The world is an ever-changing place. Global demographic trends predict continuing population growth – with a substantial increase in the ageing population and greater concentration in urban areas. This has major consequences in every area of the global economy and for society as a whole. There will be significant impacts on transport. Pressing environmental issues include global warming, security of energy supply, air quality, land use, along with transport resilience in the face of major weather events. Societal issues include accessibility, inclusivity, safety and security for all sectors of the population including children, the elderly, disabled, and the working and non-working populations. These are all factors which have a bearing on the future development of ITS systems. Together they represent an increasingly complex set of challenges for those seeking to plan and deliver sustainable transport systems. They also require planners to look to the future and explore:
When will the future be the present? And just how “smart” do solutions need to be? Smart does not necessarily have to mean ‘technologically advanced’. A solution can be considered smart because it is used intelligently. We are, for example, using high-visibilty road signs and retro-reflective road markings to improve driver safety and ease of navigation without having to distract the driver with in-car systems.
The roads and highway infrastructure and vehicle fleet are not going to change overnight; we are not suddenly going to be in a position where all vehicles have smart dashboards with headup displays. In reality traditional and new systems will co-exist side by side in use together. Legacy systems may have a great influence on future directions.
Every new or advanced system will be a legacy one at some point in the future. Legacy in the context of road network operations means the investment that has been made to date in infrastructure and equipment across the entire road network. This includes, for instance, computers, communications, data systems and software. Legacy systems are often operating long after new and better systems are available that have increased functionality and reliability. The legacy may represent a sizable investment. It is not only a matter of tried and tested designs and proven equipment, but also the accumulated knowledge and experience of the people that work with them. Just because equipment is old, potentially outdated and outmoded, doesn’t mean it should be thrown away. A degree of future proofing, to delay technological obsolescence, can be achieved by designing new systems as “open systems” and by adopting open standards to give scope for replacing components or modifying systems.
An incremental approach to innovation may reduce potential risks. Added value can sometimes be achieved by integrating a range of applications into a single system. For example, equipment installed for spot-speed enforcement may in future be used for additional enforcement activities (such as different types of speed control, weigh-in-motion and license plate recognition of wanted vehicles). The aim is to make best use of the infrastructure that is already there: telecommunications network, power supply, roadside and gantry installations.