TORONTO - Intelligent Transportation System technology rapidly is making the leap from theory to reality.
The mood at the sixth Annual Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems, held here Nov. 8-11, was noticeably upbeat as a record number of delegates checked out a new wave of ITS technology that is taking its first steps into the real world.
John Collins, CEO of the ITS Society of America, said the technology is gathering momentum because 'it has become evident we can't build our way out of traffic congestion. Attacking the problem with technology is the only option available.'
He said that over the next 20 years, the industry in the United States is expected to be worth $420 billion, with $80 billion of that in the public sector and the rest in the private sector. He would not guess the value of the business worldwide.
Japan leads the way
In the near term, he sees Japan leading the way in creating infrastructure with its recently announced plan to spend $600 billion on ITS, while Europe concentrates on providing drivers with improved information, and North America concentrates on integration of ITS technologies.
'ITS is really a health-care issue ... a social issue,' said delegate Robert Franzo, president of Lucent Technologies, Bell Labs Innova-tions' microelectronics group in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The emerging technologies on display at the congress soon will become commonplace, he said. 'It's real. And it's going to happen, and it's going to happen for the benefit of society.'
Paul Frigon, president of Ontario-based PSR Group Ltd., one of three companies planning to launch an in-car traffic information service next spring, said not everything being shown makes sense. He said for his group's system to work, it must be credible, accurate, timely, easily understood and cost effective.
'All these things have to come together, and a lot of the things you see here don't have any of those elements,' Frigon said. New systems, such as Cadillac's Night Vision, Jaguar's adaptive cruise control and the Hertz-Magellan joint venture in-car navigation system are significant in that consumers now can go out and buy this technology, Collins said.
'It's a weather vane, pointing the way the wind's blowing,' he said.
Collins said it was interesting to see the likes of Clarion, Panasonic and Nortel Networks at the congress. 'The serious presence of the automobile industry here shows that this technology provides benefits that people are going to buy, and all these other stakeholders are gathering around to become part of the parade,' he said.
Collins said within five years the convergence of three key technologies will allow a driver to slide into a car and have all the devices in the car and those he or she brought in work in harmony for the first time. Control will be provided by the first of these technologies, voice recognition, so as to avoid driver distractions.
Plug and play
Collins said carmakers are moving beyond proprietary wiring systems and toward plug-and-play technology that will make it easier to install cutting-edge aftermarket electronic systems that may have outpaced the car's original design. He said the auto industry has realized that while it is a very effective mass producer of automobiles, it needed a handshake with the electronics industry.
'You wouldn't think it acceptable to buy a TV and have to hire an electrician to plug in the electricity and the antenna. But that's exactly what we face right now,' Collins said.
The Automotive Multi-Media Consortium system, being developed by major international auto manufacturers, will let consumers buy all kinds of devices and simply plug them into cars.
Coming from another direction is radio-frequency communications technology dubbed Bluetooth (named for a Norse king) being developed by the electronics industry. This has powerful applications, Collins said.
Within the next few years, he said, cell phones, electronic address books and the like will be linked directly to systems in the automobile using Bluetooth and Automotive Multi-Media Consortium. This will let drivers gain access to many kinds of information, place calls and perform other tasks using voice recognition. What are now fragmented, overlapping and, in many cases, incompatible systems, will be brought together by these converging technologies.
Defining a standard
Taking things a step further is the nonprofit MOST Corp., a partnership of mostly European carmakers that have pooled resources to define and adopt a standard multimedia network system. This will define everything from standard software models for radios, telephones, speech recognizers and navigation systems, down to the plastic fiber optics that provide the physical links between devices.
MOST Administrator Herbert Hetzel, who also is managing director of Oasis SiliconSystems AG in Karlsruhe, Germany, said carmakers have agreed to work together to develop an industry standard.
Also being addressed is a common way of connecting the car to the outside world. Hetzel said this can mean consumer devices, such as telephones, that can be plugged into the system, as well as links to the Internet from which such things as traffic information can be accessed.
Hetzel said the challenge facing creation of a true intelligent transportation system is that it will require a lot of infrastructure both in the car and externally, and that will require a lot of effort in many technological areas and a lot of investment.
'But it's an absolute must, because otherwise, sooner or later, we will all get stuck in traffic jams forever.'