If you were asked to name one industry vertical with a lot to gain from connecting its devices, analysing their data, then using these insights to create new services, what would it be? Smart cities? Manufacturing? Healthcare? How about transport? It’s benefited hugely over the years from machine-to-machine communications (M2M), particularly in vehicle telematics. But the game is always moving on.
Here, Jeremy Cowan talks to Alicja Strzemieczna, the newly-promoted industrial sales director for the Internet of Things (IoT) in Central and Eastern Europe at Advantech.
Jeremy Cowan, IoTNowTransport.com: Nowadays, the transport industry is developing connected cars, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, standalone 5G networks in ports, even nano-satellite connectivity for ships at sea. The possibilities for connected transport are wide and getting wider.
At IoT Now, we put our money where our mouth is and launched this website, IoT Now Transport three years ago, as the first industry vertical to be served by its own dedicated IoT website. So, it’s a pleasure to welcome my guest Alicja Strzemieczna, from Advantech, sponsor of this interview, and a Taiwan-based company with deep experience of providing customers with connected transport solutions.
Alicja Strzemieczna, Advantech: Thank you, Jeremy. Nice to e-meet you.
Jeremy: Alicja, transport is such a huge market. What’s your strategy for serving such a diverse industry?
Alicja: Jeremy, IoT is the only disruptive technology of the 21st century where all technology companies are really living disruption. Advantech is one of the disruptors. The past months have made us realise that we need to be prepared for change. Actually, managing the ever-increasing speed of change driven by trends and emerging technologies is the key challenge of decision-makers on the way towards a new reality. The main question is how to use IoT to travel more comfortably, safer, faster and easier. So, thanks to IoT being smart, predictive, problem-solving, people will gain richer experience from the products and services they buy.
There’s a new era of intelligence and highly efficient commodities, like self-driving cars and trains, smart devices, robust security systems, and many erstwhile futuristic gadgets. Actually, it’s already a reality. Before this fully autonomous future occurs, we can use IoT to enable smarter road mapping, to avoid congestion, and also many other applications in ITS (integrated transport systems), in railway and infrastructure applications. I think that IoT in transportation is about bringing together digitalisation and mobility.
Advantech has become one of the world’s largest suppliers of advanced embedded computing technology, along with equally comprehensive solutions in communication, sensing and cloud computing. Currently, we have four discrete product divisions, and more than 10,000 industrial-grade computing, communication and sensor interface platforms, alongside associated configuration management and application software. Our global network of service centres means we have a presence in 27 countries worldwide and all the time we’re growing.
Although our global reach is impressive, our focus is on local support near to our customers. We use local design and manufacturing service teams to complement the capabilities of our headquarters in Taiwan, in order to create added value for customers. For example, our local experts get involved in the customer concept base in order to evaluate different approaches and check feasibility.
The aim is to create a concept that we can implement with minimal risk according to the costs. Our teams are able to expand this step-by-step model progressively to implement the entire development, including manufacturing locally or in one of our factories in Taiwan or China. We are a technology leader, innovating and co-creating together with the consultancy company, vendors, local integrators and software partners.
Jeremy: So, what are the key trends emerging in the transport sector?
Alicja: AIoT is the newest trend, we call it Artificial Intelligence of Things. We provide a comprehensive product solution from data collect, and data connect to data compute, and control. Each project in the transportation area requires several integrations with existing and/or new systems, and many vendors’ equipment, of course, with many different applications. Advantech has a wide hardware portfolio, it’s true, but we do not have everything.
In recognition of this, our main strategy at Advantech is co-partnerships with specialist vendors and integrators to deliver all-in-one solutions. Local operators require a full ready-to-run solution, based on the newest technology. The truth is that no one company in the world can deliver the full scope of IoT solutions. So system integrators, whether global or local, should focus on certain sectors and application areas where they really feel very strong.
And vendors such as Advantech should work with local integrators, spreading solutions together to different end users. You see, almost every single day, a new generation of people establish a start-up. Many of them are very innovative and we really need to do everything to help them to develop a greater eco-partnership collaboration model. Actually, for me, this is the only strategy for Advantech, if not the only one for everyone.
I can point to multiple trends emerging today. The first one is security, the availability of more sophisticated security features in less complex devices. So, things like support to hardware base unit devices ID, cryptokey storage, and hardware acceleration for encryption, to move to IP-based comms and adoption of standard methods for authentication and secure connectivity.
The next one is remote touch provisioning. What does that mean? Being able to ‘descale’ the installation process means that new systems can be integrated as part of regular maintenance work without needing any specialists or new technicians.
A third trend is remote management. Transport has a large number of devices in any given system, especially buses, for example, and the ability to make changes, upgrades, or security patches remotely and over-the-air can significantly reduce the cost of ownership over the system lifetime.
Here, for example, we have a perfect solution as software called Web Access DMP, which everyone can use to manage and monitor connectivity devices. This is doubly true where remote access can be given not only to the gateway devices installed on the board, but also to all the connected devices in a secure and controlled way. For this, we have a solution called Web Access VPN, which is dedicated to VPN connections.
Trend four is strength; this is higher onboard integration. Historically, there have been a number of coexisting independent systems, like ticketing, CCTV, infotainment, driver communication, and different kinds of diagnostics. Increasingly, these are being integrated using gateways to provide a single connectivity path shared by all systems. Train and tram builders are looking to increase the capacity to fit more passengers inside. This explains the rising demand for such onboard systems. This kind of integration only concerns non-safety-critical functions.
Looking towards other industries, there is a trend toward the multi-service gateway, where virtualisation allows the systems to be turned into applications, which are then simply hosted on a single shared infrastructure. It makes it much easier to have an overarching security and connectivity strategy and again, reducing long-term operational costs.
The sixth is onboard AI. We’re talking about AI all the time. This is using inference engines to help with incident detection, passenger count and flow management, and physical security; for example, left object detection, crowd formation, unusual behaviour of people or anything. It can be used with integration of the street address site, Passenger Information System, CCTV or anonymisation.
For example, we have a case in one of the airports where AI blanks the faces of the people and analyses the behaviour without the face. This gives us the possibility to predict and analyse people’s behaviour automatically.
The seventh trend is that for train manufacturers standardisation is important to increase efficiency, and lower the costs. But we all know that for the railway business in general, it’s very difficult to create a standardised solution. Because I have rich experience in transportation in Advantech over the last 12 years, I can say that around 90% of hardware and solutions need to be customised. It’s really a lot, and each local operator has local project needs.
The eighth trend is bringing digital to mobility by creating more connected, high-performance, integrated and overall smarter transportation. It means effecting deep-rooted mobility patterns and passenger behaviour, while also playing a key role in the long term by attracting people to choose public transport. At the same time, transport companies can benefit from a digitised fleet by improving their efficiency with smarter management and resources.
I think that the last but not least trend I want to mention, that the aim of transport operators is to secure passengers and also their workers. Here I’m talking about the COVID situation. We don’t know what will happen next. It’s very important right now for each operator to set up different kinds of new technology to keep safe and secure evidence that the environment that all people are entering is well protected and it’s not possible to spread the pandemic further.
What else I can mention about AI is that today’s passengers do not want to spend time queuing for tickets, information or any other related services. Here again, using AI for facial recognition can speed up the payment and ticketing process very significantly. So, now wireless PCs are widely using AI technologies for applications such as passenger control barriers and Advantech systems for automatic fare collection and ticketing are now very widespread. They are used in many cities, for example, in the Hong Kong and Singapore metro systems, as well as the Washington metro.