When road user will become the manager of roads…
In March 2010, a self-proclaimed “maverick” transport researcher and developer in Italy was consumed by the idea of diverting some power of traffic management and road safety into the hands of the end user. Not happy with the user being used to only ‘provide’ information on road conditions, he wanted the former to be pro-active. He came up with an idea of choosing the smartphones as the medium and power tool for fructifying it. He wrote the preliminary draft for the system he wanted to develop in just two days. By April 2010, the final proposal found its way to the Ministry of Research, Government of Italy. Partners joined the project on the way and the final plan was arrived at shortly thereafter. Soon, one thing led to another till it reached the final approval of the proposal. By July 2011, the Italian government had sanctioned the budget for the project – M2M (Mobile to Mobility) which will be completed by 2013. “Google will not arrive before us,” says Raimondo Polidoro, Director, TMS Consultancy Italy S.r.l – the man behind the idea.
Smartphones have been playing an important role in transmitting road situations since quite some time. So, what is so special about M2M that is aimed at systematisation of mobile information systems and processes for the improvement and management of roads? “The system involves the user in the process of referencing of the quality of transport services by road, overturning the concept of customer satisfaction from the optic of ‘public’ management to that of a qualified quality manager that takes information and validates choices with the direct involvement of users,” explains Polidoro. “The technology will allow to obtain information on the driving behaviour of each connected user and to use control strategies and mobility management techniques established over the past twenty years and credited by many a theoretical research and some experiments in real scale. Widely used personal devices such as mobile phones and smartphones can thus also become actual on-vehicle monitoring stations.”
The project will develop through the planning, implementation, testing and validation of industrial prototypes and computer applications aimed at the widespread dissemination of information to road users in order to reduce the risks and impacts related to mobility.
“M2M will be like a community of users and operators for road safety. It will bring together information/requests from users with information/solutions (possible) of road managers and road decision makers who must minimise hazards faced by the users. It will also enable the users to share information about their safety and allow them to detect and analyse information on the driving style, dysfunctions and the proper use of vehicles depending on the type of road and scenery run,” says Polidoro.
How will M2M work?
A personal device (based on the smartphones) that can be used on any type of road vehicle and also by pedestrians, will automatically acquire information about kinematics and performance of the vehicle, and also enable to manually acquire the information on the functional characteristics of road infrastructure and traffic through user active behaviour.
The system will link the software for personal devices with a centralised database allowing the development of many different applications for data collection and dissemination. Different applications will be useful and usable and accessible at different levels to different typology of users. Information on roads, traffic and static or dynamic driving conditions, collected by smartphones or by different other sources, will be transmitted to the centralised database that will then be able to provide it to road users or operators of road infrastructure through smartphones or traditional web channels.
These different types of information can, for example, be transmitted to the car driving system or be used for administration and infrastructure management. The information, appropriately conveyed through one or more platforms, may be available to various levels of managers and decision makers (Highways, ANAS, Police, EELL, vehicle manufacturers, fleet operators, info-mobility services, and so on) and, subject to elaboration, to the same users in order to disseminate static and dynamic information about the levels of road network safety and possible management strategies. All this, aimed (short and long term) at reducing the impacts of road transport system and safety environment.
Till now, many companies have focused on providing information on disruptions or problems on the roads via mobiles but they do not provide much solution. Identifying a problem and averting the road because of that is one thing but helping to provide solutions is entirely a different thing. -Raimondo Polidoro
While ANAS is an Italian public company that builds and manages the Italian road network inclusive of freeway/motorway, main rural roads, etc., EELL is the acronym for local administrations of Italian municipalities, counties and regions. The information comes from many sources: Vehicles, other users, operators of roads, police, etc., and is managed by an operations centre and sent to users of smartphones as they approach dangerous situations on their route.
Unlike many other info-mobility systems, under M2M, the users themselves become actors in the process of collecting information as well as using it. In addition, the centralised database for road safety (interfaced with the mobile terminal) can be configured to meet the needs of local governments to manage information related to road safety and the state of infrastructure. This requirement is most relevant to regional or provincial governments that will increasingly be involved in managing safety, detecting black-spots and intervening for increasing road safety.
Information on roads, traffic and static or dynamic driving conditions, collected by smartphones or by different other sources, will be transmitted to the centralised database that will then be able to provide it to road users or operators of road infrastructure through smartphones or traditional web channels.
The various steps can by explained through an example. A driver connected to M2M receives real-time information about a danger present on his itinerary and other information of interest regarding his safety and transport & drive strategy. This information is sent to M2M (control centre) which collects and processes it through different sources, like:
• information provided by users of M2M (photo, video, messages, etc);
• detailed information by management operators of road maintenance, surveillance, etc;
• information provided automatically by the smartphones with M2M (M2M system users), and;
• information collected from vehicle sensors provided by M2M technologies.
It is, after processing, sent back to the user with advices and suggestions.
TMS Consultancy had developed a widely accepted system, iRoad Safety, based on smartphones last year (TrafficInfraTech issue Oct-Nov 2010). M2M is an evolution of iRoadSafety with the extension to the vehicle sensors that make the consumer the manager of the roads. For M2M, TMS has partnered with University of Calabria, Fiat Group Automobiles, NEOS (the company that launched mobc3, i.e. Mobile Cross-device Community & Commerce – a software tool that works on all mobile devices like RIM BlackBerry, iPhone OS, Windows Mobile, Android, etc.) and IGOP – a partnership that facilitated funding for the project from the Italian Government and the European Community by the National Operative Plan to improve research in e-development. Thus, the combined effort of developing analytical models of the dangers on the roads makes M2M an industrial research project on road safety that is funded by the Italian government and the European Union.
Polidoro is the director of the project. IGOP is a private company of legal experts that advises the Italian Government and local bodies (EELL) and is an expert in international law and protection of trademarks and patents. “I have involved IGOP in this project because I would like M2M to remain free for the end users. I am hoping that big companies are not able to use M2M for commercial purposes by charging a usage fee from the end users. May be it is a dream but I believe and hope in a world with no monopolies.”
Application of the programme
The USP of this industrial prototype is its usability. Says Polidoro, “Till now, many companies have focused on providing information on disruptions or problems on the roads via mobiles but they do not provide much solution. Identifying a problem and averting the road because of that is one thing but helping to provide solutions is entirely a different thing. We are hoping that M2M can also be linked to government agencies like hospitals, traffic police, NGOs, etc., which can receive information on the disruptions/accidents through M2M and then try and provide immediate solutions.”
A specific market analysis – competitor and user oriented – will be carried out to understand the desires of the end users. The core of M2M is the free user system. It will provide a free service for the end users but the private companies will be able to earn income by using it to promote road safety, giving traffic information services and offering various utilities to the end users.
The validation of the system will take place in Italy and the tests are expected to begin by March 2012.
Polidoro is hopeful of bringing something like this to India as well. “It would be nice to have a similar project with experts and colleagues in India. I am looking with interest towards India where there are companies that develop mobile software in a very smart, efficient and competitive manner. Hopefully, I will be able to develop some of my ideas with such companies too in the near future.”