Mobility moves into the Big Data era

Pilot schemes focussing on the introduction of autonomous vehicles are multiplying. The EPFL site in Lausanne was one of the frontrunners with its six shuttles serving the campus between April and June 2015. Last May the University of Geneva was chosen to pilot the European consortium Avenue, which aims to test the transport of groups of people without a driver in an urban environment.

The mobility of tomorrow will resemble this animation created by the MIT Senseable City Lab:

The expected impact is a huge reduction in the number of accidents and the disappearance of traffic jams. As a reminder, the number of hours of traffic jams in Switzerland has doubled since 2009, with 24,000 hours in 2016 according to the Federal Statistical Office.

Digital data is set to play a key role in making this vision possible. The help of a controller will be necessary to organise vehicle flows in a city context. This controller will have to have access to billions of mobility data.

How can the controller acquire this geodata?

Cars, electric bikes and road sensors produce geodata. We also generate digital traces through:

the smartphones that we all carry in our pocketsCollectively, for example, our smartphones generate more than 20 billion pieces of data per day on the Swisscom network, enabling the visualisation of our movements, as this animation from the city of Zurich shows:

the connected wearables on our wrists. The data produced can also enable the visualisation of our movements, as this video from the MIT Senseable City Lab in the city of Boston and in San Francisco shows:

Who is emerging as the controller of our mobility?

Both public and private entities are already offering services to help to optimise our journeys. Let’s take two examples:

The Canton of Geneva has deployed hundreds of connected road sensors across its territory. The data provided is both a precious source of information for town planning and is also placed at the disposal of citizens on the infomobility portal.

Google is offering the application Waze. This indicates the best route based on traffic conditions. The application combines position data from our smartphones and information on traffic shared by users.

What are the objectives of these controllers?

Objectives will differ depending on the type of entity playing the role of controller. If we return to our two examples:

Reducing traffic in the city centre is the objective targeted by the Canton of Geneva. For this purpose, it has defined a network hierarchy: cars passing by the city centre but not stopping there must bypass the centre by using external roads as indicated on the diagram below.

Minimising the individual travel time of its users is the objective of Google. Consequently, if the shortest route to get you to your destination consists of passing by small city centre streets, this route will be suggested to you.

How can a common interest be guaranteed?

There is thus a conflict of interests between, on the one hand, an application that aims to offer you an individual solution and, on the other hand, the nuisance that this creates for an entire district. This phenomenon is increasing rapidly throughout the world’s cities.

This means that there are two concerns when piloting the mobility of tomorrow:

developing partnerships that enable the combination of different data sources to obtain a full understanding of traffic dynamics.

aligning the objectives of the algorithms developed so that the routes proposed ensure that mobility functions adequately for the entire population and ensuring compatibility with public policies concerning town planning and transport.

The role of the state needs to evolve, as it is already no longer in a position to rival private players that possess much more data.

In Geneva, there is an opportunity to position the Territory Information System(SITG), a trailblazing structure when it comes to such geoinformation concerns. The mission of the SITG will certainly not be to be the controller of the mobility of tomorrow, but it could become the platform that collects and guarantees the quality of the multiple sources of geodata. It could guarantee alignment in the development of routing solutions by the players that will use these data.

The city of Geneva is the most congested in Switzerland according to the latest INRIX classification. It now has the potential to set an example in piloting the mobility of tomorrow by mastering the governance of Big Data.

My presentation at the Forum des 100 on the same topic on 24 May:

You can also access my articles in French on the website of the newspaper LeTemps