The ITS market is changing – and authorities must change alongside
Ian Hind, Commercial Director at AGD Systems, tells Intelligent Transport how connected systems are changing the shape of transport’s technology market and why now is the time for authorities to be more open and receptive to that change.
How important is it to encourage infrastructure managers and transport authorities to embrace better connected systems?
Those working in transport can only make informed decisions if they have good information being provided to them to base those decisions on. Those decisions can be made at different levels through the chain and the point at which decisions are being made is really important.
Sometimes you can facilitate even quicker decision making by taking the raw data even further down the chain. For example, if we’re looking at a point in the road where pedestrians are trying to cross, how can we help them safely get across without impacting the flow of traffic? Rather than having it looked at by the local control system to the intersection or the crossing, take it to a remote control centre where the best use can be made of the data, enabling even better-informed decisions to be made using a more holistic approach.
What is encouraging is the appetite of cities or road authorities to move away from legacy equipment and take full advantage of the data-rich flow of information that can come from the latest technology. There’s very little to gain if all this richness of information is being disregarded by the legacy equipment. Where possible, these organisations need to embrace the data and do their thinking from that – they’re really missing a trick otherwise.
With that considered, how important do you think it is for authorities, regardless of what stage they’re at in their technological journey, to be able to scale up when necessary rather than have to buy into a 10-year contract for a piece of hardware or software?
We meet customers around the world with very different budgets at different ends of the spectrum, but we’re always trying to encourage them to investigate use of new equipment through trials. If they take advantage of a trial, we sometimes have access to the data that they’re able to see back in the UK. Therefore, if we have an international trial, sharing the data enables us to work together to provide clients with significant advantage in their local environment.
What is encouraging is the appetite of cities or road authorities to move away from legacy equipment and take full advantage of the data-rich flow of information that can come from the latest technology.
Another point here is whether the end authorities are expecting to pay handsomely for that data information or whether it comes as a benefit of deploying a particular piece of equipment. It’s a question we’re asked regularly: where does the data reside and how do I pay for it? It actually comes within the design of the detector and the information. It’s free flowing if the authority has the capacity to take that data from the detector, so it does very much depend on how the communication is set up. If the detector can provide the data, make from it what you can, as quickly as you can, and take full advantage; it doesn’t have to be expensive.
We often see specifications put out by authorities that detection platforms are required to meet and we have to question whether they really need the whole nine yards, or whether if they had seven or eight instead, they would have all the information they need to make their decisions. Some may be dismissing what are completely viable solutions simply by virtue of the fact that they don’t dot every I and cross every T.
How important is it for ITS solution providers to ensure that their solutions really put the emphasis on pedestrian safety and accessibility as we move forwards and urban areas become less vehicle-centric?
The move to pedestrianised areas is increasing in different towns and cities across the world, but there’s always a need to ensure vehicular mobility and active mobility are able to operate in parallel.
We see it as really important to be able to facilitate information on both the vehicles and the pedestrians in real time. You might have 100 cars travelling along the road and one pedestrian waiting to cross. The crossing will let the pedestrian across and the 100 cars will have to wait, but sometimes you could make a more informed decision to let the pedestrian wait until some of the traffic has gone through.
I think the transition towards autonomous vehicles will have a far larger impact on traffic management and ITS in general than many are anticipating
In the same way, you might have 100 people waiting to cross and there’ll just be one car. Clearly you would want to facilitate the safety of the pedestrians at a busy sports event or outside a train station or a bus station so that they don’t run the risk of randomly crossing the road and being injured or killed by that single car that may be speeding.
It’s really based on the topography of the site when the detection technology is implemented, and on what’s actually happening. The question is whether you can report that information in real time in order to make it really safe for whoever is there, and I think the local authorities recognise that. We’re seeing that there are bigger budgets for pedestrian detection around the world and there are different policies. We see the Vision Zero policy started in America and Canada being adopted in some other countries as well. More recently, there’s been a strong focus on pedestrian safety in Australia.
At a macro level, what kind of trends are you seeing in the traffic management and people flow space at the moment, and where do you anticipate it going?
I think the transition towards autonomous vehicles will have a far larger impact on traffic management and ITS in general than many are anticipating – I also think that better connected and autonomous vehicles are probably still a little further away from reality than people would like. There are so many trials going on around the globe, but one of the most important questions to answer is: at what point can the vehicles effectively and efficiently communicate with the infrastructure that surrounds them? If you have a proportion of the vehicles that can talk to infrastructure but others that can’t, then you still need to manage the flow of every vehicle some other way. As with so many technological advancements, there’ll come a point where the volume of one overtakes the volume of the other, but you still have to, in some way, manage those that haven’t transitioned. I think that’s true of pretty much every sector, not just ITS.
When it comes to product development, you will at some point make a mistake, but you will also learn from that.
From an individual perspective, I think it’s crucial for ITS providers to keep a really close eye on the CAVs market. Vendors have new technologies that they’re evaluating all the time, but I think the only way genuine progress will be made is if people are working more closely together, as consortia. Those solutions will then come through and be delivered much more swiftly than if companies try and do it independently.
Does this kind of advancement present new opportunities for a company like AGD?
I think because we’re part of a much larger group, The Traffic Group (TTG), we do have exposure to a wider customer audience than we would otherwise. We will be talking to lots of national and international road or authorities across the globe and those conversations shape our forward development. We’re listening to clients all the time and using their feedback to deliver systems that meet their developing needs.
That said, you do have to take on risk from time to time. When it comes to product development, you will at some point make a mistake, but you will also learn from that. Back to my earlier point about collaboration, if you’re working with a joined-up approach with other companies, you are going to get to that result much, much sooner.
Is there any advice you’d give to those looking to adopt new systems?
More and more we find there’s a keenness for people to try things that they haven’t tried before internationally. If there’s one thing I would encourage those involved in transport planning to think about, whether it be road authorities or otherwise, it’s just to have an openness to look at things that are different to what they do at the moment.
I think that’s what’s really interesting about the transport market – you get companies that come in and disrupt, and that’s what changes the market. There sometimes appear to be unnecessary barriers preventing progress, so if more authorities embraced different ways of doing things, I think that would help everybody involved in the market, right down to the public.
Ian Hind is a powerful commercial leader whose remit encompasses all customer-facing AGD activity, including new export opportunities through AGD’s global network of distributors. A science background underpins Ian’s highly successful career, where he’s accrued considerable customer-facing experience in senior positions for electronic manufacturing, electro-mechanical and mechanical components concerns. In earlier roles Ian had sales and logistics support responsibility for multi-million pound national accounts across European and Far Eastern group subsidiaries and sub-contractors.