Back to the Future is an old movie, but intelligent transportation systems are becoming a reality. You don't have a flying car...yet. But you may be able to track your online orders in real time.
Intelligent transport systems are part of smart cities and exist to make citizens' lives easy. For instance, truck drivers benefit from intelligent transport systems. So do fleet companies, shippers, retailers, and buyers. Also, intelligent transport systems improve the maintenance and surveillance of smart cities. Therefore, they're valuable to city administrators.
This post will walk you through intelligent transport systems, their functioning, and their importance to logistics. I'll also provide some tips to help you move into the next revolution in logistics.
But first, a more extensive definition of intelligent transport systems would help, wouldn't it?
What Are Intelligent Transport Systems?
Mobility is part of every city. And that's why transport systems play such a relevant role within and between urban settings. One of the main reasons for using a transport system is saving time.
But intelligent transport systems go further than that. They aim at achieving traffic efficiency by minimizing traffic problems. They apply information and communication technologies—including hardware, software, and communication systems—to transportation system operations. For example, fiber optics, GPS, laser sensors, geographic information systems (GIS), and visualization technologies allow people to implement intelligent transport systems.
The major contribution of information and communication technologies is to provide better information to decision makers. And those decision makers can be traffic controllers or fleet managers, for instance.
Intelligent transport systems provide essential information about:
- Road safety
- The status of vehicles and their movement
The benefits of intelligent transport systems are:
- Less traffic congestion
- Improved traffic management—including road capacity and incident management
- Reduced travel time
- Improved safety and comfort for drivers
- More efficient use of transportation infrastructures, such as roads
- Minimized environmental impact
- Reduction of time spent in stops and at intersections
- Speed control
Implementing intelligent transport systems requires embedded sensors in vehicles, traffic lights, roads, and so on. And those sensors form a network of fixed and mobile sensors linked through the Internet. That's the Internet of Things (IoT)!
In addition, intelligent transport systems rely on data collection, processing, transmission, and analysis. Plus communication systems are imperative to setting up and operating an intelligent transport system. Let's talk a bit more about that now.
How Do Intelligent Transport Systems Work?
Intelligent transport systems work in four steps—data collection, processing, transmission, and analysis. We'll go through each of those steps below.
First of all, the collection of data in intelligent transport systems must be real-time and extensive. Of course, data must be as precise as possible. Then, a set of hardware devices—including sensors, cameras, mobile and GPS tracking devices, and other tools—collects those data. And those data can be:
- Traffic count
- Traffic surveillance to identify traffic accidents, detours, work zones, or road impediments
- Travel speed on a certain road
- Weather conditions that influence traffic, such as rain, snow, fog, smoke, or hail
- A vehicle's speed, travel time to a certain destination, location, and weight
- Delays in planned trips
Intelligent transport systems collect, store, and analyze large amounts of those kinds of data and others.
Keep in mind the value of data collection in intelligent transport systems. Inaccurate data and data that are not available soon enough to analyze cause a lot of transportation problems.
Next after data collection comes data processing. Nowadays, that means verifying and consolidating raw data into formats that let people make better, more informed decisions.
After collecting and processing data, real-time communication systems must transmit data collected from the field to other systems where people will use those data. So, data transmission in intelligent transport systems happens in two steps:
- Transmit data collected from the field to systems that process them.
- Send processed data to systems where data consumption happens. These include the systems that fleet managers and traffic controllers use.
Some means of transmitting transport data are:
- SMS, sometimes in the form of text messages
- Variable information panels on roads
- Internet over smartphones or smartwatches
Finally, let's look at how to derive meaning from all this data.
Access to transport data helps data consumers make better decisions related to traffic, roads, and vehicles. And those decisions may be either manual or recommended by the system they use. There's also the case of intelligent transport systems controlling vehicles themselves, such as self-driving vehicles. Isn't that amazing?
What happens after data analysis? Here are a few options:
- A fleet manager may decide to change a route in real time because someone else's overturned truck is blocking a road, or there's some other traffic problem.
- A traffic controller working at a traffic management center may control the inflow of vehicles onto a highway.
- A vehicle can automatically reduce its speed to keep a safe distance from the one in front of it.
So far, we've talked about intelligent transport systems in general. But how do they relate to logistics? Have a look at the next section.
How Intelligent Transport Systems Affect Logistics
Intelligent transport systems significantly affect logistics providers in a number of ways:
- Automated and optimized route planning
- On-trip rerouting—for instance, adding a stop to the route or changing it to escape a detour
- Real-time route navigation information for drivers
- Automated fleet maintenance and inspection scheduling
- Drivers' on-road vision enhancement
- Longitudinal or lateral collision avoidance or notification by means of intervehicle communication (This is a fancy way of saying a system that alerts the driver when another vehicle is too close.)
- Automatic billing
- Digitized driver paperwork, even if that paperwork is torn or crumpled
- Support for load consolidation
- CO2 emission monitoring
- Real-time driving advice to drivers
- Priority and speed advice to drivers. For instance, if a street has no traffic lights, pedestrians have priority as they enter a crosswalk. And vehicles in a roundabout have priority over those entering it.
Route planning and on-trip rerouting are possible through vehicle communication with authorities' traffic management systems.
How can you prepare yourself and your logistics company to get into intelligent transport systems? Here are some tips.
Tip #1: Get Into the Topic
Every intelligent transport system is the product of a multidisciplinary team. Adapting information and communication technologies to transportation requires know-how from a lot of disciplines. For example, civil, electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineers collaborate to develop these systems. The collaboration and coordination of specialists from multiple disciplines prevents many transportation problems.
If you're a logistics provider, start investigating the topic of intelligent transport systems. That way, when these systems become more widely available, you'll be up for the challenge of adopting them!
Tip #2: Use Consolidation Tools Whenever Possible
The ultimate goals of smart cities are livability and sustainability. That translates to fewer trucks on the road, less traffic congestion, and less pollution. However, as population continuously increases in cities, so does e-commerce. As the saying goes, "If you bought it, a truck brought it."
In the same vein, due to smaller living spaces in cities, consumer orders are smaller and more frequent. Consequently, deliveries of less than truckload (LTL) shipments in urban areas has also increased. As a result, more trucks are on the road, and both traffic congestion and pollution within cities has increased in many areas.
It sounds as if urban livability and sustainability are a utopia, doesn't it? Well, they're possible, and you can help create them while you save your company some money. First, create or use consolidation centers. Then, use software that supports load consolidation.
Tip #3: Get Involved
It will still take a long time until smart cities are a full, widespread reality. Meanwhile, get involved in smart city development communities. Also, participate in projects to use smart transport infrastructures.
Final Tip: Climb the Ladder of Smart Logistics
It's likely that decades will go by before fully autonomous vehicles can routinely operate in cities. But logistics can incrementally move toward that reality. For example, trucks can become more automated with driver assistance systems. By exploring and adopting intelligent transport systems, you can start saving time and money today.
This post was written by Sofia Azevedo. Sofia has most recently taught college-level courses in IT, ICT, information systems, and computer engineering. She is fond of software development methods and processes. She started her career at Philips Research Europe and Nokia Siemens Networks as a software engineer. Sofia has also been a product owner, working in the development of software for domains such as telecom, marketing, and logistics.