Logistics

Thoughts from the 2019 ITS World Congress

Marina-Bay-Singapore-at-night
Photo by Mike Enerio on Unsplash

I’ve recently landed back in Australia after attending my third ITS World Congress and there were a number of things that struck me. This in terms of the prevalence of certain topics at the event, plus some notable absences in comparison to previous years..

What is the focus of the ITS World Congress … at the moment?

The list of areas covered at the event is quite broad, but if I was to consider what the focus of this edition of the event was, it is this: a very strong emphasis on people movement, both at a system level, and from the perspective of the needs and aspirations of individual travellers.

If I were to zoom in and pick the ‘greatest hit’ of the congress, it’s Mobility as a Service (MaaS). It’s an area of discussion, of trials, and of progress. In terms of discussion, that began right at the beginning – What is MaaS? I think it’s fair to say that means different things to different people, or, perhaps it could be better posited as different things for different people.

Right now it seems that MaaS will take on a distinct local character in every city or region in which it is introduced. Apart from having its implementation being localised, the other influencing factor in what MaaS becomes in any place is its participants. A massive effort is being made by both public and private entities to establish roles for themselves in the evolving ecosystem(s) of MaaS.

Automated vehicles

In the past, thoughts on just when automated vehicles will break through the trial phase and make it onto public roads has gone through peaks and troughs of certainty. Taking its pulse at the ITS World Congress, I’d say that the timeline for the introduction of automated vehicles has become stretched out, and a lot more nuanced than previously.

Some stakeholders speculate that we may never get to full adoption. They argue that stronger efforts will be required to make co-existence workable. Others point to progressive deployment of new tech into existing vehicle platforms and argue that this will generate a large part of the safety benefit without going to the ultimate deployment of the tech, namely the removal of drivers.

Data *is* the new toil

We’ve moved along from the perhaps glib aphorism that is ‘Data is the new oil’ into a time in which the centrality and importance of data is now widely recognised. Some entities have made major strides in gathering and utilising data.

And while previously there was much aspiration and many ideas for data intensive innovations at earlier ITS World Congresses, in this year’s event they have along into products on show.

But, on the side of not so rosy news, such progress with data is uneven. While some parties are displaying real-time optimisation engines that improve network performance, others are complaining about incomplete coverage, the difficulties of cleaning and curating, the absence of standards and the inability to compare or aggregate data generated from diverse sources.

Most of the organisations that are utilising their resources of big data are also exploring how to apply machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to maximise the level of insight and benefit they can obtain.

Debates about ownership, control, privacy and access to data will continue, but I thought they were less vitriolic this year than at previous events. Interestingly, some commercial platforms are emerging for parties to share and monetise data in a controlled environment.

Further reading:

How’s Australia doing?

While all things ITS and smart mobility are jogging along in Australia, it seems to me that places like North America, Europe, Japan, China, and maybe even eastern Europe, are sprinting ahead of us.

That said, to be fair we must acknowledge that in terms of populations and economies, those sprinting ahead are vastly greater than our own. Plus, at events such as these we tend to see only the work that is help up as the glittering prizes of those regions’ development. What’s perhaps obscured is the scale and true success of efforts and expense incurred.

In terms of involvement and activity Australia is, I believe, highly placed. Our challenge is to resolve what role to play within the global mobility ecosystem, and for every technology to resolve whether we should we buy from overseas or develop locally. Either way, that creates many opportunities for industry leadership and insightful policy development.

iMOVE at the event

Last, but definitely not least, iMOVE left the event with new acquaintances from around the world, some ideas and contacts for possible new projects, and in the case of other discussions, definite pathways to new projects.

I’ll be sure to let you know when possibilities and pathways turn to projects underway.

Author: Ian Christensen

Ian is the Managing Director of iMove CRC. He’s excited by the opportunity presented by the digitisation revolution to address the needs of the transport and mobility sectors, and looks forward to combining his CRC leadership experience with his interests in technology, enthusiasm for national progress, and familiarity with industry.

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