Unlocking the future of smart transport with 5G

fast city transport

Written by Chris Holmes, Transport Programme Director, West Midlands 5G

To realise the ambition of smart cities we must fully commit to delivering powerful connectivity at scale. 5G may seem like an emerging technology, but the reality is that it’s already beginning to shape our towns and cities and one sector in particular that is benefitting from 5G’s capabilities is transport.

Smart connected transport includes driverless cars and vehicles – where 5G connectivity supports long range sensing, through to in vehicle signage – as well as sensing and connectivity. These applications create intelligence in the infrastructure such as connected traffic lights, smart street signs, smart lighting and smart parking to support our public transport services. 

 

The post-Covid transport challenge

The Coronavirus pandemic has radically changed the needs of passengers and road users and we will inevitably see further changes as lockdown and social distancing rules continue to ease.

Some modes of public transport, buses for example, are seeing customer numbers similar to that of pre-pandemic levels. As we move forward it will be paramount to support the public in rebuilding their confidence to safely navigate across public transport and we will need solutions that will encourage passengers to make that safe return. 

We need public transport systems that are more agile and able to cope with social distancing and crowd management, and a way of operating that supports health and safety and helps urban regions meet critical emissions targets. 

5G provides significantly faster, more efficient and reliable network coverage as well as the capability to host a greater number of devices. Cameras, sensors, and other connected smart devices will help the transport sector modernise and establish long-term solutions across all modes of transport.

 

Improving access by connecting transport

In early 2020, West Midlands 5G (WM5G) in partnership with West Midlands Metro, embarked on a mission to establish the UK’s first 5G connected tram with a use case trial to confirm proof of concept for live streaming high data rate sensor information from an operational tram.Trams collect a variety of valuable information including CCTV and vehicle operational performance and maintenance data, all of which is downloaded  manually outside the hours of operation. With connectivity onboard we were able to trial ways to safely transfer CCTV footage, while the service was in use. 

Alongside realising the UK’s very first 5G connected tram, the trial established the possibility for further product and service exploration that can make operations more insights-lead and efficient. 

WM5G are now working with a range of SME’s who are using data, connectivity and sensing technology to develop services which make transport vehicles (bus, trams, trains) and transport stations safer and more accessible by the people living in and around our towns and cities. 

Developments include an AI system to better understand passenger feedback through any social or transport feedback forums creating continuous improvement feedback to operators. This same system can provide alerts if passengers are distressed, creating a fast response. Operators are able to respond to issues from carriage comfort to something more serious like anti-social or dangerous behaviour.

5G connected AI systems are also analysing anonymised CCTV footage to help improve passenger safety and accessibility. Identification of unclaimed bags, items trapped in doors, or simply letting staff know wheelchair access is required are all now feasible alerts.  

Monitoring road and rail infrastructure to detect defects or abnormalities on the road or on rail from the tracks to overhead lines are all services in development, creating exciting real-time monitoring services, avoiding expensive repairs or inconvenient closures.

Connectivity and sensing on board vehicles and on stations can also help inform passengers and operators to advise of congested services and walkways, providing choice in travel. 

New ways of marking waypoints and vehicles combined with superfast connection to a new mobile app will also help guide some of the 2 million partially sighted people in the UK, making independent travel a reality. 

 

Future is here

Creating better transport networks means creating better connections for communities through jobs and employment opportunities, helping local people and making businesses thrive. 5G connected smart technologies are already playing a role in making transport better and more accessible for everyone and is helping make our cities smarter, allowing more tailoring of service and interface to improve the experience. 

This will be critical in aiding transport providers and passengers make a safe return to a new, more agile and personalised transport system.


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