The number of vehicles being used in economically developed countries is increasing rapidly. In the United Kingdom alone, 600,000 new cars take to the roads each year, equating to one vehicle for every three people. In the United States, there is almost one vehicle for every person, and the streets of major cities are choked.
Not only that: the number of commuters using public transport is also rocketing. The City of London’s permanent population is around 12,000, but every weekday, as commuters journey in, that number swells to 400,000.
The various modes of transport we have at our disposal guarantee a high level of mobility for individuals and goods. But this comes with significant problems, not least the slowing pace of transport as a result of traffic, as well as the overcrowding of public transport and the problems with pollution.
Vast amounts of money are spent on repairs and upkeep of roads, bridges, train lines and waterways. This will only increase as the volume of traffic builds.
Managing the direction that the future of transport infrastructure takes is therefore vital if we are to lessen the burden caused by the rising use of vehicles and transport. Hitachi is at the forefront of changing transport infrastructure, with developments in everything from high speed trains for intercity travel, to energy efficient monorails for urban use.
One strategy being increasingly deployed to improve the quality of public transport services is the use of Artificial Intelligence, and in particular the analysis of data that allows us to predict when things might go wrong.
Think of the London Underground, where some 1.4 billion journeys are made each year. If something goes wrong at a station in north London, then it can have a serious impact on commuters using the same line 10 miles away in south London. Everything is connected, and the slightest hiccup can make thousands of people late for work.
As a result, data scientists are improving smart communications between underground trains and computers over-ground to see if they can predict when the engine of a train might fail. The idea is to prevent failures before they happen, and the result is an expected savings of £3 million each year, not to mention the time saved for people using them.
A sharing culture
Another way to drive down the congestion of our roads is the use of shared vehicles. The average pace of on-road transport in London, currently less than 8mph, is now the same as it was in the days of horses and carts.
Various car-pooling schemes have now been set up, not just in London but across European cities. BlaBlaCar and Liftshare are two examples of initiatives launched in recent years to encourage commuters to forego solo rides in individual vehicles and instead join other passengers heading in broadly the same direction.
The services have been made available via telephone apps. Liftshare now boasts 500,000 customers in the United Kingdom, while BlaBlaCar has more than 40 million across Europe. If you squeeze into a car alongside three other passengers, rather than going it alone, you will take a car of the road. And if 40 million people do this then that equates to 30 million cars being taken off the road.
Overcrowding of roads is not the only problem. With more vehicles, roads are becoming more dangerous. One potential remedy for this is the use of autonomous vehicles. Manufacturers claim these will be able to use their in-built intelligence to avoid collisions with pedestrians or other vehicles.
This is a prime example of how the social innovation culture is entering the transport sector, and it doesn’t stop there. Momentum is developing behind a push to make all vehicles, whether self-driving cars, underground trains or even bicycles, connected via smart technology. This will allow drivers to locate congestion hotspots, save energy, keep the roads safer, and reduce accidents.
The human energy going into the transport revolution offers a clear indication of a growing universal feeling that we need to change how we get about. Innovations are coming thick and fast, and they will bring new levels of safety and comfort to our lives.
Our world faces a number of challenges, from climate change and pollution to population growth and urbanisation. Hitachi believes that it must help to find innovative and commercially viable solutions for these challenges. Visit Social-Innovation.Hitachi to learn how Social Innovation is helping Hitachi improve lives across the world.
Image under licence from iStockPhoto.co.uk, credit Gremlin