The transport systems that exist in large parts of the world today are woefully inadequate to cater to the needs of the 21st century. So companies and governments are pitching in to leverage technology and intelligence to make these transport systems smart and serve the needs of the modern world.
A report released last year by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and IHS Global Insight said the smart transportation industry is poised to grow to $67 billion by 2015 in the United States. The sector raked in $48 billion in revenue in 2009.
The continued growth of the modern economy depends, to a large extent, on how efficiently and fast we can move people and goods. Transportation is a leading driver of globalization, with a direct impact on the quality of people and health of economies.
Recently, the Chinese Ministry of Transport announced a national plan to nurture the country's intelligent transport system (ITS). With a forecast of over 200 million vehicles on China's roads by 2020, they are looking at smarter technologies to optimize the traffic networks and achieve lower carbon trips.
Some cities like New York and Sydney have already moved on from the automated traffic signals to adaptive ones. An adaptive traffic control system uses cameras and sensors to detect the inflow of traffic at particular points. The system makes use of the data from other traffic signals and intelligently adjusts the timing of the signals to control the traffic inflow better. A research on the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System (SCATS) revealed advantages like 37% decrease in travel time, 23% decrease in stops and a 7% decrease in CO2 emissions.
Similarly, Farmington Hills, Michigan, has come up with Intellistreets, a concept which uses a wireless network of dimmable, programmable, smart LED streetlights, traffic lights and sign boards. With a series of microprocessors and cameras, the lights are dimmed and brightened as needed, saving on energy.
Leveraging existing technology like mobile computing and GPS can contribute heavily to making transport systems efficient. For instance, major cities across the world are deploying Smart Traveler Information Systems that provide drivers with real-time information on routes, schedules, delays due to congestion, accidents, weather conditions, repair works, etc. Advanced Public Transport Systems are also being pressed into service enabling trains and buses to report their current location to travelers, on request.
Along with electric vehicles and smart grids, these technologies are quietly ushering in a massive shift to clean and efficient transportation. This shift will make tomorrow's cities radically different from today's polluted and overcrowded concrete jungles. In the process, it will reshape the face of the global economy itself.