We have all become used to electronic boxes in trucks, next trucks will start talking to the traffic lights. The number of devices and functions available can be confusing for the trucking industry now. On the evidence of the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, held in Melbourne, we are about to be hit with a veritable tsunami of devices and systems, all designed to help us be safer and more productive.
There is some good news, however, the next phase of the electronification (is that even a word?) of transport is likely to cost vehicle owners less and give us some real productivity gains. The development of ITS is all about making the roads safer and less congested. Using on-board electronics along with connected road infrastructure to use communication and interconnected systems to make the roads safer for all.
The world of ITS can be a bewildering fog of acronyms and buzz-words for the outsider, but some practical, hands-on demonstrations set up on public roads in Melbourne give the outsider some idea of what the future may look like and what the possibilities for the freight industry might be.
The trucking industry has got a handle on the intricacies of telematics in the last ten years, and had to live with the expense of paying for a box in the trucks and then paying monthly fees to use it. The ITS revolution is also about boxes in the truck and connectivity, but it has completely different implications, applications and, happily, no monthly fee.
ITS is going to be all about connectivity, not between truck and base, but between truck and car or truck and traffic light, in fact communication with everything on the road around it.
This is the difference, the communication is on a simple level and sees the truck telling those around it on the road, how fast it is travelling, how big or heavy it is and in which direction it is travelling. At the same time, cars around the truck are sending out the same information. The vehicles will flag warnings if the data received suggests the risk of a collision.
All of this information will also be picked up by roadside units at junctions or at other sites. They will also broadcast what they know, like what colour the traffic lights are in each direction. They can also broadcast warnings from further afield to the cars in their area.
All of this information will also be available to traffic controllers in infrastructure like tunnels bridges or in city locations. Decisions on lane closures, traffic light sequences and traffic flows will be made by both humans and computers based on the data gleaned from road side stations and, anonymously, from the vehicles on the roads.
The event horizon for this technology taking hold in Australia is closer than we think. In 2017, a number of car manufacturers, GM for one, will be fitting the ITS-ready chips in all of its new cars, as standard. At the same time, governments are looking at the much-improved safety outcomes and reduced congestion and starting to money into the whole idea.
Recent history should tell us, once new technology like this takes hold it can become ubiquitous in a flash. Smartphones were sci-fi ten years ago, now everybody has one, and couldn’t live without one. ITS could follow a similar arc.