By Nicolas White “There is a first sanity check if the EU is involved. They won’t get involved if they don’t see it as being feasible” says Remi Tops the new business manager at PEEK. We were talking about PEEK’s recently launched cooperative Intelligent Transport System (ITS) platform the first commercially available product of its kind. Unveiled in December 2011 PEEK says that it will increase road safety reduce CO2 emissions and crucially for commercial fleet operators could cut fuel consumption by 20%. Cooperative systems it is hoped will revolutionise traffic management and the way we navigate city streets. Indeed according to Willem Hartman Managing Director of Peek Netherlands they will allow ‘intelligent communication between vehicles as well as between vehicles and roadside systems’. The origins of PEEK’s cooperative platform are to be found deep within EU funded research projects. The concept and the core of the technologies being used having been developed through the CVIS (Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure Systems) project started in 2006 and concluded in 2010. However while the very core of the idea might be found in CVIS the involvement of EU co-funded research was not limited to that one project. The story of the development of the first commercially available cooperative ITS platform is firmly one of the success of EU involvement in research and development. Considered to be the ‘mother’ of all cooperative ITS projects CVIS set out to explore the possibilities that new technologies in Vehicle-To-Infrastructure (V2I) and Vehicle-To-Vehicle (V2V) offered with regard to tackling Europe’s urban transport challenges. In so doing it hoped to ‘completely re-engineer how drivers vehicles goods and transport interact’. The project defined and developed a variety of technologies that work together to achieve this goal. The true strength of the CVIS project lay not in what it specifically developed but in what it provided for future developments. The foundation of the CVIS project was the development of a cooperative system architecture something that brought roadside infrastructure vehicles and applications together in a unified and open system. Key to this was the development of hardware for both vehicles and roadside infrastructure. CVIS developed a standard that would allow all parts of the system to communicate with each other seamlessly whether over an infrared connection a 3g mobile data connection or 802.11p wireless (akin to the wifi found in most homes and offices). The hardware however is simply the foundation of what makes cooperative systems so valuable in dealing with the problems of overstretched road networks and gridlocked traffic. The open architecture developed and tested by the CVIS project allows for third party developers to build software applications and platforms on top of it enhancing its functionality and adapting it to new and specific situations. Applications that formed part of the CVIS project include such things as intersection priority management giving for example emergency vehicles or public transport priority at intersections; a safety application that can update road users on crucial pieces of information related to their journey such as traffic conditions speed limits and the weather ahead as well as applications that offer strategic routing for vehicles which draw information from central traffic management centres and draws it to create optimised routes for drivers so that they are able to reach their destination in the most efficient way possible reducing travel times and easing urban congestion. CVIS’ legacy can clearly be seen in PEEK’s new cooperative ITS platform. Indeed a number of research projects have led to the development of the platform which consists of: a roadside router a roadside host a vehicle router a vehicle host android software and a management and control web application that can be configured and managed from a remote location. Each element of the platform is required for the new cooperative system and each element must be able to communicate with the other parts. Therefore PEEK’s new platform is compatible with the new 802.11p draft standard.
The value of the development and testing carried out through the CVIS project which was co-funded under the European Commission’s 6th Framework Programme was clear at least from a technical point of view. Open standards for application development proved so successful that developers from outside the project consortium got involved in the CVIS Application Contest developing submitting and even deploying their applications on the CVIS platform. What CVIS did that is so hard to do outside the realm of publicly financed research projects was incentivise the development of open and accessible platforms. All too often companies develop innovative solutions that while they look good on paper and often deliver great results are less than perfectly interoperable with other services. Termed ‘walled gardens’ they often represent a significant barrier to future developments as customers do not want to pay to replace them in order to add functionality or integrate a new service. CVIS’ openness gave public authorities freight operators public transport companies and consumers a flexible and largely future proofed service. Cooperative systems were developed as a response to the needs of public and city authorities. City authorities are faced with political and economic challenges related to the increase in road use and congestion. Policy goals for cities tend to run in the vein of both managing the problem of increased congestion while also promoting green economic growth healthy and safe urban living and happy citizens. Indeed the city of Copenhagen for example has a stated goal of being the first carbon neutral capital city in the world. At a recent ERTICO forum on ITS for Urban Mobility Steffen Rasmussen Head of Traffic Design Department for the City of Copenhagen explained how this goal alongside others such as promoting walking making the city a centre for world climate policy making Copenhagen the best city for cycling and promoting more and better use of the city’s public spaces could be tackled thanks to the deployment of ITS solutions such as cooperative systems. CVIS led to the development of technologies that could help cities achieve their urban mobility goals. However there is a large disconnect between the development of technologies and their eventual deployment as successful products. Enter FREILOT an EU co-funded project that was focussed on real world testing of some of the technologies developed in the CVIS project. Crucially this testing put the technologies in the hands of those that would eventually use such services on a commercial basis: freight operators and public authorities. In addition to this testing the FREILOT project was designed in order to find how exactly the business models for the commercial deployment of such technologies would work. As Remi Tops of PEEK explained FREILOT was needed ‘to find out what the value perception of a product was for customers’. In essence FREILOT served as a trial run for technologies such as road intersection priority freight delivery space booking and driver assistance systems to promote better fuel economy. Throughout the project stakeholders did not have to pay to use the FREILOT services as they were financed by the suppliers alongside co-funding from the European Union. This allowed further real world testing at no financial cost to those benefiting from the services demonstrating both how successful the technologies could be in their stated purpose and illustrating the value they can add to both cities and freight operators. In addition it gave suppliers as Remi Tops explained a much better idea of the needs of the hardware platform. These insights combined led to the building of ‘a better idea of the costs and requirements’ of the services. For example in the city of Helmond a FREILOT pilot site emergency vehicles were equipped with intersection priority systems. The outcome of this real world testing was as the project demonstrated safer intersection crossings as well as a demonstration of just how efficient such priority systems could be. In a recent interview Gert Blom Strategic Advisor on Mobility to the City of Helmond stated that ‘besides the original predicted benefits of the project we now see many more benefits of the FREILOT services such as noise reduction improved traffic flows and increased road safety’. Further the success of the intersection priority system has led to the city of Helmond considering closing its second fire station as fire engines from one station now have the ability to travel to all parts of the city much faster. Thanks solely to the intersection priority system having been deployed. FREILOT was according to Remi Tops ‘instrumental’ in the development of business models for cooperative mobility solutions such as PEEK’s cooperative ITS platform. The development of such business models is precisely what led PEEK to being the first company to launch a commercially available cooperative mobility solution. The company does not shy away from explaining just how instrumental EU co-funded projects are in the development cycle. Tops explained that such projects ‘help inform the world about what we [PEEK] do and they’re a great channel in product introduction’. He continued by explaining that companies are more willing to invest if they see the EU supporting developments not simply due to ‘shared risk’ but ‘because they only invest in things which they see have a future’. Of course as Tops highlighted ‘the real proof is when customers want to buy without external funding’. In this case it seems the story of EU co-funding has a decidedly happy ending. PEEK have launched the first commercially available cooperative ITS system on the market and it looks as though the City of Copenhagen which recently concluded a tender for traffic management in the city might purchase it as an option (although this is still being considered). Such a development would at once help Copenhagen achieve another first; to be the first CO2 neutral capital city in the world.
EU funded projects help companies focus their research and develop business models to accompany new developments as well as provide a meeting place for developers and potential customers. In the case of FREILOT it showed that the technology was ready that customers wanted it and they were willing to pay. Something PEEK has certainly found. After all – they already have enormous interest from around the world.
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Original Publication Date: Tue 10 Apr 2012