Smart connectivity platforms – the future of transportation

By Paola Realpozo

Technology in transportation has become more relevant than ever as the new opportunities and benefits that it brings are valued not only by users and operators, but also by everyone involved in the operation, maintenance and regulation of the service and vehicles. This vision for public transportation is becoming clear quickly: a safe, reliable, efficient and environmentally-friendly transportation network across multiple modes that delivers the best and most affordable customer experience at the lowest operational cost possible.

The concept of connected buses is becoming a key component in developing smart cities. Bus manufacturers understand that safety is a number one priority, and are developing and deploying automated features onboard vehicles that reduce the number of pedestrian- or cyclist-related incidents. The industry and cities are supporting the concept of automation to increase safety in public transportation.

Technology also brings opportunity to innovate outside the bus. Operators are using dispatch and location systems, mobile applications, technology at bus stops, and a close interaction with the riders to change the way transportation is being offered. Technology allows public transportation operators to predict demand for service allowing them to plan according to time of day and density of passengers. They can decide whether to dispatch a smaller or larger bus, arrive 10 minutes later, or to collaborate with other operators (e.g. Uber, Lyft) to provide door-to-door service.

Better technology onboard vehicles, smart connectivity and cloud-based platforms enable smarter transportation and increase efficiency and safety. Smart cities are testing autonomous vehicles (AV) to transport people from point A to point B without the need of a human driver.  Now cities can provide rides to small groups of passengers using AV in controlled environments (dedicated bus lanes, close loops at universities or commercial areas, terminals), while providing regular bus rides to a greater number of passengers, justifying the driver cost for a normal route around the city.

For a smart city to achieve a level of automation onboard vehicles that delivers greater benefits to operators, passengers and the city itself, technology infrastructure must exist on bus stops and waysides, with all back-office systems integrated in the cloud, as part of the city traffic system. Bus manufacturers, government and academia are working together to create the transit system of the future. This system will use the data collected from all onboard sensors – intelligent connectivity platforms that can store and compute data locally at the edge of the onboard network, while connecting to the cloud where back-office systems reside.

This vision of public transportation becomes a reality when operators invest in future-proof technology that allows them to enable onboard applications intelligently. These onboard applications add unprecedented value that directly and indirectly impacts the quality of the ride and safety of the passenger.

Driver behavior, fleet management, telemetry and onboard diagnostics, video surveillance, CAD/AVL, ELD, fare collection, automated passenger counting, passenger information systems, infotainment, passenger Wi-Fi and advertising are but a few of the applications that exist today onboard buses. Architectures onboard the vehicles can become very complex and their operation and maintenance unsustainable, especially if each application depends on an independent connectivity gateway. Therefore, more intelligent connectivity platforms are required to: 1.) simplify onboard architectures, 2.) host software applications on board vehicle and on cloud, 3.) store and transmit data between vehicle and cloud, 4.) compute data locally, 5.) aggregate multiple communications links for increased bandwidth, 6.) optimize bandwidth utilization, 7.) deliver connectivity quality of service, and 8.) create isolation between applications and connectivity network.

As more automated applications are deployed on a bus, there is an increase in data generated from sensors and devices, meaning more data is received from the back-office systems. This, in turn, requires more storage and more bandwidth to send data to and from the cloud. For instance, sensors like GPS and gyro that assist some safety and driver behavior applications generate one million data points per day per bus, which translates to 4 to 6 GB per month, costing approximately $25 a month, when none of the raw, unprocessed data is required for the application. A smart onboard gateway that determines what data to store, what data to process locally and what data to send to the cloud via cellular connection or Wi-Fi network, becomes crucial to optimize the resources and control data transmission costs. A connectivity platform that achieves low latency, high accuracy, traffic prioritization and security is also key to achieving the vision of a connected bus.

The connectivity platform is a key component of the future of smart transportation, as it seamlessly enables all the applications onboard the connected bus and provides actionable data that creates value to operators. It helps operators to increase efficiency, reduce operational cost, perform preventive maintenance and deliver an overall better customer experience. A smart connectivity platform will power the future vision of public transportation for smart cities, as vehicle to cloud communication will be key for cloud-based command and control of AV and wayside/bus stop infrastructure. Operators should invest in a platform that will help them achieve their current, as well as future, connectivity needs. Demand for connectivity onboard buses will only increase over time, so investing in a future-proof platform is a smart choice you can make today.

Paola Realpozo is director of rail strategy at LILEE Systems. LILEE Systems provides solutions for passenger connectivity, and a range of other broadband solutions, including on-board entertainment and advertising, surveillance and security, fleet management, and positive train control.