Sensor solutions are revolutionizing traffic
Miles and miles of traffic jams, unattractive public transport, fierce battles for scarce parking space and critical environmental pollution – traffic in Germany is threatened with collapse! There are many reasons for this. Cars are still considered “the apple of Germany’s eye,” which statistics also confirm: the number of registered passenger cars in Germany has risen steadily since 1991. According to the Federal Motor Transport Authority, there were around 48.5 million vehicles in 2021. And public transport, which according to a report in the Tagesspiegel daily newspaper is currently experiencing “the deepest crisis in decades,” does not offer any relief. For most commuters, buses and trains are too inflexible, which is why their own car is still the means of choice. The Covid pandemic has given an additional boost to personal transportation, further exacerbating the problems. So is the traffic situation completely messed up?
Intelligent, networked, digital: The smart mobility concept
“No,” said Fritz Lembke, Head of Sales at HELLA Aglaia. “Our mobility will change in the future. The concept of smart mobility in particular has great potential to provide important impetus.” Smart Mobility will enable energy-efficient, low-emission, safe, comfortable and cost-effective mobility that road users use intelligently and according to their needs. However, the aim is not to build a completely new infrastructure for it. Instead, information and communication technologies will facilitate the use of existing mobility services. Multi- and intermodal transport concepts, in which different means of transport are combined as required, are typical examples: a dedicated vehicle is no longer necessary. But the automation of driving operations, from advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to autonomous driving, is also a smart mobility solution. Finally, intelligent transportation systems are needed to efficiently manage flows of people and traffic, thereby relieving congestion on transportation routes and resources.
Not just getting from A to B: Traffic habits are changing
The needs of road users – which have changed noticeably in recent years – are at the heart of smart transport concepts. “It’s no longer just about getting from point A to point B. Comfort, cost efficiency and sustainability are playing an increasingly important role,” said Fritz Lembke. Public transport users want to be shown available connections, information on the load on the means of transport and possible alternatives in real time. Drivers also want to reach their destination quickly and be warned in good time of traffic jams or gridlocked traffic.
This is made possible by smart mobility technologies such as IoT, sensors and actuators, and digital applications including apps and mobile devices. Above all, intelligent sensors such as optical camera systems, LiDAR sensors or radar-based sensors are essential components of smart mobility. “As the sensory organs of technical systems, sensors are responsible for capturing data, analyzing it and making it available to users. In automated driving, for example, vehicles must be able to recognize objects such as other road users, traffic signs and obstacles independently and react accordingly,” explained Fritz Lembke. But even intelligent traffic guidance systems cannot function without sensors to detect traffic situations and provide relevant information.
Tapping the potential of sensor solutions
Sensors are already being used today in buses and trains for passenger counting – but without tapping the full potential of the technology. “Currently, most transport companies focus on a demand-responsive approach: the mere registration of persons documents transport performance for revenue sharing purposes,” Fritz Lembke explained. But sensors can do much more: provide information about the availability of the means of transport, record the passenger load or transmit arrivals in real time. As a result, user convenience increases significantly. Bottlenecks are avoided and existing traffic capacity is optimally utilized. But transport operators also benefit. The data obtained helps them to use their fleet capacity as efficiently as possible. With the help of camera sensors, passenger flow can also be analyzed and entering and exiting passengers can be directed past each other. After all, delays are often caused by passengers entering and exiting.
But why haven’t fleet operators been using smart sensor solutions in their vehicles for a long time to drive smart mobility forward? It’s easy: The reason is the cost. “In order to document transport performance, sensors do not have to be installed across the board, but only in one-third of all vehicles. Smart mobility applications are a different story: For reliable measurement of the current load, for example, cameras must be installed in each wagon. Of course, this is much more cost-intensive,” explained Fritz Lembke. However, there are solutions that can help to significantly reduce the investment required: using artificial intelligence or existing infrastructure such as surveillance cameras.
PS.Load enables smart mobility applications
Currently, sensors are located on vehicle doors to detect people exiting and entering the vehicle. However, despite statistical accuracy of up to 99%, this can have an adverse effect, causing discrepancies as passengers move within the means of transport. “The compartment is statistically empty, although there are actually still passengers in it. For smart mobility applications, it therefore makes sense to capture the area in real time and take a measurement in space,” said Fritz Lembke. People Sensing, a division of HELLA Aglaia, the software expert for mobile applications, has recently launched this type of solution: PS.Load. The People Sensing developers were able to draw on many years of expertise in the fields of driver assistance systems and autonomous driving. “The software ends up on buses and trains on a small computer that was developed specifically for the AI application. The special feature of the device is the combination of high performance and compactness, coupled with very low power consumption,” explained Fritz Lembke. The AI is trained and thus learns to reliably determine passenger density on its own. This enables transport companies to communicate in real time what capacity is still available on the next bus, for example. Due to its compact design, PS.Load can be easily integrated into vehicles as a turnkey solution, unlike comparable products from other manufacturers. In the future, PS.Load can even be used for marketing purposes. For example, it can conceivably record how many and which people have seen the advertising. Based on these findings, passengers could be systematically exposed to advertising.
Conclusion: Smart mobility – the driver of the transport revolution
Traffic habits, vehicles and infrastructures are facing a fundamental upheaval. In this context, the needs of users in particular are coming into sharper focus. Factors such as convenience, cost efficiency and sustainability are gaining in importance and influencing traffic habits. Digitalization and networking in the form of smart mobility are seen as drivers of this change, which could revolutionize transportation. Smart mobility requires smart technologies like sensor systems to enable communication between different systems such as vehicles, traffic systems and mobile devices. Transport companies must adapt to the changing needs of users and invest in new technologies if they want to remain competitive and regain their appeal.