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Streets of the Future will be shaped by data

If intelligent transport systems are to function efficiently they will need to be supported by reliable open data, writes Nic Cary, head of data policy at the Department for Transport

17 February 2017
Nic Cary: We will have to develop a much better, less expensive means of creating, storing, managing and maintaining our data
Nic Cary: We will have to develop a much better, less expensive means of creating, storing, managing and maintaining our data
The LUTZ Pathfinder autonomous pod on the streets of Milton Keynes, which is hosting Smarter Travel LIVE!
The LUTZ Pathfinder autonomous pod on the streets of Milton Keynes, which is hosting Smarter Travel LIVE!

 

These days we hear a lot about the importance of data in the transport sector, and it is my contention that the advent of the digital age, driven by data, will come to be regarded as the fourth industrial revolution. Why? Because operating transport in a highly connected, inter-operable world that is data-driven is likely to be viewed as a revolution.

The first industrial revolution was brought about through mechanisation, the second through mass-production and the third through computerisation. In our sector, the fourth digital & data revolution depends on the ubiquitous adoption of intelligent transport systems. Intelligent transport systems are orchestrated by technology and their functionality and performance depend upon a solid foundation of data.

It therefore makes perfect sense for us to treat this virtual data asset as every bit as important as our physical assets whether these are pavements, tracks, bridges, signalling or signage.

In this fourth industrial revolution we are already becoming increasingly dependent on data for the decisions we make or those made for us by machines. Think, for example, of a journey planner, say, or the steps involved in modelling a new road intersection. This is why it is important to treat data with the same care that we take when we engineer physical infrastructure. 

At Smarter Travel LIVE! I will give my definition of Data as Infrastructure. I will then provide some pointers to help you create, maintain, store and provide access to data.

I will also offer a practical guide, with a few tools and tips, on how to ensure you find your way to the Street of the Future in good shape.

We can expect the Street of the Future exhibition – which is going to be the centrepiece at Smarter Travel LIVE! – to present lots of new insights and ideas and help us to develop our thinking on the future of our transport network, particularly our highways.

The road to automation

In some cases the developments we will see are just around the corner, if you will forgive the pun. For example, a Level 5 autonomous vehicle – that is to say a ‘driverless car’ that will function just as if we had our own personal chauffeur – is nearly a technological reality now. Some manufacturers would argue that it already is one. So, it’s not the technology, impressive though it is, that is really going to be the challenge for us over the next few years as vehicle manufacturers have that well in hand.

In the example of autonomous vehicles we will need to be aware of other challenges and in some cases help resolve these. There is a wide range of issues that must be addressed such as safety testing, cyber security risks, installing additional infrastructure on our streets and the insurance and legal frameworks if we are to support the introduction of these sorts of vehicles.

Whilst I will cover these points in my talk, I want to dig deeper and discuss what type of organisations we will need to become. Therefore, my readiness toolkit for the Street of the Future will not focus directly on either the technology or solving the challenges, such as say the insurance issues that I have just mentioned, because plenty of good work is being done on these already. Instead, I will focus on making sure we are prepared as organisations to be able to understand and cope with the impact of the work being done in these areas.

New ways of working

For us, delivering the Street of the Future and all its many complexities will require us embrace new ways of working and being ready to either lead or participate in a transport network that is vastly more data-driven than the one that we are involved in and travel on today.

The Street of the Future is likely to be delivered by a transport sector that has become polarised into two distinct groups: service providers and capacity providers. Service providers will own the customer relationship. Think for example of Mobility as a Service providers, such as the Whim project that Transport for the West Midlands (TfWM) is introducing. 

The role of capacity providers, on the other hand, will be make sure that the infrastructure and systems are in place to provide the capacity that the end-customer organisations will commission from the capacity providers. This capacity will sometimes be commissioned in real time. Capacity and pricing in this market will almost certainly be driven dynamically because the technology makes this possible.

To participate in this new world we will have to develop a much better, less expensive means of creating, storing, managing and maintaining our data, as well as becoming fluent in new digital techniques for providing services and managing our organisations.

There are very real benefits in releasing all possible data as open data to underpin the running of transport networks. Data will become key to delivering the Street of the Future. Therefore, it is vital that we recognise this and realise that only by making data open can we ensure the fullest possible participation and the greatest opportunities for all.

If you are collaborating with third parties, whether you are in the private sector or the public sector, my session will help you take a small step on the way to becoming either a smart supplier or a smart customer to help nourish your collaboration. 

 
 
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