The intelligent transportation systems industry (ITS) is driven by innovation. With a broader vision toward building smart cities and facilitating Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), the aim is to develop the new technologies and strategies that will make our cities and lives more efficient. In leading cities like Singapore, London, and New York, groundbreaking technologies, including artificial intelligence, sensors, and the Internet of Things, are helping companies and policymakers improve residents’ and visitors’ quality of life.
Developing new smart transportation solutions involves a number of intriguing innovations. However, diving into the nuts and bolts of technologies like smart intersections, contactless payment solutions, and mobile applications can make it easy to lose sight of the reason for all of this in the first place. We have to ask an important question: Who is smart transportation for?
Technologies shouldn’t be developed for technology’s sake, just as smart transportation shouldn’t be built just to say it’s been done. The industry must work toward a smarter future for the people who use its services by holding those people at the center of its decisions, strategies, and solutions.
Beginning with the Challenge
When a technological breakthrough is reached, it is often followed by teams in various industries brainstorming how that technology could be used in their field. This is a technology-centric approach rather than a people-centric one. Instead of starting with the solution, engineers working on smart cities should start with the challenge. What is a pain point for residents in your town, and how does that pain point reverberate through their lives? By starting with the problem and developing a purpose-built solution, you’ll end up with a useful and appreciated tool; on the other hand, innovation for innovation’s sake will likely result in a fancy tool that no one uses (remember the Segway?).
If your team isn’t clear on what problems their customers are facing, they should go out and ask. Engaging with a diverse group of local citizens will provide your team with a litany of problems to solve and will open a channel of communication that can later be used to communicate the benefits of your solution. If your community believes you’re invested in solving their problems, they will be more open to trying your technology.
In some cases, however, a city’s challenges are a bit too nuanced for citizens to boil down to a single, concrete problem. While commuters might complain about traffic jams in the early evening, they won’t have the overarching view to understand what specific areas or bottlenecks are causing the congestion. For these challenges, data can be used to fill in the gaps and provide the basis for their complaints. Combining public opinion with data will ensure you’re headed down the right path.
Considering All People
When working to develop people-centric solutions, it’s important to design new technologies that will serve all people. This is possibly the most broadly unaddressed issue in smart city engineering: many of the groundbreaking technologies reshaping our cities are mobile-based and don’t serve those who are smartphone-free or unbanked. Accessibility takes many forms — whether it’s serving those with different physical abilities, economic backgrounds, or even personal preferences, regarding technology and privacy.
A people-centric strategy will also bear in mind the future generations who will be using smart transportation. This is often a question of scale. In a growing city, are you prioritizing technologies that will be able to expand and adapt to the size of the population? Will your solution be open to incorporating the new modes of transportation that may be in our future?
Perhaps the most often-overlooked aspect of creating people-centric innovations is considering how the technology will impact people when they’re not using it. Is the new solution sustainable, or will it harm the environment and make life more difficult for those in the surrounding area? One way to make projects more sustainable is to consider how to maintain existing equipment and blend new technologies with current infrastructure — rather than starting from scratch and growing the infrastructure footprint. This hybrid strategy limits waste and ensures that valuable technologies aren’t prematurely abandoned.
A people-centric city is one that understands the needs of all its citizens and delivers the initiatives that ensure those needs are met. Smart transportation can be a major force in that pursuit by providing efficient, accessible technologies that move cities forward and get people where they need to go.