“We now find ourselves at the gateway of a revolution in transport technology, the likes of which has not been seen since the invention of the combustion engine. These technological advances will create a new way of planning and managing our transport.”
Steve Yianni, Transport Systems Catapult

A perfect storm is set to hit the transport sector – and it’s not yet exactly clear where or when dry land will be reached.

Among the forces that are set to shake things up by creating new opportunities are advancements in electronic manufacturing. It’s time to chart these innovations and review exactly what their disruptive effects may be.

Before we do this, however, it’s important to note that it takes more than one weather front to create a perfect storm. The other forces bearing down on the sector are all directly or indirectly with these innovations.

They include:

  • The pressures of continued urbanisation
  • The increasingly sophisticated capabilities of automation and machine learning
  • The urgency of environmental concerns
  • The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the power of cloud-based analytical tools
  • The switch back to public or shared transport and away from the private car
  • The sky-high expectations of consumers (or users as they are now known)

With all that bubbling under here’s a look at the way that advancements in electronics are making waves amongst this maelstrom.

Electronic payment and ticketing

“My smartphone is my preferred mode of transportation.”
Rt. Hon. Patrick MacLoughlin, former Secretary of State for Transport

The influence of digital and the rise of the smartphone has already transformed many other sectors, but transport is only just starting to feel its effects. The changes we have already seen in the airline sector with paperless tickets will prove to be just the tip of the iceberg.

Electronic payment and electronic gate systems will not only make the passenger’s life easier: they will also open up a whole new world of data and understanding.

Our smartphone is already becoming our ticket in many innovative UK schemes – and the Oyster Card has greatly simplified tube travel for years. Before too long it’s likely to be a wearable that allows us to glide through the turnstiles. And, shortly after this, will be pay-as-you-go travel where sensors know exactly where and when we have journeyed without the need for pre-booking or payment.

With electronic payment the transport provider gains visibility about who uses its services, where they go and how often they travel. This new-found rich data opens up the possibility for personalised marketing in a way that public networks have sorely lacked in the past (and are struggling to discover through online booking alone).

But the data advantage is not necessarily just the providers. Alongside new ways to pay we are also going to see new ways to travel – with the user at the centre of a transport network that is increasingly interchangeable and whose real-time operations are always at their fingertips. The start of such a world of choice can be glimpsed in the disruption caused to traditional taxis by Uber.

It is hard to see road usage continuing to be paid for by a blanket road tax. The introduction of green incentives has already started to stream charges, and toll roads, such as the Dartford Tunnel, use sophisticated number plate recognition to ‘tag’ each car that uses the route. Going forward more electronic monitors will line our roads, and it’s likely the price we pay to use them will be based on data gathered about congestion at the time – with our road tax, perhaps, paid online on a top-up basis.

This dynamic charging may sound far-fetched – but it’s already happening with parking. In San Francisco smart parking meters broadcast that a space is available to drivers and adjust their price according to the number of other spaces available. Such an easy-Jet pricing policy is also used in Moscow, Santiago de Chile and Barcelona – and at its heart lies electronic sensors.

Telematics could introduce another dimension to such a personalised way to fund our roads – and it’s this we’ll review next.

Telematics and the IoT

“A modern transport system that doesn’t stream data is inconceivable. Modern infrastructure must envisage, plan and build roads, rail and digital capabilities all as one.”
Alexander Dobrindt, former German Minister for Transport and Digital Infrastructure

The electronic sensors and data sharing that facilitate telematics are already widely used by insurance companies to offer lower premiums to the ‘right’ kind of driver. They are also used to ensure that emergency services are instantly notified of accidents. It’s not a massive leap of imagination to predict that telematic data will be used to penalise or reward drivers – and not just based on the routes they use but on their driving itself.

In logistics and transportations telematics have been extended into the realm of the IoT to collect, analyse and share data across a wide network – and to use machine learning to determine suggested responses.

Telematic-enabled fleet management has moved beyond GPS location tracking to include the use of geofences to enable alerts when a truck is nearing its destination, the optimising of routes using real-time traffic data and to automatically track driver hours and fuel usage. It can also track vehicle maintenance needs and issue alerts should warning signs concerning the vehicle’s health be detected.

In many ways, the IoT is the logical extension of such telematic systems: it can be applied throughout the supply chain rather than just for each journey taken. The IoT could integrate the ordering, manufacturing and warehousing chain: the need for new parts or consumables will be automatically broadcast and, as a result, the supply chain will need to be able to respond much quicker. Its monitors could also stay with a shipment across different countries and transportation methods.

Automation

“I have never seen anything like the pace of change we are seeing today.”
Larry Keeley, Founder of Doblin

Amazon’s drone delivery force and Google’s driverless car are two of the more visible ways that automation and machine learning are gearing up to change the world of transport as we know it.

Driverless vehicles are highly likely to affect both the consumer and the logistics market in the very near future.  Several auto manufacturers have introduced semi-autonomous driving capabilities in their vehicles and Uber’s Otto division is pretty much ready with its driverless trucks for deliveries.

The only real thing that lags behind at present are the regulatory and insurance questions such technology rises.

Electronic manufacturing and transport innovation

Electronic manufacturing is set to play a major part in the perfect storm that will engulf the transport sector.

And it looks like it’s the innovators that will ride the waves created.

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