The benefits of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) applications in enhancing efficiency, safety and cost-effectiveness are very much in-demand in the competitive environment of freight and commercial vehicle operations. This is due to their potential to lower costs and to increase reliability - and so, profits. It is particularly the case with the continuing focus on “Just-in-Time” delivery supply chains so that inventory and warehousing needs can be minimised. It requires a sophisticated and advanced knowledge of a wide range of factors, which can be enhanced through the use of ITS technologies. The complexity of freight and logistical supply chains and the involvement of multiple actors for the movement and storage of products relies on close collaboration and information exchange –which ITS applications can support.
The Freight and Commercial Vehicle sector has long been at the forefront of the development, installation and use of ITS technologies since their initial development in the mid-1980s. Efforts to improve the speed of information within the supply chain has a longer history than this though - going way back beyond the emergence of ITS.
For hundreds of years, information about any given cargo or load could travel at only the same speed as the cargo itself, internationally at least, for sailing ships brought both cargo and post. However, in the nineteenth century the development of the telegraph enabled information to travel significantly faster than the goods it was carrying. This speed has since been further improved and also widened to enable a broader spectrum of communications. First through the telephone, then satellite and GPS technology and, more recently still, the internet. The information that can be transmitted has also become more specific. From market prices of wheat and, therefore, which port should be the final destination of a tramp steamer in the nineteenth century, through to the exact temperature and estimated delivery time of refrigerated chemicals, the information available to those in the sector has increased dramatically since the industrial revolution. It is in this broad spectrum that current ITS technologies should be assessed, as a progression of a trend that has been continuing for centuries, allowing ever more information to be accessed by more parties.
The increasing amounts of international trade that accompanied the continued lowering of tariffs achieved by the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and later the World Trade Organisation (WTO), combined with the spread and lowering in price of technology, have brought an urgent need to keep better track of assets and loads. Similarly, developments of Just-in-Time Deliveries and stronger enforcement and security in recent times have pushed trade in a similar direction. So the international transport of goods has moved from paper, to the internet, to the modern day “internet-of-things” and cloud computing. Sensors on loads and assets give readings to computer servers which alert shippers, consignors and carriers to any problems en-route, as well as updated arrival times. This information can be password protected and compartmentalised, with different parts of the supply chain only able to access information relevant to them.
However, whilst more information than ever before is now collected by private and public agencies, the question remains as to whether this being exploited to its full potential. ITS can be split into two different types: “hardware” and “software”. That is to say, the network of sensors and communication technologies which enable the information to be gathered and the computer programming which interprets the information to help support decision-making. In many cases, from within the truck cab to head office, significant amounts of data are still processed and interpreted by human operators. It is in this field, rather than that of hardware provision, that the next phase of innovation in ITS may be found.