With Google, Tesla and other major vehicle manufacturers racing to develop driverless robot cars, trains and trucks, the future of transport has exciting times ahead as technology increasingly is used solve some of the most intractable transport problems.
Up until now autonomous and connected vehicles may have seemed part of a distant reality, but Intelligent Transport Systems – which will help facilitate these new innovations – are already making significant changes to the way our transport networks are sustainably planned, managed and operated to increase safety and efficiency, and reduce congestion.
As councils, governments and transport authorities seek safer, more efficient transport solutions that get the most from built infrastructure, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are increasingly providing the answers. Commercial Fleet Managers are also keenly interested in getting real-time information on journey time, accidents and road conditions.
Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) New Zealand is expediting this change by promoting and supporting the development and integration of ITS here in New Zealand. The organisation has regular interactions with global bodies that are forging cooperative partnerships and setting safety and technology standards.
They host events with local and international industry leaders on a regular basis; most recently the popular ITS New Zealand Annual Summit hosted experts from Europe, Asia and Australia.
New Zealand has always been an early adopter of ITS and with leadership from the Ministry of Transport, NZTA and ITS New Zealand, we continue to be identified as a country leading the way in the use of technology to manage complex transport systems.
In 2014 the Ministry of Transport’s ITS Action Plan was recognised internationally as a world leading initiative, being adopted into the international ITS Hall of Fame. NZTA has recently tendered a project to examine our road networks throughout the country and identify what is required to prepare for autonomous and connected driverless cars.
Recent examples of ITS around New Zealand
Today nearly every RoNS (Roads of National Significance) project includes ITS as a leading component. Tauranga’s Eastern Link toll road, for example, includes cameras and number plate recognition technology within an advanced single gantry system. All of our main centres are similarly introducing road traffic management projects which combine technology hardware that is embedded and matched with increasingly capable software for automating traffic management and gathering data.
The team at the Auckland Transport Operations Centre (ATOC) use sensors and CCTV cameras capable of number plate recognition. These are installed across the motorway system providing the ability to monitor traffic flow, quickly identify accidents, incidents and traffic build-up. They are then able to signal information to motorists – often suggesting alternative routes – via variable message signs, as well as relay information to the police and emergency services.
The NZTA’s Smart Motorway in Wellington is due for completion in 2016 and will include ITS in the form an Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS). This will combine radars, sensors, cameras and electronic signs with traffic management software programmed to automatically respond and manage the flow of traffic. The ATMS will automatically recognise and respond to congestion and reduce the stop/start nature of heavy traffic by dynamically changing speed limits and lane controls.
In Christchurch since the earthquake the constant road and infrastructure works have caused significant issues with traffic routing. In response, Transport for Christchurch, a partnership between NZTA and the local council, has been using ITS to help alleviate this wherever they can.
The Transport for Christchurch website shows ongoing planned roadworks and travel times. Currently in beta form, the Transport for Christchurch traffic dashboard displays journey time information and compares it with average times tracked over the last three months.
However ITS is not restricted to the largest cities and variable message signs are even installed in remote locations such as on the Milford Road.
Local ITS innovators
There are a number of ITS technology innovation businesses in New Zealand. A leading proponent is HMI Technologies, which is responsible for designing, manufacturing and servicing variable message signs and their management software as used throughout the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch motorway and local road networks. The Auckland based company has also recently expanded into the tough Australian and Southeast Asian markets.
HMI is also trialling the RouteTIP systems in both Christchurch and Melbourne. Believed to be a world first, the system sends location and direction specific traffic and road safety alerts straight to smartphones. As new vehicles roll out with Google Auto or Apple’s Carplay installed as their infotainment system, RouteTIP will be able to send the alerts directly to the on-board computer.
Another example of New Zealand leading edge ITS technology is Wellington based AraFlow which has its Bluetooth sensors installed throughout the country. These sensors pick up Bluetooth signals from mobiles and vehicles, assign them an anonymous address and record the time it takes before the vehicle or device passes by a second sensor. In New Zealand where our satellite coverage is not as strong as in the northern hemisphere, this data is deemed to be more accurate and reliable.
Over 100 of the AraFlow sensors are deployed around Christchurch to produce journey time information for Transport for Christchurch. The information that is produced is used for managing the network, providing useful information to citizens and also as part of planning for future infrastructure investment.
Keeping pace with international development and standards
ITS New Zealand is connected to the advancing global industry, it is a key player in the Asia Pacific region and has representation on key international groups directing the industry standards and steering government decisions.
In October, ITS New Zealand took its largest ever delegation to Bordeaux in France, for the 21st World ITS conference – which attracted 10,000 visitors from around the world. The 2016 World Congress will be held in Melbourne in October, and a close working relationship with Australia means that ITS New Zealand will be hosting some significant events and activities.