Imagine Festival, Transport Systems Catapult, Milton Keynes 11th-12th June 2015
June 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
Some thoughts, notes and jottings from the Imagine Festival (“Pioneering ideas in Intelligent Mobility”) at the Transport Systems Catapult, 11th/12th June 2015. A lot of talk about data and information delivery, some in a broad philosophical sense and much with reference to public transport, but also in application to autonomous/driverless cars. On display was the Lutz Pathfinder ‘pod’, three of which will hit the roads of Milton Keynes, with the first on-street late this summer (with driver/operator on board). Full automation is still seen as some way off, said Neil Fulton, programme director at the Catapult, with it to be introduced in levels. He also highlighted the impact on new business models and “economics of introducing new technologies; ownership models will change” and the idea that automated vehicles are a potentially huge market that the UK needs to tap into, quickly (much talk of UK plc all day).
Yet while fully-automated vehicles are “a little way away”, connected cars are very close, said Dr Stephen Pattison of ARM; it’s less the tech that is holding things back than business models and delivery of IoT technology, and we “need (an) operational framework to give consumers confidence”. He talked of the crossover from material to service industries, from services to data, and that connected cars would need to empower people, not disenfranchise them, giving them control over their environment; representatives from the rail sector further talked about opening up data for third-party app development, harnessing social media communications and crowdsourcing data. (There’ll be 2.5million connected people on social media by 2020 and 25billion connected devices, said Chris Francis of SAP).
Talk too was of digitally- integrated transport systems in the smarter city – “the community benefits of ITS”, said Richard Harris of Xerox, back-office provider of transport operator systems, developer of mobility analytics platforms, smartcard payment systems and suchlike. Harris sees shared transport including cars as a trend, and points to the need to identify “the organisational elements that delay us”, such as multiple road authorities, as well as the use of social media for information-gathering. Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) is “like the Wild West at the moment”, he said, with too many apps, so little integration, and lots of good, local but isolated niche start-up solutions. Interestingly, Xerox is working on a trial of 6000 sensor-equipped parking spaces in Los Angeles, using a dynamic pricing algorithm to influence and direct people – circling traffic has so far been cut by 10% yet revenues for the city authority have been increased. Handy stat: it’s thought that 30% of city traffic is cruising for parking spaces.
Much of the discussion centred around cities, with expectation of increasing urbanisation and increased choices – we need to stop thinking about modes, instead focusing on systems, system performance, and integration between modes, which are complementary, not competing, said the Catapult’s Andrew Payne. Several spokespeople from the aviation industry pointed out that most flights were, for their passengers, effectively multi-modal journeys too, and should be viewed end-to-end with getting to/from airports considered as seamless processes, bookings and transactions. A neat example of integrated, shared systems was demonstrated in the form of Brompton Bike Hire – automated docking stations (pictured), some on-street in London, others in locations such as workplaces, ‘dispensing’ the famous folding bikes, which can then be taken (hire from £2.50 a day) on trains, or in car boots, as last-mile (or longer) solutions for onward journeys.
Tim Armitage of Arup and the UK Autodrive consortium raised an interesting suggestion in that while driveless and connected systems will improve road safety, there’s no proven benefit either to congestion or air quality – though it’s assumed that vehicles like the Lutz pod will be electric. “Autonomy will make low-carbon transport more attractive”, he thought, however. He sees increasing use of public transport, a world of interdependent systems that feed off each other, come back together, merge – mobility becoming more seamless, but the tech needs to be inclusive, accessible, affordable to everybody. The world is increasingly dependent on data and communications, he said, but data needs to be relevant, right and timely. There are commercial battles to control the data and provide the ‘hub’, with stakeholders including car makers and smartphone manufacturers, as well as energy providers – there are “so many interdependencies… the boundaries between what is transport and what is energy are getting blurred.” (Pictures show the virtual mapping of Milton Keynes for the driverless pod trial).
Demographic changes such as a global growth in both young and elderly drivers, and the doubling of the world’s urban population by 2025 were discussed by Rod O’Shea of Intel, who sees the integration of different business models, i.e. tracking fleet management and intelligent telematics, and new models emerging. Intel has been working with Siemens on ‘smart parking’ with a trial underway in Berlin and to launch in other cities late next year. And cities are where a lot of the changes happen first, said Catapult CTO Paul Zanelli, often because it’s not all about new infrastructure, because there isn’t enough space or it costs too much, so innovations are made for smarter use of what’s there. The ethical considerations of transport, the carbon and energy benefits, were raised by Susan Grant-Muller of Leeds University, who talked about the relevance of data from other sectors such as lifestyle, health and retail, and the EMPOWER project, developing tools to influence mobility choices and behaviour change.
A final interesting note came from Nathan Day of start-up Rockshore (supplier of data for systems including the info displays on stations -as pictured, the image showing the fun I had getting home) on the differentiation between big data, open data and fast data (here and now, filtered, for instant decision-making). One of the main themes of the event, to my mind, was the tension between collecting/disseminating more data vs better or smarter data, with other questions raised around whether a digital tech fix is really the issue when you have faulty infrastructure (the example given being the rail network, but applies equally to the EV-charging network). Curious to note, too, that the words “peak car” weren’t mentioned once – the assumption being that road traffic is going to continue to grow, as per the DfT’s forecasts – and that there was little talk about active travel modes, or indeed, about reducing demand for mobility itself.