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Pearls of mobility: ITS Congress in Hamburg, Germany

Safe, sustainable, efficient: The ITS World Congress 2021 in Hamburg provided insights into the future of mobility.

In the morning, when the alarm goes off, our smartphone checks the calendar against the current traffic situation and tells us what is the best time to leave in order to get to the office punctually and avoid traffic jams. Once there, the electric car from the car-sharing pool independently finds a parking space and charges up. At lunchtime, we take an e-scooter to the bakery and in the afternoon, we take public transport or a rental bike to meet a customer in the city center while enjoying a wonderfully safe ride along the wide bike paths. And at the end of the day, a driverless car is already waiting outside to safely take us back home.

While some people are still dreaming of such smooth urban mobility, Hamburg has been working feverishly for five years to make it a reality. A German city as a role model for modern mobility? In a country that traditionally treats its drivers with kid gloves, and especially in Hamburg, which has long been a national leader in terms of congestion and harmful emissions – the sceptics would have been surprised had they paid a visit to the northern German city between October 11 and 15, 2021.

Experience Future Mobility Now

A crossroad with some cars that are surrounded by blue circles.

The global need to develop new mobility concepts for metropolitan areas was met by the model city when it came to the organization of this year's ITS World Congress – the aim was to showcase everything from self-driving buses and Mobility-as-a-Service offerings to optimized goods traffic flows in the port area. And not just within the bounds of the 30,000-square-meter congress site, but throughout the city: on four demo tours, visitors could ride e-buses, commuter trains, and ferries through the city center, the HafenCity, and the container port to see the mobility solutions of tomorrow for themselves. Hamburg and its mayor Peter Tschentscher had been preparing for this moment for five years. And he says that as a medical professional, he would like to see “many congress projects have an impact beyond the event”.

The congress, which was held in the city on the River Elbe for the first time in 2021, focused on the eponymous “ITS” – intelligent transport systems and services – as it does every year. The who’s who of the mobility industry met under the motto: “Experience Future Mobility Now:” 400 exhibitors from the fields of transport, logistics, and IT presented their ideas, and up to 15,000 visitors from around 100 countries were expected. ITS was open to the public for the day on October 14. From the 172 ITS projects, the city had selected 42 “anchor projects” that have particular appeal. And the solutions of T-Systems and Telekom, as technology and telecommunications provider, played an important role in many of them. A Deutsche Telekom trade fair stand provided an insight into the company’s own developments relating to intelligent mobility and networked transport. 

Transport transformation to combat climate change

The flood catastrophe in July was the latest reminder to people in Germany of how real climate change is. It is really high time that something changed. The calculation is simple: To reduce pollutants in urban centers and conurbations, the causes also need to be tackled. There are 800,000 cars in Hamburg, and then there are the port operations, which are responsible for almost a third of urban emissions. So, on the one hand, there’s a need for action when it comes to the transport of goods, and on the other hand, the city has to address the car issue.

The ITS strategy is also a climate strategy: By 2030, the city center is to be virtually car-free. But what about Germany, with our attachment to the car? If you want to make a difference and win the acceptance of users, you have to dig deep into the innovation toolbox and offer real alternatives to the private car.

Fifteen minutes to your destination

For example, car-sharing models and a functioning local transport system. For a long time, transport policy was strongly focused on the car. Underground and commuter trains were usually left out of the planning process, even though they are the most efficient of all modes of transportation. This is now about to change. But instead of creating a new silo, modern mobility relies on a seamless service and an intelligent infrastructure for an optimized traffic flow.

By 2030, it should take no more than 15 minutes to get from points A to B in Hamburg – regardless of where A and B are located. By networking and communicating with each other, all the mobility services such as public transport, carpools, rental bikes, e-scooters, and shuttles can create seamless connections: Mobility as a Service. The expectation is that one day in the not-too-distant future, timetables will be superfluous because a means of transport will always be available.

Public Transport 2.0

More than 300,000 people commute to Hamburg every day for work.

High passenger volumes place particular demands on the frequency of service, even beyond the city limits: More than 300,000 people commute to Hamburg every day for work. If delays and cancellations were the consequence of the traffic transformation, this would probably have a negative impact on its prospects for success. In this sense, increasing the public transport (PT) quota is a key lever for achieving the transport sector’s climate targets. In addition to increasing capacity, ensuring a high quality of public transport is a basic prerequisite for achieving this. IT systems for the appropriate planning and control are of particular importance.

The Ruhr region has come up with an exciting solution for the control center: The transport companies of the cities of Dortmund, Bochum, Herne, and the Ennepe Ruhr district use a joint, multi-client ITCS (Intermodal Transport Control System).

This system records all bus and train movements in real time, optimizes connections, and provides the displays and vehicles with dynamic passenger information. In the current version of the project, the topics of rail traffic and electric buses have been addressed in particular so that they are optimally integrated into the operations control system.

Computer vision is increasingly finding its way into public transport. The images from the cameras already present in many buses and trains are analyzed “on the edge” using machine learning technologies. For example, the passenger volume with transfer relations and seat occupancy are evaluated and acute danger points are automatically detected. The data analysis does not take place centrally in the cloud, but directly where the data is collected. In this case, directly in the vehicle.

This speeds up the data processing, reduces the volume of data that has to be transmitted, and thus makes the desired information available almost in real time.  Data protection is an important issue here: The technology used does not require the storage of images, as they are evaluated directly and only the relevant information is transmitted. As a result, personal privacy rights are protected.

Things are also changing for transport companies and control centers. With the “Live Dashboard,” employees have all relevant information at a glance – and not only in the control center, but also on the office computer, smartphone, or tablet. And it’s all as streamlined as possible: The focus is on schedule deviations and trouble spots in the network, ensuring that rapid action is possible.

Solutions like those presented at Telekom’s trade fair stand to improve the quality and reliability of public transport and help to convince more people to use it.

Feeling safe again on bike paths

A free bike path in pink, next to a highly frequented road.

Cycling is the most environmentally-friendly way to get around – however, it’s also one of the most dangerous: 426 cyclists died on German roads in 2020. And Hamburg’s bike paths don’t have the best reputation. In a 2017 ADAC nationwide study, they were criticized for their comparative narrowness and dilapidated condition. Anjes Tjarks is not happy about that at all: “People aged six to 99 should feel comfortable on our bike paths,” Hamburg’s transport senator said in an NDR interview about the city’s plans until 2030. To achieve this, bike paths will be widened and separated from where cars drive on the roads.

To further enhance safety, Telekom is working with Continental AG to develop technology for collision warning and protecting vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, users of e-scooters, and cyclists, who are particularly impacted by accidents.

This BMVI-funded project is based on GPS data and sensors. In order to predict the paths that cars and bicycles will take for the next five seconds, their data is sent to the cloud. If the foreseeable paths of two vehicles collide, the collision warning solution sends a signal in advance to the road user’s smartphone via mobile communications. Something like this has to happen at lightning speed – 5G offers the ideal conditions for this.

At the ITS World Congress, T-Systems displayed the collision warning solution with the “Traffic Light Assistant” app that it developed. Bicycle, e-bike, and e-scooter riders receive phase and forecast information from the traffic signals in Hamburg’s inner city. This increases the comfort and traffic flow and gives priority to environmentally-friendly road users at selected intersections. Another reason to switch to two wheels!

The car as part of the solution

Traffic jam in Hamburg.

Driving around looking for a free parking space is not only annoying, but also harmful to the environment: It accounts for 30 to 40 percent of inner-city traffic. This can be improved by digitalizing the search for a parking space. Telekom has installed around 1,000 sensors in public on-street parking spaces in the Hamburg metropolitan area that collect data on the relevant parking spaces in the test area. Together with project partner Parknav, additional data is being added to provide a view of the inflow and outflow of parking frequency for the first time. A dashboard allows the city and transport companies to access this data and make it available to users. The city has expanded the use of this dashboard to see what time of day a special need arises on which streets. The misuse of special parking spaces, such as for people with disabilities, is also being consistently addressed.

This is necessary at least until parking becomes automatic, without our intervention: Automated Valet Parking is a driverless parking service that motorists can use in conjunction with an app. You tell the car where you want to go, let it plan the route, drive to your destination, and get out – the car does the rest on its own. It then uses a T-Systems server to find out where a parking space is available, uses it, and sends the information to the driver’s smartphone. This process also works in the other direction via the pick-up service and GPS positioning.

In order to sustainably improve the urban climate, it is inevitable that we will have to achieve an almost car-free city center in the longer term. One milestone that will mark the way there: intelligent urban tolling. Unlike time-based toll systems, which favor frequent drivers and most people perceive as unfair, the T-Systems solution implements occasion-based toll collection and uses smartphone apps or in-vehicle technologies for this purpose. Road tolls are then based on factors such as distance traveled, length of stay, vehicle type, or emission class, and are no longer the same for everyone. In the future, the intelligent T-Systems Road User Services will also make it possible to levy distance-based tolls for trucks in urban areas.

Competitive advantages in goods traffic

Around 3,500 container ships and 200 cruise ships dock in Hamburg every year.

Hamburg is still powerless when it comes to tackling air pollution from shipping traffic – around 3,500 container ships and 200 cruise ships dock in Europe's third-largest seaport every year, producing vast quantities of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants. The traffic, on the other hand, can be tackled. Before the project began, 40,000 truck journeys per day were made in Hamburg alone, with the majority being container traffic. To make this as efficient as possible, the city of Hamburg and the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) are now optimizing the flow of traffic in the port area in the 5G-LOGINNOV anchor project.

Low 5G latency makes it possible to use automated driving platoons in the 5G-LOGINNOV project. Platoons are a type of digital carpool formed by trucks in the port area that communicate with each other. The lead vehicle is equipped with the 5G-GLOSA (Green Light Optimum Speed Advisory) and can determine the driving speed of all the vehicles in the platoons so that the green light phases can always be used optimally. As a result, trucks have to brake and restart less, which means fewer pollutants are released into the environment – this should lead to a 30-percent reduction in emissions. The T-Systems “Low Carbon Mobility Management” (LCMM) app, which measures fuel consumption and determines emissions, can be used to determine the amount of CO2 per kilometer and actively reduce it. 

Mobility as a mindset

All these solutions are made possible thanks to the digitalization of traffic, technologies such as edge and cloud computing, sensor technology and, last but not the least, 5G, which is a real gamechanger in terms of real-time connectivity. Whether the solutions take hold and bring about the desired – and urgently needed – changes in mobility ultimately depends on us. Because change can only work if it comes from within.

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About the author

Thomas van Zütphen is a long-term observer of the IT-TK industry and has led T-Systems’ customer magazine (previously known as Best Practice) as Editor-in-Chief for the past 15 years.

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