Mon, 07 Dec 2015 - 14:00
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Intelligent Transport Systems

Since becoming Minister for Major Projects in September, I have been fascinated to see the way that technology is transforming the transport sector.  With my background in the communications sector, I’m certainly familiar with the extraordinary rate of change in telecommunications, broadcasting and the internet; but I have been struck by the way that the same trends are playing out in transport.

One example is the growing use of ‘intelligent transport systems’, a catch-all term covering the use of communication, data processing and electronic technologies for in-vehicle, vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure and mode-to-mode systems.

Examples include connected and automated vehicles; smart infrastructure (for example, sensors embedded in motorways to capture traffic movements);  and telematics (the use of devices on board vehicles to capture data about the vehicle’s location and movements, allowing that data to be recorded, transmitted and aggregated).

ITS technologies extend across all kinds of transport, not just roads.  ITS is being used to improve safety, control and communication systems for railways, and to boost freight productivity at ports.

I recently visited Asciano’s automated container terminal at Port Botany, where giant devices called Autostrads  – which are 13 metres high and weigh 65 tonnes – pick up containers from a truck and move them to a ship, and vice versa.  They are completely automated and were developed with the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at Sydney Uni.

The autostrads use a radar-based navigation system and have ultra-sonic, infra-red and laser equipment so the machine can see and interpret its environment.  Each autostrad has a computerised control system that allows it to execute commands, and is under the ultimate control of a master suite of software which manages the terminal.

But it is the way that ITS benefits road users which is perhaps most visible to Australians, through improving traffic flow on freeways – and reducing accidents. In some areas of ITS deployment, such as smart motorways and free-flow electronic tolling, Australia is among the world leaders.

For example, the recent introduction of ITS on the Monash Freeway in Melbourne brought improved travel times and reduced the incident of accidents. ITS will also be an important part of the planned Tullamarine Freeway Widening project in Melbourne. The upgraded freeway will feature lane use management, ramp metering at all entry ramps, variable message signs and an automated incident detection system. 

Of course, there is growing excitement about the potential for driverless vehicles - made possible by the increasing convergence of wireless communications, vehicles and transport infrastructure.  Momentum is building in Australia, with Adelaide recently hosting the first on-road trials of driverless cars in the Southern Hemisphere as part of the International Driverless Cars Conference.

But in a whole host of ways innovative technology is transforming transport – and there is plenty more to come.  Next year the 2016 ITS World Congress will be held in Melbourne - with the theme Enhancing Liveable Cities and Communities. (You can find more information at www.itsworldcongress2016.com.)  This will showcase the most exciting developments from around the world – and looks likely to provide a further boost to the already healthy rate of adoption of intelligent transport systems in Australia.