With a growing population comes a growing fleet of vehicles flooding into cities round the world. This is causing high levels of pollution and congestion, and many believe that cities need to become ‘smart’ in order to manage the flow of traffic more efficiently.
Speaking during a recent Automotive Megatrends webinar entitled ‘Connected Vehicles in Smart Cities 2.0’, and sponsored by TomTom, Nicolas Burger, Marketing Director, Automotive, TomTom, provided insight into how smart cities will solve these issues.
“Congestion is everywhere,” he said. “There are currently one billion cars on roads around the world, and for most commuters, traffic congestion is a problem they face on a daily basis.”
TomTom describes itself as “a pioneer” in the production of GPS data. The supplier has been using GPS data since 2006 to assess traffic all around the world. “We can measure the congestion levels of one city and compare them to another,” explained Burger, and pointed to Latin America as one continent that is particularly susceptible to traffic congestion.
TomTom’s worldwide traffic index covers 200 cities worldwide and is based on data retrieved from GPS probes. The latest figures show that Mexico City takes second place globally (behind Istanbul), with 55% congestion, Rio de Janiero follows with 51% and Salvador takes fifth with 46%. To put this in perspective, Los Angeles currently takes tenth place with 39% traffic congestion. “Of course, Europe, the US, Asia and Australia also have cities in the 20 most congested areas in the world,” Burger pointed out.
He continued: “In Sao Paulo, road networks are completely saturated. By 9am, there will have been 320 incidents, and 375km worth of traffic jams. This not only impacts health and pollution, but also the cost of mobility for Sao Paulo,” he explained. TomTom revealed in September 2015 that the total cost of mobility in Sao Paolo totalled US$10.8bn a year. “Action being taken is not necessarily successful, and we need to look at other solutions,” he affirmed.
What is a smart city?
The concept of a smart city is often used to describe a city where technology is being leveraged for the wellbeing of its citizens. Burger said that when it came to public transportation, there were two expectations: that resources are optimised, and sustainable mobility is put in place.
Developing a better understanding of how the city’s road network functions is the first step.
For example, intersection analysis can improve municipal understanding of traffic flow and how it evolves over the day. Based on this information, traffic light cycles can be manipulated to better serve the needs of drivers during rush hour. This can also be monitored year-by-year to consider the effect of urban development and the creation of bottlenecks. Relocating lanes that are not sufficiently used on the highway during peak times can also eradicate traffic jams.
Burger describes two generations of smart cities, ‘1.0’ and ‘2.0’. The first denotes a focus on the use of Big Data for better monitoring of resources. The progression to 2.0 will involve the interaction of cars with the city itself “for a seamless mobility solution and civilised mobility.”
New trends, new challenges
The underlying trend behind what TomTom describes as Smart City 2.0 is flexibility, and how drivers can change from one form of transportation to the other. “The idea is that with incentives, we could create more flexibility in that switch, with the objective of decreasing congestion and pollution by making a more responsible choice,” said Burger.
Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) – notably autonomous and connected vehicles – are widely regarded as solutions to future transportation problems within smart cities, such as gridlock, traffic-induced pollution, and accidents caused by human error.
“We consider ITS infrastructure as a base station for the needs of the city,” said Burger, “and that base station interacts with ITS applications for pollution monitoring, traffic light control, parking management, and access for the city.”
He added that TomTom is currently developing ITS infrastructure, but is not operationally existent “just yet”.
Here, infrastructure will interact with the end-user not only via their smartphone, but also through their car. As such, “We want their car to have a similar interface that respects driver distraction rules. For that, you need to have dedicated interfaces that could create a handshake between the infrastructure and the car navigation. This is in order to provide alternate routes that would take into account mobility choice and traffic monitoring with a road balancing strategy,” Burger affirmed.
However, “We must take into account a standard that would make the connection with the car agnostic of the vendor, and agnostic of the brand. We need to have open standards for this application,” he added.
With talk of highly connected cars populating roads in a few years, the industry has begun to address incidents of hacking and potential data privacy infringement. How does TomTom expect this to play out when scaling up to the level of a smart city?
“Privacy is definitely a topic we have been involved in since the development of traffic information,” Burger affirmed. “Traffic information is being anonymised, and we are using crowd-sourced data. We have an agreement with all the relevant countries, where traffic data is to be developed abiding to privacy rules. Data is going to be managed by a specific infrastructure, and we are going to use the rules that are normally used in traffic management,” he concluded.
The connected car promises to improve road safety, reduce pollution and enable an improved user experience – effectively a handshake between car and infrastructure. But will Smart City 2.0 be ready to shake on it?