ITS projects and product deployments are developed in the context of the here and now and what is possible in terms of cutting edge research and innovative deployments. A wider view of the future transport system requires a creative and open-minded approach to respond to societal challenges and take advantage of technology developments.
Problems such as traffic congestion, global warming and environmental sustainability are forcing us to review our plans for transport. The aim is to develop and improve the efficiency, effectiveness, safety and security of the transportation system wherever we can, building on the investments made in past decades. At the same time we need to anticipate and be ready for the problems and challenges that are ahead.
A key characteristic of ITS products and services is the life-cycle of the constituent parts. Software is constantly updated and may have a lifespan of 3-5years; electronic hardware has longer shelf-life, typically between 5 and 10 years; whereas data may have more permanent value. Traditional transport infrastructure such as roads and bridges, in contrast, may have a lifespan of 50 or more years. These differences influence how new products emerge and systems evolve. Investment decisions have to be evaluated in the context of the appropriate time-scale (short-term, medium-term, long-term).
A useful starting point is the report “Technology Forward Look – Towards a Cyber-Urban Ecology”, commissioned as part of the UK Government’s “Foresight Programme” (2006). Its analysis is structured around three different time-horizons:
This covers a decade or so into the future and is based on the rollout of new but understood technology capabilities to solve problems and address opportunities.
This looks a generation ahead. Discoveries can occur at any time and redefine the sense of what is possible – working their way through to new systems and applications. Successful Horizon 2 technologies will inevitably have a disruptive effect on established Horizon 1 technologies when they are adopted. The actual course of events will depend on market take-up and government initiatives (such as roll-out of high-speed broadband).
This include known science and beyond. In this Horizon the boundaries of what is possible can change dramatically and involve predicting different future scenarios. Looking 50 years or more ahead inevitably takes us beyond the world as we know it and will involve an exploration of the paths for attaining future goals from where we are now. Scenarios are not evidence-based predictions but are a way of looking at future situations in a structured way (See Futures Methodology).
The implication of this analysis is that ITS-based systems and services developed for implementation in the short-term will probably be replaced by something that is different but most likely will include many elements that exist today. Subsequent renewals could happen in a way that is currently not technically possible and may not be based on today’s technology.
The European Union’s Joint Research Centre’s 1996 “Future of Transport Telematics Report” looked towards the future – in 2015 – of road information technologies, also known as Advanced Telematics Technologies (ATT). Its aim was to understand and forecast the trends and factors influencing the development of ATT technologies in Europe and their contribution to multimodal information systems in medium sized cities. It provides a fascinating insight on the perceptions of 20 years ago and a useful reference for where we are today.
Toyota’s Global Vision, published in 2011, provides a helpful insight into how a major player in the ITS market plans to address future mobility to achieve its goal of “zero casualties from traffic accidents” over the next 15 years – integrating smart mobility with society. Its plans cover technological developments which span Horizon 1 and Horizon 2 technologies.
Futures thinking (Horizons 2 and 3) is a structured process that throws light on options and choices by examining the challenges, setting the goals and exploring various ways of achieving those goals. There are well-established methodologies to guide the process. The outcomes may be road-maps for achieving a near-term objective (such as the automated highway), a set of medium-term research requirements to address chosen policy objectives (such as zero road accidents) or possible development strategies for achieving long-term societal goals (sustainable transport to 2050).
An example of a Horizon 3 view of the future of transport systems is provided by a study report on innovative mobility, published in 2012. The report, entitled “Exploring the Future of Intelligent Transportation Systems in the United States from 2030 to 2050 – Application of a Scenario Planning Tool” looked at how ITS and other technologies could evolve in the future to meet major societal and environmental challenges. The aim was to understand better, what types of strategies and transport investments were needed – and were most practical –for a range of future scenarios.