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Internet of Cars symposium Southampton University 24 September 2014

Despite the title, the view of the academics at the Internet of Cars symposium organised by Sixth Sense Transport transport, was that vehicles have never functioned as network in themselves, rather - in the absence of useful connectivity of cars so far - using mobile technology, people have taken upon themselves to become connected.

Soon however, with technologies such as eCall, cars will become connected and emit more and more data. As Chris Speed of Edinburgh University observed, “as cars get networked, drivers will need to be sensitive to the data they send out”.

The Internet of Cars project was a series of exhibitions, talks, workshops and events curated by SCAN, that aimed to respond creatively to data and research derived from traffic flow analysis using, among other things, automated number plate reading (ANPR). The Internet of Cars symposium was the culmination of a three year research project entitled Sixth Sense Transport

Sixth Sense has also produced a number of apps, including Internet of Cars By Chris Barker that set out to “redefine what your car number plate means”.


Automatic Number Plate Recognition for purposes of art and debate

Tom Cherrett (University of Southampton) described a project ‘Understanding traffic patterns and regular travellers using registration plate data’ - that used car number plates to understand the regular returning vehicles in the traffic stream and determine whether their habitual behaviour patterns could be used as an additional indicator of overall network performance. Using vehicle registration plates on  one road in Dorset the project extrapolated data for public consumption, and debate about the issues it raises, via an art project displayed in Southampton city centre titled “Visualising the Internet of Cars through digital art, curated by Helen Sloan (SCAN).


Social business models - more give than take

The viability of business models for apps that use data was an issue raised in the Q&As, although in the academic environment the utility of outcomes are more the issue. Cases in point included the Aberdeen University “Get the Bus” Android App for travel information in rural Aberdeenshire and the University of Salford “Where Is My walking School Bus” App.

With DfT statistics suggesting around 25% of urban traffic arises from children being driven to school - with 42% of children being driven currently, up from 37% in 2000 and the school population due to rise 20% in the next deceased or so - Dr Sarah Norgate and Nichola Street of Salford University described positive experiences of their trial of the Where’s my Walking School Bus app - a creative idea for dealing with congestion, and background concerns about childhood obesity and safety.

This and a number of other projects raised concerns from the, perhaps more cynical, local authority practitioners that the social model (where people exchange help for a need) would be overwhelmed by freeloaders.

In the experience of Janet Dickinson (Bournemouth University) the issue that actually arises is the reverse. In her research on “anticipating connections in a reciprocal travel community” it was found that “what people want to do is avoid a feeling of indebtedness. Freeloading is more of a perceived issue than a real issue - in such projects the challenge is actually trying to get people to ask for help”.


Throbbing heart of the city or lonely taxi drivers

Another lively presentation came from Dr. Andy Hudson-Smith of the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, on visualising flows and movements in London, in which he described development of city dashboards for Amsterdam and London.

It was noted by Chris Speed (Univ. Edinburgh) that the well-used visualisation of traffic movement on the roads regularly used to denote the throbbing city could as likely be the movement of lonely taxi drivers struggling for work.


Virtual parking

Andy Graham (White Willow consulting and chair of the ITS-UK connected vehicles group) warned that the self-driving car was not going to be an affordable mass-market product for the clear benefit of normal people any time soon.

A project he described was “virtual parking” that involves GPS defined parking spaces for city deliveries without the expense of signage, that can be booked online by delivery companies with local authorities, producing a win-win situation: reduced parking fines for companies, and income for local authorities plus the flexibility of reduced signage and physical infrastructure.


Predictive analytics

There’s also real money to be made, according to Prof. Nigel Davies (Lancaster University), in reducing the costs of infrastructure maintenance and improving the efficiency of operation, explored The Smart Streets Hub: Internet of Things Approach to Highways Maintenance.  

Data, he suggested, will be available for predicting the future, freeing transport planners from traffic planning (although not entirely).

In the future a combination of scheduling and predictive planning should reduce the costs of fixing potholes, managing drainage, and other less than glamorous but costly issues for local authorities.

Alan Wong, University of Southampton, engaged with delegates in the breaks using a Scalextric set with traffic lights, which might not seem much fun, but actually is a demonstration of how sensors under real roads are used to manage traffic signals and vehicle flow in cities.  Alan has previously worked with Transport for London in developing innovative uses for the data from their iBus Automatic Vehicle Location System, including how large-scale information can improve bus detection and the vehicle priority strategies deployed at signals.

The Scalextric with traffic lights set has been taken around the country on a number of major public engagement events as part of the Internet of Cars project.  This includes exhibitions with the Transportation Research Group, the University of Southampton and other partners at the Bridport Arts Centre, the Winchester Science Centre, and at Bestival, the large music festival on the Isle of Wight.  At Bestival for example, this activity was part of a wider 'Science Tent' of exhibits with other Universities, which experienced a throughput of some 12,000 people looking at the displays over the four days.

Alan also coordinates a public engagement group at the University for early-career and PhD researchers, and the University recently won awards for public engagement and delivering impact on its research.


With predictive analytics expected to have a role in helping move traffic efficiently in the city, it will be too much to hope for green lights all the way but definitely a smarter future through more, better and (one trusts) publicly acceptable, data

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