Sunday 21st July 2019

Technical layers will drive connected transport in our smart world

Published on August 2nd, 2018

As IoT moves into our cities, Ricardo Gomez-Ulmke, vice president, Solace, writes that many connected transportation initiatives fail because they aren’t built around passengers. Here he looks at what successful, long-term solutions need to cover.

IoT is taking over our cities. And I don’t mean in a doomsday “technology is replacing humans” scenario. Governments and technology companies are working together to understand how connected devices will improve citizens’ lives. Naturally, many of these initial implementations are in the sector that can frustrate citizens the most – transportation.

From traffic jams to late trains, connected technology has the potential to solve many of the transportation issues people face every day. But successfully creating connected transportation economies requires city officials and tech companies alike to take a step back and look at the “big picture” of this unique ecosystem.

The key is in looking beyond just the different modes of transportation (from public buses and trains to personal cars and ride-sharing apps) and inserting the passengers themselves into the equation – which is where many connected transportation initiatives fail.

Consider this…

Think of this scenario: if a man is trying to catch a bus downtown that will be arriving in 10 minutes, but he expects to be sitting in traffic for another nine minutes, stress begins to set in.

However, if we could track methods of transportation as well as passengers’ locations in real-time, a connected system could glean critical insights into how to seamlessly improve his journey. The outcome could be that the passenger won’t make his bus, and the next bus isn’t going to arrive for another 20 minutes, but he could be prompted to take the train from the station five minutes away instead. These kinds of notifications reassure the passenger that he’ll be able to travel efficiently from point A to point B, mitigating his frustration.

It’s easy to understand the importance of connected transportation; but how can tech developers build the critical platforms that will make an ecosystem run effectively? Taking a layered approach, backed by a robust messaging foundation, developers will be able to integrate real-time events, share data, drive communication between apps and force real-time action.

Integration is often a sticking point

The first technical problem developers run into is integration. In transportation, it’s standard to have digital tracking systems in place to manage the location of all the different vehicles in a city or region. However, when you have a variety of applications created by various organisations, it becomes increasingly difficult to house all the critical information in one place.

Let’s continue with the example of the man trying to catch the bus downtown. If his mobile or the GPS in his car can’t connect with the bus or the train timetables, he likely would have just driven to the bus stop and waited 20 minutes, inevitably making him late and agitated.

The truth is that there will never be one organisation that can provide all the critical transportation (and tangential) applications in a particular geography. Therefore, a successful connected transportation strategy must start with passengers’ experience. Understanding a passenger’s goals and situation in real-time and correlating it with available modes of transport at any time and location is the key to adding value to each journey.

This means data and events from across the entire transportation chain must be accessible to application developers to create truly transformational experiences at scale.

Real-time communication and action

Beyond traditional API-based integration, the connected transportation economy requires real-time event communication across app and organisational boundaries.

Ricardo Gomez-Ulmke

Back to the example. Say our passenger finally arrives at the train station and suddenly there’s a signal failure that halts the entire subway system. In a truly connected transportation environment, the passenger would immediately be alerted of nearby ride-sharing options as well as expected travel time to drive to his end-location. While this is an extremely frustrating situation for the passenger, he at least was provided with real-time updates and options for getting where he needs to go, rather than being left in the dark.

The foundation for these capabilities requires a scalable connectivity layer combined with an event-brokering and federation capability that delivers messages across all applications with sub-second latency.

A tip for connected transport developers

When startups begin developing IoT systems, they often think of short-term success instead of the future – they build an application with the idea of thousands of people using it each month. But this thinking could hurt the long-term success of their application as eventually, if that application were to become part of a more extensive connected city, the platform won’t have the capacity to scale up, thereby limiting its ability to send, receive and respond to actions in real-time.

Ultimately this renders the system next-to-useless for improving the passengers’ experience. My tip for connected transportation developers is to think big – this way, when it’s time to support up to a million events per second, you’ll be able to deliver on your initial vision from pilot to large-scale rollout.

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The author of this blog is Ricardo Gomez-Ulmke, vice president, Solace

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