Connected commuting: IoT and smart public transport

By | 3 minute read | September 7, 2016

Connected commuting, IoT and transport

Public transport. What a joy. Who hasn’t been top-to-toe in tail lights, quietly seething and wishing that apparition (à la Harry Potter) would hurry up and be a real thing already.

While disappearing and reappearing instantly in another place is confined to the realms of fantasy, for now at least, Internet of Things technology is going some way to taking the misery out of commuting.

The problem with public transport is that it relies on interconnecting systems. So when something goes wrong, there’s a knock-on effect. A train breaks down and blocks the route, delaying the trains behind it. It’s expensive, bad for the environment, and a disruption for everyone.

If the inter-connected nature of public transport poses a problem, the solution needs to use connected thinking too. That’s where the Internet of Things comes in.

How does connected transport actually work?

Simply put, physical things (such as train tracks or car batteries) connect to networks, and the networks then connect to each other to share data picked up by sensors on the things themselves.

Let’s look at an example – say, connected trains. Imagine that part of a track becomes faulty. IoT technology means that a complex network of sensors is constantly monitoring the position of trains on a route, and the health of the tracks they run on. The sensors capture live data, which can be seen in real-time on a customized dashboard. In this scenario, the track sensors notify the operating company of a fault on the line. The operator can see where and what the fault is and send a technician to fix it. The technician knows exactly what’s gone wrong, so can arrive equipped with the right gear. The fault is fixed, the trains go back into operation, and delays are minimized. Everybody’s happy. Right?

Well yes, but in that scenario there is still disruption to the track, the trains and the customers. That’s why we recommend using IoT for predictive maintenance. Using the sensors to track the condition, temperature, noise etc of the track allows the train company to see patterns in the data, so a problem can be fixed before it’s a problem that stops the trains from running.

Smartphone-connected trains

Besides the operational side, there are the train themselves. In 2015, Hitachi launched the AT200, its first smartphone-connected train, which links online ticket purchases with passenger experience on the train itself.

Tickets purchased online come with an app, which is automatically downloaded onto a passenger’s phone. Each of the seats contains a QR code, which can be used in connection with the app to tell passengers which seats are reserved, or will become reserved at a certain point, and which are free.

You can also link the app to your luggage. A special tag alerts the app when your luggage is moved, so you can wave goodbye to qualms around stolen suitcases left unattended in the luggage rack.

Connected transport is good for the environment

When systems run efficiently, wastage (both of time and materials) is reduced. When they don’t, the negative impact can be significant.

A study published in Time Magazine and undertaken by Donald Shoup of UCLA, reported that drivers looking for parking spaces rack up more mileage each year than you’d need for a long-distance trip. According to the study, drivers in search of a parking spot around the UCLA campus clocked around 950,000 travel miles, 730 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and 47,000 gallons of gas. The numbers are extraordinary, and particularly when you extrapolate out to consider the impact in a big city.

But what if each parking space had a sensor, to provide drivers with a virtual picture of all the available spaces? Emissions would be reduced, congestion would be eased as drivers could go straight to the free spots, and local authorities would have real-time data to help them utilize space better in the future.

What are your thoughts on connected travel and transport? Let us know in the comments below!