project news

Understanding OPTIMUM

May 18, 2016

Urban growth—especially rapid growth—places enormous strains on existing traffic and transport infrastructure. Failure to respond effectively and adapt to these new pressures has several negative consequences, including: dangerous levels of air pollution, congestion and delays, increased risk of accidents, and a diminished quality of life. One obvious response is to build more roads to accommodate the growing number of vehicles, but this is both extremely costly and environmentally destructive. A better, ‘smarter’ option is to find ways to get optimum use out of existing infrastructure, and this is at the heart of what the OPTIMUM project is all about.

Fortunately, the ‘digital age’ we live in provides us with information technology that can help mitigate many of the problems that trouble our complex urban landscape. The technological developments that underpin the operation of current transportation services generate huge amounts of data; and while more and more individuals have access to this data through mobile devices, many vehicles built today are equipped with sensors and enhanced communication abilities. These developments open up a wide range of decision-making possibilities for transport system controllers, vehicle operators and public transport system passengers.

With each group of data users able to make the best use of appropriate information, entire transport system networks can operate with maximum efficiency, resulting in several benefits. First, it eliminates the need to constantly expand the road network; second, it links multi-modal systems in ways that reduce travel times and distances, which in turn makes public transport a more attractive option — which in turn reduces the number of vehicles on the road—which in turn eases congestion, curbs CO¬2 emissions, and decreases noise and stress levels. What’s not to like?

In a white paper titled “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area”, the European Commission identified a number of mobility-related concerns (some of which are outlined below). The OPTIMUM project is designed to address this set of problems by providing innovative and workable solutions.

Private cars. An over-reliance on private cars results in cities suffering congestion, poor air quality and noise. Sticking to a ‘business as usual’ approach, congestion-related costs are likely to increase by around 50 percent by 2050. OPTIMUM develop a suite of persuasive mechanisms to encourage behavioural change, thereby alleviating user dependence on private cars and minimising the presence of single-occupant vehicles.

Transport patterns and modal choices. When there are multiple options for getting from point A to point B, travellers will generally select the option that gets them in the quickest and most convenient way. By fusing together vast streams of data, travellers can make instant decisions about alternative routes to take, which will ease the burden on overloaded modes of transport and increase passenger numbers on other, less-travelled modes or previously unfamiliar routes. OPTIMUM will integrate transport information sources and services with social networking tools to offer personalised and proactive decision support for travellers. Such services will enhance the efficiency of trips by offering a truly integrated modal mix.

Cost vs. use. Existing urban and inter-urban charging schemes in EU countries have resulted in great environmental benefits, but the prices that users pay to use transportation infrastructure services does not necessarily reflect trip impacts on the level of service and the environment. OPTIMUM will develop dynamic (i.e. flexible) credit and charging schemes to ensure fair cost vs. use practices.

In short, OPTIMUM aims to achieve its challenging goals by incorporating and advancing state-of-the-art research in several areas, including:

•    Transport and traffic modelling and forecasting
•    Travel behaviour analysis
•    Personalised traveller information for multi-modal mobility
•    System-aware optimisation
•    Real-time big data processing
•    Data management and fusion
•    Predictive analysis
•    Adaptive charging and incentive schemes
•    Persuasive technologies and enhanced existing technological solutions

Putting OPTIMUM to the test

The proposed OPTIMUM solutions will be tested thoroughly in 2016 over the course of three pilot studies to be carried out in different parts of Europe. Each of the pilot studies addresses a different aspect of the OPTIMUM approach to the transportation-related problems outlined above. Following the test period, the solutions can be tweaked as needed prior to being implemented — if all goes well — on a general and wider basis.

Pilot 1 – Dynamic Toll Charging (Portugal)

Road networks cost lots of money to build and maintain, and tolls are a direct means of extracting payment from the actual users of a given road or section of motorway. A general highway tax, by contrast, does not discriminate between users and non-users; nor does it take frequency of use into account. On one hand, those who use roads on a daily or regular basis contribute most to the wear and tear of the road network and, perhaps, should bear the heaviest burden of the cost in doing so. However, another argument could be made that tolls unfairly extract too much income from those who are unable to take alternative routes to and from work.

In this unique pilot, OPTIMUM will look into a far wider range of variables to help establish a flexible toll-charging mechanism that will not only be more fair, but encourage trip options to produce a further set of desirable outcomes, namely: reduce cost per trip; prevent or limit risk of delay; shrink emissions; and diminish road impact.

The variables to be looked into are:

•    Historical data
•    Events
•    Weather stations
•    Road network
•    Road pavement conservation
•    Service level
•    Environmental sustainability (e.g. noise and air pollution)
•    Accident data
•    Number of trips
•    Type of vehicle
•    Loyalty
•    Use period

The pilot study will work initially with a fleet of 10 vehicles belonging to a road logistics operator in Portugal, but the eventual goal is to adapt the results to apply to a wider range of end users. The model constructed from the acquired data will then be integrated into the OPTIMUM platform, which will in due time provide the information to the end user in order to enable suitable operational planning. The information will be made available 48 hours in advance.

Pilot 2 – Multi-modal Routing (Birmingham, Ljubljana and Vienna)

This pilot study will be carried out in three distinctly different European metropolitan areas: Birmingham (U.K.), Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Vienna (Austria). The aim, by using available data and persuasive technology to influence travellers’ behaviour, is to appraise the differences encountered in each environment and context in order to produce a tool that is transferable to other cities aiming to improve their mobility.

Various concerns that led to the development of the pilot scheme include: a lack of joined up ‘real time’ information; lack of available information on travel-related incentives on offer; lack of information about travellers’ attitudes from social media; and multi-modal inefficiency leading to unnecessary delays and congestion.

If implemented successfully, the pilot study will result in a tool that helps to:

•    reduce car dependence for door-to-door trips;
•    influence a broad shift towards sustainable modes of transport (e.g. walking, cycling, rideshare, public transit and working from home);
•    save time through proactively recommending route options based on real-time and forecasted traffic conditions;
•    increase the use of collective transport services through the use of persuasive strategies in favour of collective modes of transport; and
•    improve commuting speed through better provision of information about ‘complex’ events (i.e. non-recurring congestion).

Best of all, as the tool becomes more finely tuned and adaptable to user input, it will be possible to tailor information to suit individual needs and specifications.

Pilot 3 – Smart Motorhomes (Slovenia)

Motorhome caravanning is a holiday-season activity that is growing in popularity throughout Europe. One motorhome manufacturer, Adria, produces outstanding vehicles that come equipped with loads of the latest communication technology. ‘Intelligent’ motorhomes offer a new way to travel in freedom and comfort, as the operator gains the ability to know and control a variety of functions that allow the vehicle to respond immediately to various actions. The vehicles automatically react when predefined events are detected; setting can be adjusted according to user preferences; and they are designed to use fuel, electricity and water as efficiently as possible. Furthermore, the vehicles (and their operators) can communicate with other users and a remote management centre. This is especially useful for people travelling with large groups and multiple vehicles.

Continuously employing an armada of sensors and actuators, Adria-brand motorhomes control 60 separate parameters, the vehicles also enable the prediction, warning and management of energy efficiency, navigation, safety, comfort and other resource management features. There’s also a great deal of connectivity on board — GPRS, Wi-Fi and BlueTooth, for example. The pilot study test fleet will consist of at least 18 Adria campers with full sensor setups.

The use of the case study is that such vehicles will provide intelligent assistance in dealing with complexities of multi-sensor environments, especially for long-distance and cross-border trips. This specific mode of travelling was selected because such vehicles are bigger, slower vehicles, which, especially during holidays, contribute to congestion of highways, other roads and parking areas. Camper vans also have additional infrastructure requirements (e.g. filling stations, waste disposal, supply of electricity and cooking gas). Their presence in urban areas can create problems for cycling infrastructure, and there are other safety issues to consider, as well. Furthermore, users of the vehicles already tend to connect to all sorts of informal networks, which makes them good candidates for crowdsourcing elements of the OPTIMUM platform.

Conclusion

By taking a number of innovative approaches to use a wide range of innovative communication technologies, the OPTIMUM project hopes to open up new possibilities for smarter vehicle use; increased use multi-modal public transport systems and healthy transport alternatives; and reduced levels of air pollution, congestion and commuter waiting times. The future’s an open road!