The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.
Digital Disruptions in The World of Mobility: We’ve Glimpsed the Possibilities
This is the second article in a series exploring new technological innovations that are disrupting regional and urban mobility. For more, read the first article in the series, linked here.
The leaders of urban transit authorities and public transport agencies now recognize the need to push for system wide change simultaneously on several fronts: to reduce costs, reduce environmental impact, enhance customer and driver safety, and provide improved passenger services. These leaders are under severe pressure to provide superior passenger services: wi-fi, passenger information systems, and smartphone apps, just to name a few. This means that they must learn to offer a passenger experience that competes with other transportation modes and private transportation companies.
Emerging technologies are offering solutions to systemic and operational problems, which begs the question of which emerging applications are likely to be widely adopted. Here’s a short summary of a few such promising and widely applicable technologies:
Forward Collision Warning (FCW)
Forward collision warning applications alert vehicle drivers to a situation that could result in a collision with the rear end of the vehicle in front of them, thus providing an opportunity to avoid or mitigate the collision. This may include vehicles unseen by the driver because they are on the other side of a hill, around a curve or on a street onto which the driver is turning.
Rear Collision Warning
Rear collision warning applications warn the driver of impending accidents caused by vehicles approaching from the rear. Advanced systems may also initiate actions in the vehicle safety systems to mitigate the effects of the collision.
Intersection Collision Warning
In intersection collision warning vehicles receive Basic Safety Messages from vehicles approaching the intersection from all directions and calculate potential collisions to provide warning to the driver.
Emergency Electronic Brake Lights
In emergency electronic braking a leading vehicle sends immediate notification BSMs in real time to trailing vehicles that it is engaged in emergency braking. Having received this information, the applications in trailing cars warn the driver of emergency braking ahead of them.
Cooperative Intersection Collision Avoidance System – Violations (CICAS-V)
The CICAS-V application in each vehicle detects if the driver is proceeding in a fashion that would cause the vehicle to violate the traffic signal and warns the driver to take action. In addition, the vehicle application will also transmit to warn other vehicles. This application may interact with forward collision warning and intersection collision warning applications.
Curve Speed Warning
Utilizing accurate maps, vehicle location and speed data, and road conditions provided by operators or in real time by leading vehicles; the CSW application provides warnings to drivers when they are traveling at speeds that may be unsafe for an upcoming curve or series of curves.
This is one emerging technology that can be implemented on a system wide level to improve overall efficiency. Virtual checkpoints can be configured on each bus or rail route at distance intervals of a higher granularity than the actual stops; the stops themselves will also be virtual detectors. This technology allows for the prediction of estimated time of arrival (ETA), and this especially useful for mass transit vehicles.
By collecting real time GPS positions and learning over time about arrival times for various stops, locations, and routes within the transit system, an algorithm will track normal travel times at different points throughout the system and for various levels of ridership. To track this information, virtual checkpoints use information extracted from General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) feeds and the data being analyzed through the algorithm that is constantly updating against the baseline.
Every time a trolley reaches a virtual checkpoint, the technology will readjust the ETA signs throughout the system, based on any variation in travel time from one checkpoint to the next. Thus the system will constantly self-correct for accurate arrival times, instead of gradually edging further off target with each delay along the line.
Virtual checkpoints can be placed closer together in areas of higher variation, to give the system more chances to re-correct itself in those areas. Other more stable areas, where traffic doesn’t play a part ,can have more spacing between virtual checkpoints.
Intelligent Networks Provide Safer Public Transportation
Regardless of the mode of transportation, industry leaders now seem to be committed to improving safety for citizens, passengers, drivers and workers across their own organizations and within the cities of the world.
Safety can be improved with real-time video streaming and monitoring displayed in decentralized locations and in centralized operation centers. This allows for faster incident response times, whether at bus stops, on roadways, on board vehicles, in stations, in maintenance yards, and in depots. This provides better situational awareness to workers and first responders in dangerous or emergency situations.
But the fact is that surveillance video is often wasted because it can’t be accessed in a timely manner, and would take too much time and labor to analyze. Expensive, limited bandwidth cellular backhaul results in high monthly bills, which is an unfavorable situation for most public transit agencies that are focused on keeping operating costs low and building efficient systems. For these agencies, faster bulk data transfer is needed to offload video and provide software updates during the short window when multiple buses are present in the yard, and before they are turned off. Disparate, purpose-specific radio systems are proliferating, resulting in excess costs, and that situation must also change. Transit agencies are locked into non-interoperable proprietary systems, which limits flexibility to reduce costs and offer best-in-class services.
The convergence of both wired and wireless networks is of particular importance to transportation organizations as they look to consolidate separate communication infrastructures into a single cohesive intelligent network. These new intelligent networks must support high-speed voice, video and data to help speed decision making for greater safety and mobility as well as improved productivity.
Streamlining Customer Service and Operations
Mobility is also imperative in the digitization of transportation. This means giving transit workers more flexibility so they can help passengers and customers while being more accessible and mobile. For example, transit workers can help passengers on platforms and trackside and throughout stations without being confined to a service desk. Better tracking of assets, whether these are the trains or other vehicles for public transit, or cargo being shipped, drives greater mobility as well.
Industry leaders are constantly seeking new ways to streamline and improve operations as global infrastructures evolve to meet the growing demands of transporting more passengers and cargo while reducing the carbon footprint. Reducing vehicle downtime with proactive maintenance and improving collaboration across different agencies while also introducing new business models that can help generate new revenue will continue to be of utmost importance.
Increasing ridership and maintaining their existing customer base is critical for mass transit agencies. By creating new converged IP networks, the same networks used to achieve greater safety, mobility and efficiency; agencies can also use them to provide value added services to passengers. On-board Wi-Fi and Internet access as well as a variety of mobile apps that offer better trip planning and wayfinding provides an enhanced passenger experience. The use of onboard video provides a safer environment that will attract more passengers, including local commuters, tourists, and other travelers.
ASFINAG: A case study in data-driven transit improvements
ASFiNAG is the manager of all of Austrian surface transport systems, and several years back, the company set out to revolutionize the management of the roads, tunnels and bridges across Austria. ASFiNAG’s challenge was to gain better data on road, traffic, and weather conditions in order to communicate accurate information to drivers. Delivering more timely, accurate information about traffic conditions to motorists means enhancing the reliability of network infrastructure, whatever the harsh environmental conditions and across whatever systems. To do this, ASFiNAG had to improve network scalability to support new communications applications, whenever and wherever it was needed. Improving traffic flows to reduce congestion would improve safety, with fewer traffic incidents.
ASFINAG’s solution was to connect more than 70,000 sensors and 6,500 traffic cameras over a fiber optic network. Among the positive outcomes from this project ASFINAG lists these:
- In 2015 ASFINAG reduced traffic congestion on its network by 15% compared to 2010.
- Heavy traffic decreased by 3.7%.
- Congestion nationwide decreased by 10%.
- Reduced need for investment through better road utilization and connected roads, drivers, and authorities nationwide while exceeding EU standards for road transport.
According to Bernd Datler, Managing Director of Tolling at ASFiNAG , “we get live feedback on our roads. Using this data, we help route emergency vehicles, provide drivers with up-to-date information and even adjust speed limits to alleviate traffic jams.”
The Future of Connected Mobility
This conversation will continue for many years, and it might well continue in perpetuity. Population growth and urbanization are forcing all varieties of transport and transit systems to adapt – including a modernization of their business models.
The challenge is how to do that smartly. Nearly 3 billion gallons of fuel are wasted in the U.S. each year due to traffic congestion. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), transit systems could collectively reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 16.2 million metric tons, per annum, by reducing private vehicle miles. Connected mobility technologies are already providing some with the real-time information they need to make smarter and greener transportation choices.
Cities are taking steps to improve their infrastructure, although most of them are still struggling to overcome the siloed approaches that city departments tend to take. These departments invest in one problem at a time, creating duplication in infrastructure, and losing value of cross-domain interactions (e.g. public safety and transport with building systems).
This approach is neither scalable nor economical, and it does not benefit from cross-vertical sharing of data and services. For example, congestion management solutions often can’t leverage the video feeds from cameras installed for public safety and security.
Most city departments make investments based on choices that are made somewhat independently of other city departments. This results in less than optimal sharing of infrastructure costs and of resources. These different departments therefore don’t benefit as much as they could from a coordinated sharing of on-the-street intelligence and real-time information, including such things as video feeds, data from sensors, etc. Waste and duplication of investment and effort is not a desirable outcome when cities are resource-challenged. Perhaps most importantly, they find it difficult to scale their city infrastructure management.
A new model is needed for cities, one in which data and resources can be shared to create a positive feedback loop that leverages the use of these resources into better quality of life, more and better investment into urban systems, and an economic environment that attracts and retains business and talent. What are the elements of the city’s new “virtuous circle”? The graphic here helps to explain.
Imagine a common integrated platform that moves cities from siloed services, to a situation where each part can share and leverage resources. A key next step for cities is to tap into their common data, especially where and when it’s flowing within shared assets, such as video and management systems.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.
So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?
If you want a healthier community, you don’t just treat illness. You prevent it. And you don’t prevent it by telling people to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. You help them find jobs and places to live and engaging schools so they can pass all that good on, so they can build solid futures and healthy neighborhoods and communities filled with hope.