Kevin Curran, BSc (Hons), PhD, SMIEEE, FBCS CITP, SMACM, FHEA, is an IEEE Senior Member and a Reader in Computer Science at the University of Ulster and group leader for the Ambient Intelligence Research Group. His achievements include winning and managing UK & European Framework projects and Technology Transfer Schemes. Dr Curran has made significant contributions to advancing the knowledge and understanding of computer networking and systems, evidenced by over 700 published works. He is perhaps most well-known for his work on location positioning within indoor environments, pervasive computing, and internet security. His expertise has been acknowledged by invitations to present his work at international conferences, overseas universities, and research laboratories.
How will future system managements and grids look like for intelligent infrastructure?
We, at IEEE, believe that we can expect to see much more real-time integration between national intelligent transport infrastructures and systems such as satellite navigation in cars; traffic signal control systems; parking information, weather reports, bridge de-icing, container management systems; variable message signs; automatic number plate recognition or speed cameras to monitor applications, such as security CCTV systems and similar.
We can expect the end of road-side construction/traffic flow cones. In the future we can expect indestructible inbuilt road sensors that are embedded in the road and 'turned on' during preventive road construction maintenance or in emergencies alerting each vehicle to the need to reduce speed or halt. Ultimately, we can expect the road beneath us to become more communicative.
Another key part of future intelligent transport infrastructures will be support for charging stations especially as they move from being public led to private push. This is crucial as currently many electric vehicle charging stations are part of networks run by service operators however quite often users can only charge at points that are part of their network and this lack of roaming between networks is inhibiting electric vehicle sales.
One of the major inhibitors is the lack of trust and collaboration between the major auto manufacturers. Yes, Ford, General Motors, Toyota, BMW and all the other leaders) are all part of the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Consortium which is striving to deploy the infrastructure of tomorrow however in reality they all go back to their workshops and continue to produce proprietary protocols and systems.
Glimpses of future intelligent infrastructures can be seen at the moment in initiatives such as one in the UK where in Birmingham City, IBM is helping to analyse big data to help understand parking patterns in order to better manage congestion. They had deployed ultra-low-power wireless sensors in roads and offered an accompanying app for drivers to get real-time availability and prices for parking. Common sources to manage traffic included road sensors, video cameras and GPS updates from public transport. In Ireland, Dublin City Council have rolled out a Big-Data led Traffic Management project where traffic controllers use the data from various sensors to overlay real-time locations of Dublin's buses on a digital map of the city. The aim is to quickly visualise potential problems in the bus network before it spreads to other routes.
Will there be communication between devices to improve reliability and can any of this be combined with IoT?
Cars are beginning to communicate with the grid, the cloud and other vehicles. It will not be long until cars by default will likely keep an activity log for service and debugging. Privacy of course will be an issue however - whether it is the insurance company, the car maker, a local dealer, or even police authorities are all seeking another means to track our every coming and going.
Crucial components of the future will be the mobile networks, ad hoc (car to car) networks, vehicles to/from road sensors and satellite communications. We can expect a significant portion of the Internet to be consumed by vehicle communications.
Machine-to-Machine (M2M) or Car to Car (C2C) will also play a large role in the future. For instance, if a crash happens, on-board M2M/C2C technology will automatically send vital details to the emergency services such as time of collision, GPS location, vehicle description, vehicle license number and registered owner. This might save crucial moments in life-threatening situations. A commercial example of this is from OnStar who provide a variety of in-vehicle technologies for communications, navigation, remote diagnostics, and safety. OnStar's Automatic Crash Response system uses sensors to detect a crash and then automatically alert emergency responders. The Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Centre is taking this a step further to use crash data to predict the type and severity of injuries that occupants in a crash likely sustained. Automatically collecting and sending this information means that appropriate help can arrive sooner, potentially saving lives. M2M or C2C can also lead to pertinent information being sent to keep drivers informed with up-to-the-moment knowledge, so that they are better prepared to make correct driving decisions. M2M technology can also be used in sensors that communicate trip time, intelligent parking meters that alert drivers to vacant parking spots and even fleet management systems that handle logistics, scheduling and routine vehicle maintenance. M2M technology will also allow for on-board diagnostic information to be sent to a dealership or car manufacturer to speed up fault diagnosis. M2M can also help companies reduce fuel costs. For instance, a fleet with feedback from vehicle gauges has a more accurate guide as to the level inside of all remote tanks so they can optimise the fill-up of tanks.
In the future, it is entirely possible that all vehicles have network connectivity. This allows them to receive firmware/software updates and synchronization over the local home/network of music, GPS data, etc. It is only a small step for much of the telemetry data associated with that vehicle to also be uploaded so as to allow a city to optimise traffic management.
There are already LEDs in road surfaces to warn about incidents, self-repairing concrete and bike lanes that convert sunlight into electricity. What is in the works that can improve the infrastructure as a whole and make intelligent transportation more efficient?
Wireless sensor networks are a core aspect of future smart roads. Monitoring bridges is one of the more successful applications of Smart Roads to date. In Greece, the 3km Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge has sensors and shortly after opening they detected abnormal vibrations in the cables leading to engineers installing additional weight to dampen the cables. Wireless sensors can also be used to monitor the state of road surfaces such as detecting the number of potholes in a road e.g. Boston taxis were used in one study. Sensor networks are being deployed in tunnels to monitor air flow, visibility, and a range of gases (CO, CO2, NO2, O2, SH2 and PM-10). Most are wired but moving to a wireless sensor network deployment could increase safety, save money and speed up installation times. Other sensor networks measure temperature, humidity and other similar parameters on highways to make them Smart Roads. This is important as weather conditions affect road safety. Smart Roads could in fact take advantage of solar energy for power, clearing streets of ice and snow by melting it away. Also, temperature-responsive dynamic paint can be used to make ice crystals visible to drivers when cold weather makes road surfaces slippery. Finally, wireless sensors are being used to monitor water levels on viaducts, create noise maps in roads close to cities and of course monitor traffic congestion. Wireless sensor networks combined with cameras are becoming a common instrument in detecting traffic flows, speed, and the continued occupation of the road. Sometimes they are combined with other sensors such as magnetometer or power sensors, for traffic detection. The advantages of WSNs are that they can monitor and evaluate roads automatically and continuously, with little human effort and work 24/7 even with poor weather conditions, when there is fog or presence of dust in the air. They are also low power and quite cheap.
Another example is HiKoB road sensors. HiKoB road sensors are compact, low-power, wireless sensors that can be embedded into the roadway to measure variables such as temperature, humidity, and traffic volume. The sensor data is sent over a wireless network to a server for processing and analysis. This information allows road crews to prioritize maintenance during harsh weather conditions, which are responsible for almost a quarter of vehicular accidents. The system can also alert drivers of potential hazards.
In general, the roll out of a multitude of wireless sensors in roads and in vehicles will allow the public to do accurate tracking of public transport. Other early initiatives have links sensors, vehicles and stop lights/signs to control flow. Popular wireless sensor networks include accelerometers, strain gauges, anemometers, weigh-in-motion devices and temperature sensors. The powerful aspect to such systems is that you can influence the traffic in real-time as opposed to the historical data analysis approach where retrospective decisions were the norm. In fact the value of data collected in many instances is reduced dramatically even minutes after the fact.
Regarding traffic lights, again sensors can help here. The most common traffic signaling system worldwide is the timer based system. This involves a predefined time setting for each road at an intersection. Works OK for light traffic but to cater for busier incoming lanes, a dynamic traffic adaptive system is proven to work much better. These systems therefore rely on a variety of sensors to determine which routes require greater priority and ultimately right of way to speed traffic flows.
Any other comments
A risk associated with rolling out technology in cars as opposed to other platforms e.g. homes, offices is the potential of distraction leading to accidents due to poor design or malfunctions in the new product. Technology experts outside of aviation and medical products tend not to follow stringent testing methodologies but lazily rely on fixing problems as they arise. A mis-configured service in a fast moving car however can lead to death. A number of factors may lead to change however. The motivation to build rigorous and secure systems should be there because it is quite possible that all involved in its design could be held liable if a defect caused or even contributed to a collision. And if computer programmers eventually play a bigger role in the way vehicles move than drivers do, it's likely manufacturers will build the cost of litigation and insurance into their vehicles. Security should also not be an afterthought. There is a worry about hackers controlling vehicles in different scenarios such as having fun with the songs being played, downloading rogue apps, disabling the vehicles ignition, to overriding braking systems. Akin to the early days of the Internet, Security has not received a great deal of attention to date from car manufacturers.
Functions such as the speed control, steering and brakes are all located on a separate vehicle network, there is still interconnectivity between both vehicle network backbones so that a breach in one might theoretically cause havoc in the other. Car manufacturers need to consider any vulnerable entry points and insert firewalls to restrict access to integrated systems such as the radio and music system and on-board diagnostics port.