Max Lenardi, R&D Automotive and Industry Laboratory Manager, Hitachi Europe Ltd
Max Lenardi describes how digital technology is transforming transportation and outlines the opportunities it offers for the optimisation of energy use and passenger convenience.
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How is digital technology going to transform transport in the next 5 to 10 years?
Hitachi is involved in several transport domains, road transport, rail transport, but also supporting some other transport modes of goods and people, like maritime transport. And Hitachi is fully in the digitalization transformation of this domain. We have several examples in the road transport domain. My team is specialised in the connected autonomous vehicle of the future. And digitalization software-based technology is one of the main innovations that we work on, not only from a research point of view, but also as a support of our business unit in the Hitachi Group.
In the rail domain, you might know that in Europe Hitachi Rail is present in several countries, especially UK and Italy now. My team is creating some technology for the connected autonomous vehicles of the future. And with vehicle, I don’t mean only car, but also might be a tram. They both are in the same environment, a city, urban environment. And so they need to perceive the environment around them with the same system or at least similar system.
But we are working also on services for the transport domain. For example, my team provided a basic technology base on machine learning and artificial intelligence to optimise the fuel utilisation of some vessels. So we talk about money time transportation now. You’ll see that Hitachi is involved in different domains of transportation, is not just looking at rail or road, but putting together.
Furthermore, digitalisation will be very important also in the infrastructure part of the transport mode. For example, some colleagues in the innovation division, but also in the business unit domain, are working on improving the spaces around the infrastructure used by the people to move around. I’m talking about stations, for example. Train stations need to be rethought, redesigned in order to be more efficient for people flow, for example, and also for people using the station differently while waiting for a train, for example.
And I mentioned a keyword is design. My teams are more engineering teams, in the sense of research. But we cooperate a lot with our colleagues of design centre and user thinking. It’s very important to go to our customer and provide solutions that are optimal from an engineering point of view, but also from a design and usage point of view.
How will smart transport technology impact on our crowded smart cities?
The city will be transformed in a sense of flow of people and goods. At least, this is my feeling. Digitalisation will optimise the usage of the different transportation means. The journeys will become end-to-end journeys in optimised way. A person need to go from A to B, depending on the time needed, of the time of the day, the person can use different transportation means. And by putting together this means and using digitalisation, we can think that the flow of people will be optimised.
But also digitalisation can be important in the sustainability, in the cleanness of the future cities. We more and more talk about electrification of the transportation means. And in order to be more electrified, the overall system needs digitalisation, so that we can optimise the usage of energy that comes from new sources as well.
For example, we have a project which is ongoing with a customer in the Nordic area. And with them we are applying artificial intelligence and machine learning, so digitalisation let’s say, in order to optimise the usage of the fuel and in particular to reduce the fuel consumption. And we might think to apply similar technology to fleets of delivery vehicles or taxi fleets and so on. So I expect that in some years, digitization will have an impact in the cleanness of the atmosphere around the city, or in the city. Hopefully, this together with the people flow optimization will also together improve sustainability itself of the city.
What other technologies may improve the sustainability of cities?
Application of ICT technologies, or Information and Communication Technologies, will not only impact on the sustainability of the systems, of transportation means, surely we target also functions and applications that improve the comfort and the safety of the people going around in a city. There are a lot of accidents related to motorcycles or pedestrians in cities. And we are working on systems that can perceive the environment from a vehicle in order also to avoid such type of accidents. I don’t remember the percentage of this type of accidents, but it’s pretty high in a city, and we want to reduce it.
What can the government do to foster the development of sustainable cities?
A city or a region needs absolutely to, in my opinion, cooperate with the private companies wishing to improve the transportation systems. The infrastructure needs to be in some cases redesigned. And the infrastructure is managed by authorities and regulators.
So there is absolutely need to push for cooperation, public-private partnership in order to co-innovate, and co-create the new spaces of the future. We are already doing that. My teams, for example, are involved in European or national projects, where some of the partners are from the infrastructure side. So we cooperate in order to have, not only safe and clean transportation mode, but also safe and clean infrastructure side of that.
As we know in some cities of the world, the authorities prefer to tax the transportation mode in order to have the resources to eventually reinvest in the innovation of the infrastructure. I like very much the concept now– the reality sometimes is not always what the plan was. I prefer to say that I expect more investment by infrastructure and authorities in order to innovate their infrastructure.
The infrastructure is there, but is very old. And we know that comfort and safety of people going around is very important– not only safety, but also comfort. And we have several cities that were pioneer in the new infrastructure, like Metro System, but currently, those systems are very old and need renovation. And in this phase of renovation, digitalisation might play an important role again. Hitachi is looking at these aspects, not only from an innovation point of view, but also with some business units being implied in discussions with the authorities, for example.
What role do data sharing initiatives play in this process?
In Hitachi, there are several entities which are really detail oriented. It means, not only from an R&D point of view, Research and Development innovation, my team has also members who are data scientists, in fact, but also from the point of view of capability of Hitachi to let converge what we call operational technology, let’s say, hardware, for which Hitachi is very well known around the world, but also IT capabilities of Hitachi. So we need to let these two domains, worlds, converge as much as possible.
And data are very important. In several examples of my activity, my team is receiving data from customers of Hitachi. And the first phase of this collaboration project, or co-creation project, with the customers is, in fact, just to analyse the data in order to see if there is something to do from a digitalisation point of view.
Later on, we will call co-create by running some proof of concept project or proof of value project, we call it, so between Hitachi and the customer. But data as a starting point is very important. Depending on the data type, there might be more availability or not. And in Europe now with the recent very strict regulation related to data exchange, especially related to privacy, we need to be very careful. And we are open to work with the data provided and also in a compliant with the European regulation.
What are the lessons learned from Hitachi’s own transport projects?
In the recent years, Hitachi evolved in its research and development division. We involved and integrated the design division as well in the innovation. When we now go to Customer side of our business unit, we go to customer with the target of taking into account all aspects and requirements and pain points of the customer. We want to not only satisfy with a solution which is engineering perfect, but also with a solution that is perfect in design sense, so in terms of usability of the solution.
The co-creation projects are very important for R&D. And we push for possible scalability of our solution. Customization is very important, of course, because we have to make business as a company. But from a research point of view, obviously, we would like that our solution is then possible to use in many other situations or other customers.
Only by discussing with the customers and in their premises, together with all the employees that are working, for example, along the manufacturing chain, it is possible to extract, to understand the pain points of the customers and to provide that later on the right solution for their problems. That’s why we continue these ideas of co-creation and co-innovation with our customers.
Some colleagues are working on so-called smart spaces and video analytics developing some tools that can improve safety in a city from a point of view of, let’s say, free circulation without thinking I can be threatened anywhere. Of course, I cannot go into the details, but, yes, Hitachi is also working on these kind of aspects. Some cities are more open to co-creating that sense. Some other cities are a bit more reluctant. But we have some examples and projects ongoing that will surely demonstrate the usefulness of these technologies by Hitachi.
Will smart technologies prompt more people to use public transport instead of their car?
We already see around the changes in the transport modes used by people. Young generations, for example, do not see the necessity of owning their own vehicle. They are, most of them are, in fact, not thinking of even getting the licence for driving. They do not need, especially in urban environment, because there are other means of transportation.
Nevertheless, other generation, and including myself, I really like to drive, honestly. But when I am in a city– some cities– I don’t want to drive, because it’s always very congested, and you lose much more time. So depending on the needs, I see that transportation modes are really evolving. We need to look to those modes to be more interacting each other, so that end-to-end journeys are more smooth and, of course, still safe and comfortable for everybody. People seems to go in a direction of being free to use any transport mode for the situation, yes.
One barrier to the real deployment of connected autonomous vehicles, and here I refer to cars, connected automatic cars, one barrier is not really technical. We are progressing relatively fast from a technical point of view to reach what we say level four or level five of autonomy. The barrier is more from a regulation point of view or from an ethical point of view.
What happens if there is an accident involving two autonomous vehicles? Insurances and so on, those type of barriers and regulations absolutely need to be addressed deeper than what done so far in order to facilitate the deployment of those vehicles in my opinion.
From a technical point of view, of course, there is still, in my opinion, some years ahead to see real deployment. There could be some specific use cases that can be implemented earlier, like, for example, having convoys of trucks on a highway. But we are talking about highway, so a sort of simpler environment.
But when we are in a city, there are many, many technical challenges still to be solved. OK, we will solve them. But we must solve also nontechnical challenges related to regulations, policies, liability, and so on.
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