19 June 2013

Following his return from the 9th European Congress in Dublin, we had the opportunity to talk to Eric Sampson ERTICO’s Senior Adviser on Congresses and The Chief Rapporteur for Dublin 2013 about this year’s congress events, hot topics and new trends in the field.


Eric, to begin, can you tell us what the role of Chief Rapporteur entails?

 I am responsible for producing two main record documents, a pre-congress synopsis of what is contained in the papers, headline descriptions of the Special Interest and Executive Sessions, and a post-Congress Report that summarises the proceedings of the week. But to do this I rely on a team of six rapporteurs who are my ‘eyes and ears’ and feed me their findings.

Can you give us a brief overview of the Congress?

“The Congress headline was ‘Real Solutions for Real Needs’. We chose this slogan to emphasize the focus on proven deployed solutions and innovative R&D results that solve real problems and deliver value for money in today’s challenging economic environment.

Would you say that today’s context and needs are specifically different from those of 5 or 10 years ago?

If I had been asked to give a Congress summary 8-10 years ago I would have been reporting what we could do with single function technology (navigation, traveller information, traffic management and some in-vehicle driver support functions). The big issues then were cost, reliability, power consumption, and price. We could deliver individual solutions quite well and demonstrate them but our users had bigger and more complex problems and wanted something more.

Looking back 4-5 yes we saw all of these functions becoming extended. Navigation was enhanced with real-time traffic congestion updates and re-routing. We began to see predictive as well as real-time traveller information, traffic management over large areas of networks with a mix of urban and inter-urban control. What had previously been in a sense “uni-dimensional” had become ‘two-dimensional’. Our users became concerned with real-world pilot trials of the new products and services we had given them.

A key observation from Dublin 2013 is the extent to which we have moved on from there. We had the privilege of seeing a range of presentations and demonstrations and having direct engagement with suppliers of ITS products and services which are like any other mature consumer service: readily available, effective, efficient, affordable and reliable. Dublin showed the modern face of Intelligent Transport Systems. We indeed saw Real Solutions for Real Needs.

How did you structure the content of the congress to reflect the headline theme?

We aimed to deliver this by grouping material into four key topic areas (Sustainable City Regions, Smarter Travel, Knowledge Sharing, and Competitiveness through Innovation) and a sub topic of Peripheral Regions.

Can you give us examples from each topic to illustrate some recent developments in the field?

The Sustainable City Regions topic covered new initiatives for creating smart cities which focus on handling transport, energy supply, environmental impact water and waste systems, and IT services simultaneously. The big problem is that these services often conflict – for example if you enhance transport to meet demand you probably increase energy use and gaseous emissions as well. For city managers, it is this interlinking that brings them problems and challenges on a daily level. The emerging new initiatives exemplify a dramatic shift from conventional methods that look at isolated solutions for individual sectors. The discussions and presentations in this Topic showed that the ITS field is steadily and consistently moving towards meeting the city managers’ needs.

The second topic revolved around Smarter Travel. Plenary Session 2 and Executive Session 2 addressed this in detail and discussions during the session raised the need for smarter travel options that recognise the many diverse constraints and demand pressures of modern European cities. So ‘Smart’ was interpreted as a way of doing something that is not just efficient and effective, but also as a way that lowers emissions and reduces energy consumption.

Globally 50% of the population live in urban areas; in the EU it is about 65%. Urban areas are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and consume 75 % of the world’s resources. If cities are to expand as expected then individual travel by cars has to decline and collective travel by public transport has to increase. For many cities this probably means new infrastructure but there is no place to build it other than underground or on top of what is already in place. The emphasis has to be on the development and use of smart infrastructure and on the efficient management of these networks with a priority of helping the end user travel smarter.

In some ways the whole Congress was about Knowledge Sharing, Topic 3 The Dublin Papers and Special Session discussions described complex emerging chains of information handling, beginning with new types of sensors, both Hard sources (physical devices) and Soft sources (social media, human factors, behavioural science). We heard how material from soft sources combined with Open Data Initiative information is feeding new data mining and modelling techniques which in turn create new real time-information or control possibilities from which we can get new services.

The 4th topic was titled Competitiveness through Innovation. Not every session in Dublin was about heavyweight developments with telecoms standards, design of satellites for navigation etc. A key contribution under this topic came from some advances with stimulating markets through a different procurement approach. This subject first emerged in Lyon in 2011 with a short paper on pre-commercial procurement and ways of engaging with potential suppliers in a mutually efficient, effective and economically beneficial way. Last year, in Vienna, this seed flowered into a ‘Best Paper’ award-winning contribution by ERTICO’s own Sébastien Mure. In Dublin this flower got its own greenhouse with a very lively special session devoted to the subject.

It seems then, that themes and topics carry on from congress to congress and get developed?

Absolutely. For a couple of years Congress delegates have expressed a desire for continuity. They would like to see the same hot topics passed on from Congress to Congress until they have become accepted ‘standard’ production ideas, services or products. Another such example this year was the field of connected systems. It was very popular last year at Vienna and as expected, it featured strongly in Dublin.

We had a number of contributions addressing the safety benefits, the potential to improve road network productivity while also cutting costs for the freight and logistics sector, and other benefits. For example we are seeing the design of infrastructure that is ‘smart’ and can warn vehicles of hazards such as potential collisions, congestion, or very bad weather and then advise drivers what to do. This is “thinking” infrastructure that can give public transport or emergency vehicles priority in traffic and at junctions.

What would you say was the main strength of the Congress?

I can’t ration myself to just one answer so let me cheat slightly. For me one of the strengths of Dublin was the nine Executive Sessions which covered all 4 of the main congress topics[i] . We also had 4 sessions addressed strategic European priorities [ii]

I’ll be reporting in detail separately on these in a month or so when their Moderators have sent me their accounts of the proceedings in the official Rapporteurs report.

Can you give us a bit more information on what we can look out for?

One key finding which was clearly identified in the Executive Session 09 (which was a huge success and covered all topics in the Congress) is that customers of ITS products are no different from ‘consumers’ of any service. In exchange for their time and money consumers expect specific problems to be solved completely, quickly and for the lowest possible price. They count on tools to perform particular tasks effectively and with the least amount of effort. Moreover the justifications for personal ITS uses were shown to be no different from justifications for commercial applications – peace of mind, reducing costs and increased convenience are major motivators for ITS consumers all around. This Session prompted valuable reflections on whether the ITS industry is targeting the right problems and providing appropriate tools to help individuals live their lives with less worry, lower costs, and saved time.

 You seem to have had a lot of ‘business meetings’ during the Congress apart from the timetabled sessions

We certainly did. The World and European Congresses are wonderful opportunities to meet your professional colleagues and many organisations are aware of this. Consequentially we had at least 15 ‘Ancillary Events’ taking place under the Congress’s roof plus two workshops we organised ourselves. They are a way to put more focus on discussion and debate as opposed to the traditional approach with Power-point presentations and they were met with a lot enthusiasm and curiosity from conference attendees.

The first stakeholder workshop was “Plugging the Skills Shortage – Women and ITS” and actually covered two topics that brought home that we are not doing enough to ensure our sustainablilty. This workshop concluded that we need to find strategies for boosting our stock of female engineers and technical support experts, especially after a maternity break, because we are not making proper use of a valuable and trained resource. Like any industry ITS needs a supply of skilled people and unfortunately we are not doing enough to enable younger delegates to join the congress. Both these issues will be taken forward to Helsinki.

The second workshop looked at the concept of an ITS Observatory. This idea addresses the multiple problems of repetition/duplication of research and pilots/demos/trials; a lack of awareness of ITS options available by local authorities many of whom lack ITS staff resource for product evaluation; national governments and the EC generally being unsighted on the overall deployment situation; and a suspicion that investments have been wasted as proper evaluations were not done so were not shared for wider benefit. The Observatory is seen as a possible solution and common way forward. It is in a sense a knowledge clearing house: a data warehouse logging who has done what with final reports and who is doing what with timescales; a collection of benefit / cost assessments; and a series of Green Papers based around case studies aimed at local authorities. The debate was robust but the conclusions were universally accepted.

 Was there anything in the programme that was particularly specific to Dublin?

 One of our topics was the special needs of Peripheral Regions; this issue is key for Ireland as an island nation, but of course the problems of being peripheral are also found elsewhere such as in Finland who will host us next year. The cross-border and interoperability issues here, in Finland, and of course the UK, are very different from those in central Europe for example Germany or the Netherlands. It raises a number of questions about the real practical need for and benefit from for pan-European standards which were discussed vigorously but without a clear way forward; we will need to return to this issue.

 What other hot topics do you see carrying over from Dublin to the next European Congress in Helsinki in 2014?

 There are several topics, images and ideas that I can flag as being carried forward:

  • Automated detection of pedestrians, cyclists, children,
  • Vehicle systems that advise drivers of the most fuel efficient route and the most economic driving style
  • Cloud computing being used to deliver better traveller services
  • Deployment of electric vehicles especially as mobile elements of a ‘smart’ grid
  • Open data and soft sensors and the use of behavioural science and social media
  • Joined-up user benefits
  • ITS for an ageing population 
  • Cross-border roaming
  • Smarter cities
  • Connected systems
  • The concept of ‘mobility’ services rather than single mode transpor
  • Connected systems
  • The concept of ‘mobility’ services rather than single mode transport

 And finally Eric what would you say was most memorable about Dublin?

Other than the opportunity to hear the latest news and information in ITS? Or the networking and debate with colleagues from industry, the public sector and research within a uniquely Irish context? Perhaps it would be the ‘Night to remember’ at the world’s most famous brewery, the magnificent views of Dublin and the incredible hospitality and entertainment!”

Be sure to look out for the full report of the congress rapporteurs in July of 2013 for a detailed account of Dublin 2013.

 i City Regions (ES 6) Smarter Travel (ES 2) Knowledge Sharing (ES 5) Competitiveness through Innovation (ES 7).

ii ITS investment and business models (ES 3), Harnessing the potential of Open Data (ES 4) , Successfully delivering road user charging systems (ES 8) , Delivering ITS services for personal use (ES 9) ,Host session addressing ‘Peripheral Regions’ (ES 1)