“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” So said President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the United States and 120 years later his words still ring true when you apply them to the global ITS efforts, says David E Pickeral.
As the Smarter Transportation community worldwide prepares to convene once again in North America for the 21st World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems in September, it is appropriate to take stock of what has happened in the past few years since the Orlando ITS WC. Since then, the global economy has by most measures improved. The transportation community – aided by social networking, wikis, crowdsourcing and other interactive media – has become increasingly focused on understanding and planning the enhancements that must be made to ensure ongoing viability and sustainability. Most importantly, operators understand more than ever what is needed to bring about the convergence of physical and digital infrastructure that will be essential to optimize networks both collectively and individually, greatly supported by a regulatory climate that fosters innovation.
The February decision by the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requiring that passenger vehicles built after 2015 must incorporate connected vehicle technology is indicative of that climate. NHTSA’s action underscores that we have every reason to be optimistic that the framework is in place for real – and positive – change.
Yet ours is and will ever remain an industry enamored of gadgetry, and this does not always serve us, or our constituencies, well. All too often, technologies are developed, procured and deployed in isolation, or, far worse, redundancy. We can not afford another cycle of the proprietary stovepipe or siloed technologies that were essential to incentivize first generation deployment of ATMS, ETC and AFC systems over the past two decades, but which would be a significant bar to progress going forward. Fundamentally, then, what is the true measure of progress in ITS development?
What Does Progress Look Like?
This point is worth exploring in detail. Terms like cloud, analytics, virtualization and of course Big Data are popping up everywhere in transportation planning. Much of the traveling population now grasps the potential of better and more customized information to enhance their experience—and welcome its availability. This is a good, even great, development for those of us who have followed the fortunes of ITS for multiple decades. However, it requires focused and appropriate application at every phase of the process to ensure this is properly channeled into technology selection choices that stand the test of time.
The good news here is that being disruptive need not offer a lot of disruption. Despite sending a clear message that progress must be made, the NHTSA ruling recognizes this, and acknowledges the reality that, more so than ever before, industry, citizens and government at all levels are collaboratively leading the process to find solutions that are cost effective and both backward and forward compatible. That is a significant positive indicator of progress, but it is only part of the equation in defining the real state of development.
ITS (an overused acronym, with its main redeeming characteristic being less labored than ‘IVHS’ or others that came before it) and telematics emerged as parallel but distinct disciplines. The former grew up along the roadside with and the latter’s lineage in V2X systems developed by OEMs. Now, the distinction is blurred as in-vehicle systems become increasingly connected to the ICT ecosystem at large, and in-vehicle systems (along with personal mobile devices and an exponentially growing array of sensors of all types) provide an increasingly robust stream of data for roadside-and-beyond systems to analyze. Even in 2014, one wonders whether these are really separate environments at all, to which I would offer the rejoinder: Does it matter anymore?
Call it ‘IntelliMatics,’ or perhaps better yet (to underscore it is not just about cars) ‘IntelliMobility.’ This connectivity continues to evolve organically, both from technologists pressing forward and end users working backward, taking advantage of the ability of mobile devices and their networks to interconnect and interact through the benefit of open standards. At this point ICT very well emulates a much older system of systems: Plumbing. How many bits and bytes can be moved from one location to another; what is disposed of, recycled, treated and otherwise and processed along the way; who needs what sized pipe; how is contamination avoided or mitigated; and where in all of this process does storage, control, apportionment and ownership take place?
While this model appears simplistic, it allows us to get back at the root question here—understanding the state of development. Just as human society evolved (sometimes with fits and starts) from single household wells and privies in the backyard to a largely transparent system of hydration and sanitation, so too must the progress of ITS be measured not from the metrics of the overlay of the entire transportation ecosystem it represents but as an aggregate of individual success stories—literally one traveler at a time.
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