TfL is the local government body responsible for most aspects of the transport system in Greater London

TfL bets on Big Data and IoT to improve your commute

Transport for London (TfL) may not by every commuter’s best friend– but behind the scenes the transport body is trialling the latest technologies to improve its services.

Speaking to The Memo this week, TfL innovation manager Jason DePonte extensively described how the group is now trialling everything from IoT and Big Data to virtual reality (VR) in order to improve travel as well as its internal processes.

IoT for the visually impaired

“We build proof-of-concept prototypes that help push innovation, new technologies and new uses of data throughout TfL,” DaPonte told writer Oliver Smith.

Experiments have so far varied from changing the relatively basic – changing the yellow lines carrying the message ‘Mind the gap’ – to the more advanced, such as using virtual reality (VR) to train drivers and IoT to aid the visually impaired.

For the latter, TfL says that it is working with Wayfindr to provide commuters with spoken directions from a smartphone, with these directions influenced by the deployment of low-power Bluetooth beacons around the station. These beacons are currently being trialled at Euston station.

Virtual Reality, AI and Big Data

Of these new technologies, virtual reality (VR) is perhaps the one with the most potential, with TfL already using the technology for driver training.

“We’ve already started developing prototype immersive training tools for drivers learning to drive the train, which could be combined with an immersive cab simulator,” adds the TfL exec.

The team have also created an artificial intelligence which maps the expected movements of crowds through underground stations. DaPonte says that, when combined with virtual reality, this could be the future of designing stations.

“Now we can test or change something in a virtual environment, and actually see how a crowd will respond. It’s a very interesting idea.”

Another futuristic project, called ‘Accelerate’, is years from completion but Smith reports that it could – one day – enable TfL to track each individual passenger journey through the underground network.

Mike Crooks, head of Mubaloo Innovation Lab – a company which is working with a number of transport operators on the roll-out of beacons and other emerging technologies, told Internet of Business that TfL and Network are ‘heavily investing’ in new technology, with mobile apps still leading the way.

“The influence of apps within the transport sector is still having a big influence. There are many rail operators that are still trying to work out how to utilise mobile in the best way possible, for both operational purposes, but also for customers.

“There’s no denying that opening up transport data has helped to improve the way in which people get round the city. Even if you take a route everyday, knowing whether there are delays or how long it is until the next bus or train helps you decide when you need to leave.”

‘IoT has the potential to make services more efficient’

Crooks believes that many transport operators still need to get better at using existing data and improving or replacing their legacy infrastructure, but believes that IoT is something they should also be exploring.

“By focusing on the operational side of transport networks, and driving improvements through better understanding data and trends, IoT has the potential to make services more efficient.

“Much of this won’t be witnessed by end customers though, of course. No-one congratulates you for running an efficient service, as that’s what they expect. If anything, there could be the hope that IoT from a consumer perspective can be utilised to reward customers who use more energy efficient methods of traveling with lower costs.

“IoT could also be used to better control the flow of people onto the transport network, especially during peak times — ultimately though, people will likely still leave the house or office when they need to leave, regardless if they have to wait around for longer. If IoT also helped to lead to lower operational costs that could be passed onto customers, that would likely make people a bit happier.”

Martin Howell, director of external affairs at Cubic Transportation Systems, told Internet of Business that the IoT could play a “central role” in future transport networks.

“The future of transport hinges on the effective application of technology to transport infrastructure and responding to mobility issues with practical solutions across myriad means of transport, including rail, metro, bus, cycles, walking and ferries. The Internet of Things (IoT) plays a central role in driving this – especially when it comes to integrating payment and information systems across all transportation modes.

This news comes one day after a study from Xerox revealed Generation Z’s predictions for future transport. The study revealed that a third of Europeans expect to be using self-driving cars by 2025, with half expecting to use one app for all their transportation needs. Four in term believe they won’t have to use cash for payments.