Delays, cancellations, traffic jams, roadworks, overcrowded public transport and finding parking spaces are amongst the many mobility issues affecting travellers on a daily basis. The ability to plan journeys is also hindered by these – and other unknowns – further adding to the frustration.

But could technology support a move to more frictionless travel? One in which users can choose their desired combination of transport options and enjoy a seamless journey? That could be a possibility with the Internet of Things (IoT) and its ability to provide access to real-time data, a vital factor in ensuring Mobility as a Service (MaaS) functions efficiently – particularly given the strain our current city infrastructures are under.

Continued urbanisation

The UN projects that 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. This calls for smarter cities that centre around the citizen and support more alternative modes of transport that are easily accessible and affordable. Indeed, Abel Smit, IoT consulting and customer success director of Tech Data Europe, comments in IT Pro Portal, “Changes in consumer behaviour have also forced city authorities and transit operators to rethink how future transportation services might be delivered.”

This is a valid point. Younger generations, in particular, are more geared towards a sharing, experiential economy and are moving away from car ownership, as highlighted in our Women in MaaS article with accessibility and MaaS expert Renee Autumn Ray. Millennials are happy to ride transit and businesses are relocating accordingly to meet their own demands for future talent. Being able to connect vehicles and infrastructure in a way that enables citizens to move around much more efficiently is therefore key and we believe IoT will be instrumental in achieving this.

What is IoT?

At its core, IoT is basically the merging of the physical and digital world. It means embedding everyday objects in our environment with, for example, sensors that are able to interact with each other via the internet. This allows them to be controlled or monitored remotely and for data to be streamed to the cloud, providing real-time analytics and reporting.

Most people will be familiar with IoT in the home such as security cameras and heat thermostats that allow the temperature to be regulated remotely. In the transport industry, it can be used to allow vehicles to ‘talk’ to each other and for electronic toll collection, traffic control systems and parking meters.

“Another great example of the usefulness of IoT are devices combining GPS, connectivity and smart locks.They are enabling whole new transport options, such as bike-sharing, car-sharing and scooter-sharing.”

Adrian Schoenig, CTO and co-founder at SkedGo

Logistics and fleet management are an additional prime example: expensive cargoes can be continuously monitored both in terms of their location and condition to avoid damage, theft and ensure items are kept at an exact temperature.

How can IoT support MaaS?

MaaS is centred around the ability to bring together multiple modes of transport so that people can find the best route quickly, easily and within their price point – and access them on demand. IoT can act as a connector, providing real-time information back to the MaaS app. This helps users to plan journeys, be alerted to transport problems, access alternative modes and routes and potentially deal with payments and refunds automatically. Not only that, but IoT can also support those providing the transport service.

Safa Alkateb, CEO of Autocab told Intelligent Transport, “IoT connections between different modes of transport will enable journeys to be personalised. On-board sensors mean quick updates on scheduled arrival and departure times can be received, and when these are wirelessly connected to phones, an app should have the ability to track vehicle progress. If there’s a traffic jam in a certain area, this can be seen ahead of time and an alternative route calculated.”

Providing this data back to the MaaS user would mean that they could be kept up-to-date on a vehicle’s progress without the need to contact the service provider or worry that their booking had been overlooked. It’s the immediacy of this technology that is of particular interest. As Abel Smit points out in his article on IT PRO Portal, “Using IoT technology and sensors, the public will be alerted to vehicles that are free to drive nearby and sent an access code straight to their smartphone.”

“The most exciting part of IoT for me, when it’s not just about sensing and sending back that data, but there’s also something going back the other way. That’s what’s enabling all the shared vehicles. Similar thing could also be when you reserve parking, and then the gate automatically opens for you or you’re guided to your specific parking spot in a big car park.”

Adrian Schoenig, CTO and co-founder at SkedGo

Vehicle occupancy is another area that IoT can help travellers. A parent with three children and shopping or an individual who finds overcrowded spaces difficult to deal with could see how full a coach is and whereabouts on a train, for instance, there are seats. This is something that we’ve embedded into our TripGo app, which uses data from IoT sensors. For example, in Sydney, the app integrates seating availability for buses and carriage occupancy for trains where the information is available. The data comes through a real-time feed from the state transport agency and is provided by sensors the state transport agency uses: for buses they are based on people tapping on and off with their Opal cards; for trains they are based on sensors measuring the weight of each carriage.

The advances in wireless technology have a major part to play in making MaaS workable and with 5G this further supports the ability to gain valuable data from interconnected devices and provide that to trip goers. But equally, low speed narrowband can be used to monitor devices in an energy efficient manner, and for less cost. It’s about using the right technologies for the right reasons where it matters most.

Navigating the challenges

Of course, IoT is still in its early days, particularly when it comes to connecting our vehicles, infrastructure and mobility services. It’s certainly not without its challenges, like every other technology.

There are concerns with security and privacy that IoT opens itself up to hackers such as the mirai botnet. There is the European Cybersecurity Act which, as Oscar Williams, editor for NS Tech points out, gives a definite mandate for the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, ENISA, to support organisations across the EU and other groups as well as creating a new certification framework for “IT products, services and processes”. 

Such intervention is vital to ensure that IoT is kept safe and high-level security standards are adhered to across the industry. 

In addition, cost is another issue such as embedding these sensors in the first place, their maintenance and ownership of data. These all need to be taken into consideration.

But despite the challenges that IoT faces, there are numerous possibilities opening up too – with many in the transport sector looking at how these opportunities can be integrated into their business. 

According to Osborne Clarke’s Next Generation Connectivity, “First Bus has introduced real-time journey planning information with tracked vehicles, and used the data to optimise timetables and routes.” The bus provider is also exploring other avenues including on-demand shuttle services on large housing estates and trials of driverless pods.

There is clearly an appetite to connect our transport systems with some exciting pilots underway. When Tim Berners Lee invented the web, he created the foundation to connect people, businesses and communities around the globe. This ability has helped communities to thrive. With IoT we have the opportunity to take this a stage further, connecting physical and digital devices, and helping to reshape our transport system for the better. 

Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels

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