5 disruptive technologies that will transform transport

The fast pace of breakthroughs in new technologies and scientific advances is relentless and continues to unfold on many fronts. As the list of “next big things” grows longer, organisations are increasingly finding it challenging to identify technologies which may unleash disruptive changes and impact the growth and performance of their industries

In a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business and the global economy”, the MGI assessed the economic impacts of 12 technology areas with potential for massive impact on how people live and work, and on industries and economies. Disruptive technologies were identified based on four characteristics:

  • The technology is rapidly advancing or experiencing breakthroughs
  • The potential scope of impact is broad
  • Significant economic value could be affected
  • Economic impact is potentially disruptive

This article explores five of these technologies – some emerging and others established but rapidly growing, which in my view will have far reaching impacts on the operations and management of transport infrastructure in our cities over the next decade. My aim is not to make predictions about the specific applications or size of the impacts. Rather, the intent is to identify emerging trends and guide asset operators, leaders and policy makers in considering the reach of these disruptive technologies, and how they might impact future investment in infrastructure

Mobile Internet
The use of mobile Internet technology is already widespread, with more than 1.1 billion people currently using smartphones and portable connected devices. The full potential of the mobile Internet is yet to be realised. Over the coming decade, this technology could fuel significant transformation and disruption, largely from its potential to bring 2-3 billion more people into the connected world, according to the MGI. Ubiquitous connectivity and proliferation of apps will enable users to go about their daily routines with new ways of knowing, perceiving, and interacting with the physical world
In transport, mobile Internet will continue to provide navigation, travel information, public transport and traffic management capabilities, and create opportunities to increase productivity for asset owners. The biggest impact is likely to come from the use of mobile phones for Near Field Communications (NFC) and use of cellular technologies for cooperative mobility applications (e.g. portable to vehicle or portable to infrastructure communications). ERTICO’s Instant Mobility project, based on a concept of virtual “Transport and Mobility Internet” is an example of a innovative effort to integrate “Mobile Internet” into cooperative mobility
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things—embedding sensors and actuators in machines and other physical objects to bring them into the connected world—is spreading rapidly. From monitoring the flow of water through utility pipes to measuring vibrations on bridges or tracking vehicle fleets, the Internet of Things allows businesses and public-sector organisations to manage assets and optimise performance
In transport, our urban areas are essentially made up of a complex network of systems that are increasingly being instrumented and interconnected, providing an opportunity for better infrastructure management. Going forward, sensors, monitors, video surveillance, and radio frequency identification tags, will all communicate with each other to enhance infrastructure capability and resilience, and capturing volumes of data. Through data mining, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics tools, smart infrastructure systems can help city managers to monitor the performance of vital infrastructure, identify key areas where city services are lagging, and inform decision makers on how to manage city growth and make our cities more liveable
 Autonomous and Near Autonomous Vehicles
The past few years have seen a number of breakthroughs in driverless vehicle technologies. An increasing number of sensor-based solutions aimed at increasing vehicle safety in situations where driver error is most common, combined with connectivity inside vehicles are allowing vehicles to become more self-aware and eventually autonomous
In addition to the safety, environmental and productivity benefits, the developments in self-driving and connected vehicles will have far-reaching implications as the technologies mature and become pervasive. These developments will signal a new trend which goes beyond technology-enabled vehicles and is likely to lead the automotive industry to a significant innovation phase, resulting in significant paradigm changes to the transport ecosystem as a whole … more
 Cloud Technologies
With cloud technology, any computer application or service can be delivered over a network or the Internet, with minimal or no local software or processing power required. In order to do this, Information Technology (IT) resources (such as computation and storage) are made available on an as-needed basis: when extra capacity is needed it is seamlessly added, without requiring up-front investment in new hardware or programming. The cloud is enabling the explosive growth of Internet-based services, from search to offline storage, as well as the background processing capabilities that enable asset operations
The disruptive power of the cloud is that it can also enable entirely new business models, including all kinds of pay-as-you-go services. The cloud will increasingly enable the democratisation of technology, reducing barriers to entry and allowing entrepreneurs and other competitors to disrupt established markets and industries. Cloud services make it easier for new companies with little capital to obtain operating infrastructure and access to markets that has taken global companies decades to build
In transport, the cloud can improve the economics of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) for private road operators and government agencies, as well as provide greater flexibility and responsiveness. For example, operations of Transport Management Centres (TMC) and Emergency Control Rooms can be streamlined through sharing of resources and providing 24/7 operational capabilities at reduced costs compared to investments in new TMCs
Energy Storage
Energy storage technology includes batteries and other systems that store energy for later use. Lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells are already powering electric and hybrid vehicles, along with billions of portable consumer electronics devices. Li-ion batteries in particular have seen consistent increases in performance and reductions in price, with cost per unit of storage capacity declining dramatically over the past decade. On the power grid, advanced battery storage systems can help with the integration of solar and wind power, improve quality by controlling frequency variations, handle peak loads, and reduce costs by enabling utilities to postpone infrastructure expansion
Over the next decade, advances in energy storage technology could make electric vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electrics) more cost competitive compared with vehicles using internal-combustion engines

In transport, the collective application of these technologies will promote smart mobility in our cities through:

  • Advanced network operations management and control systems that utilise field sensors to detect and respond quickly to equipment and infrastructure faults. Vital infrastructure downtimes will be cut using sensors that monitor the health of critical infrastructure, collect data on system functioning, alert operators inside an integrated urban control centre to the need for predictive maintenance, and identify potential breakdowns before they occur
  • Smarter vehicles, trains and public transport systems which sense their surrounding environments, and slow down or stop without human intervention in emergency situations. On-board public transport, a range of GPS, position fixing, video surveillance, and communications equipment will provide accurate and reliable multi-modal real-time passenger information, resulting in better informed travellers and ensuring a smoother, safer and more reliable experience for customers
  • Back-office and cloud systems that leverage sensors, web, mobile, and GPS technologies will utilise smart algorithms, data mining and predictive modelling tools to reduce delays to passengers by optimising schedules and capacities in real time
  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure that will be integrated into a smart grid network, providing consumers with access to sustainable and equitable forms of connected mobility

Technology and innovations will continue to surprise. There will be disruptions to established norms, and there will be broad societal challenges. Nevertheless, many technologies on the horizon offer immense opportunities that could transform infrastructure investment and operation. By determining when and how to take advantage of these technologies, organisations will have unique opportunities to realise rapid improvements in infrastructure productivity and asset operations


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