by Estee Cheng
There are few things in life more frustrating than having to sit through a traffic jam when all you want to do is get to work or get back home. And there were plenty of irate commuters on the roads of Singapore late last year when a chain collision occurred on the Tampines Expressway during the morning rush hour. A typical 20-minute taxi ride for one commuter stretched to an excruciating 1 hour and 30 minutes, and cost almost double the usual taxi fare.
For now, as travel demand grows and the nation continues to face constraints in land and manpower, traffic congestion will remain a daily occurrence during peak hours – exacerbated by unpredictable circumstances such as vehicle pileups or bad weather.
But it’s exactly the sort of experience that shouldn’t be happening in the Smart Nation of Singapore. With advances in AI and data analysis, it’s hoped that traffic congestion will soon occur a lot less frequently. With the recent launch of the Industry Transformation Map (ITM) the government is implementing a series of strategies based around disruptive technologies and big data to manage the nation’s roads. S$25 million has been allocated for mobility-related research and technology trials over the next 5 years.
Along with countries such as Japan and South Korea, Singapore has already successfully implemented the Intelligent Transport System (ITS), a road management software designed to resolve transportation problems using revolutionary data communications technology. Other road technology strategies include the pay-per-use Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantry system, Electronic Parking System for car parks and the In-Vehicle Unit installed in all Singapore-registered vehicles to pay for these transactions.
There are also big hopes that Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology is set to transform how the nation commutes in the form of driverless public transport vehicles and on-demand autonomous mobility services. In pushing for a car-lite society, the Land Transport Authority is exploring the use of self-driving vehicles as a new form of shared transport.
Policymakers are currently encouraging the concept of ride-sharing among drivers and commuters, and when AV technology is finally ready to be deployed, self-driving vehicles will be able to offer shared mobility options to further reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Promising greater efficiency and a lower environmental footprint, the future AV-enabled solution will chart new territories in the public transport system. The government is also looking into the deployment of autonomous buses to serve commuters in certain districts of Singapore from 2022.
Another area the LTA is exploring the use of automation is in the monitoring and maintenance of railway operations. Smart sensors, robotics and drones can save significant man hours in conducting tedious manual inspections, while reducing human error at the same time.
Key to the implementation of artificial intelligence in transportation will be big data, which captures consumer purchasing, location details and browsing trends, all of which will eventually drive new business models in the sharing economy and optimize the usage of resources in new and unexpected ways. Real-time traffic data for example is collected via roadway cameras, monitoring systems and traffic scanners, then sent to a data processing centre to consolidate and broadcast the real-time traffic information. This information can benefit commercial service providers who can utilize it to develop apps or devices that make for smoother journeys for commuters.
For all the benefits in adopting intelligent solutions, some are still daunted by the prospect of disrupting longstanding processes and shaking up the tried-and-tested. However, it is crucial to keep a forward-thinking attitude that embraces the positive disruptions caused by revolutionary technology, considering the long-term benefits offer greater return on investment. Artificial intelligence can be used to optimize operations where routine and repetitive tasks are automated so staff can focus on higher-level work. Besides reducing the chances of manual error, intelligent applications and software can provide valuable performance metrics and process insights to reveal potential bottlenecks in operations.
Future-ready companies including the PR industry should be at the forefront of embracing technology as a means of providing opportunities to develop more innovative products, services and applications that ultimately support improved standards of living. For the transport industry, the many benefits brought about by harnessing technology into daily operations has proven to be a step in the right direction. In the long term it will lead to more efficient and sustainable transport infrastructure. Traffic jams will never be a thing of the past – but hopefully technology might just bring down the time spent staring aimlessly out your car window from hours to mere minutes.