congestion from driving around looking for vacant lots and also contributes to cleaner air for all.
ST Engineering has implemented Singapore’s first barrier-free Smart Car Park system for campus parking at the Nanyang Technological University. It uses an IoT platform together with advanced video analytics to integrate with mobile applications to provide seamless car park management and convenient parking experiences.
Besides improving operational efficiency for car park operators, it saves drivers time and frustration and reduces congestion
As car parks in cities face different operational challenges and limitations, ST Engineering offers a comprehensive Smart Car Park suite that includes parking guidance systems, electric vehicle charging, enforcement systems and payment modules. It can also support software-as-a-service deployment to help car park operators get up and running quickly and efficiently, without the need for heavy infrastructure and software investment.
ST Engineering is a global technology, defence and engineering group that uses technology and innovation to solve real-world problems and improve lives through its diverse portfolio of businesses across the aerospace, smart city, defence and public security segments.
A leading provider of smart city solutions with a global track record of 700 smart city projects in over 130 cities, we offer a comprehensive and integrated suite of mobility, utilities, infrastructure, and environment solutions that are powered by deep capabilities in digital connectivity, big data and video analytics, AI and robotics. ST Engineering is also a key contributor to Singapore’s smart city initiatives, as well as an established technology partner to governments, defence forces and enterprise customers all over the world.
In smart mobility, ST Engineering is helping cities all over the world gear up their transport ecosystem and transform into more connected, resilient and sustainable spaces that enhance travel experiences and quality of lives for citizens and communities. Consistently at the forefront of smart mobility technologies and innovations, we have deployed over 100 mobility projects in 48 cities across Asia, the Middle East and the US.
Our land transport solutions have enabled more than 65 million commuters and motorists around the world to travel more seamlessly while minimising impact on climate change, and our shared autonomous transport is making headway with comprehensive solutions and many firsts in the industry.