ERTICO’s vision is to bring intelligence into mobility to make it safer, smarter and cleaner. Cooperative ITS (C-ITS) can be a very useful tool to help achieve this important objective. The “Meet the Expert” interview series returns with Senior Manager and C-ITS expert Giacomo Somma, who explains the benefits of C-ITS and his vision for future smart mobility.

Giacomo, tell us about yourself. How did you start your career in ITS and in particular C-ITS? 

My career in C-ITS began when I joined ERTICO in 2014, where I started working on different European-funded mobility projects, focusing on C-ITS in particular.  However, my experience in European projects and transport goes back to 2006. As a Civil Engineer, I had the opportunity to work in a variety of fields, including ICT, energy, aeronautics and nano-electronics.

Why are Cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS) so important for the future of smart mobility?

C-ITS systems can first of all enable actors to exchange messages about road and traffic conditions, advice and enforcements (e.g. speed limits) or information about a particular situation (priority requests at traffic lights, blind spot warnings).  Think about an ambulance rushing to the hospital.  For this ambulance to have priority, it needs to send a request to surrounding vehicles to free an “emergency corridor” as well as to send a request to traffic lights and the local traffic management system to join the so-called “green wave”. This could also be a possibility for buses when they are behind schedule.

But C-ITS is much more than just exchanging messages, it also has a cooperative aspect. In fact, messages can only work if there is previously agreed cooperation protocol between the sender and the receiver. Imagine there are two of us in a room, and we need to exit through the same door. Connectivity is the exchange of information about the presence, location and status (open/closed) of the door. Further to this interaction, cooperation requires that we agree on who goes first to avoid collisions. Thanks to C-ITS, we can exchange information and make a decision based on common standards, behavioural rules and traffic laws. In the end, C-ITS can improve the efficiency of traffic flow, enhance and guarantee the safety and comfort of all road users thanks to cooperation between the sender and the receiver of a message, for every kind of transport mode. This exchange of information also enables the technology for Automated Driving, smart traffic management an automated and cooperative mobility services. C-ITS is also a key component of intelligent infrastructure as an autonomous vehicle is more limited if it only relies on its sensors.

What kind of C-ITS applications are we actually seeing available today on our roads?

There are many: in-vehicle signage (meaning all the road signage that is already available through virtual messaging), speed limit notifications on a vehicle’s dashboard, variable message signs (information about possible queues, dynamic change of speed limits ), flexible infrastructure (when lanes are closed or direction of circulation is changed), lane keeping notifications, notifications on hazards or road works, interaction with other vehicles, intelligent speed assistance and anti-collision systems.

Safety is at the core of the successful implementation of C-ITS – what do you think will ensure this?

I believe that the effort that all European Member States are putting into the C-Roads Platform will be vital to increase road safety thanks to C-ITS services. C-ITS is indeed an enabling technology that supports not only the European Commission’s Vision Zero but is also part of the digital transformation (encompassing privacy and cybersecurity issues) that is ahead for all of us: public authorities, businesses and citizens.

Policies and regulations are mostly either already in place or being revised, which is very positive. A common vision on C-ITS and CCAM has already been defined at EU level as well as a Strategic Agenda (STRIA) and a Roadmap to “develop a customer-centric, intermodal integrated transport system to ensure greater efficiency, safety and wellbeing and lower environmental impacts” (quote STRIA). This is indeed an important step. Furthermore, the European Commission has also set new ambitions for a European Green Deal, which includes cooperative, connected and automated multimodal mobility. In fact, together with smart traffic management systems enabled by digitalisation, this will also play an increasing role in making transport greener as well as safer.

How quickly will C-ITS solutions be in place to make the most of the benefits?  

C-ITS services have already been in place since 2019, and several OEMs, such as VW, Renault and BMW are deploying C-ITS on their vehicles. For example, Volkswagen’s Golf is among the first vehicles available on the commercial market fitted with C-ITS technology.

What are you most looking forward to with the introduction of smart mobility?

I also look forward to a different concept of urban mobility. I’m thinking of “bare necessities” just like is mentioned in the Jungle Book (laughs) applied to transport. We could really try to go back to a simpler method of mobility use that could drastically reduce emissions, increase safety and the liveability of our cities.

I think that the COVID-19 experience has shown us that we can all cut down on the amount we travel and the way we use mobility thanks to digital connectivity (smart working, tele-medicine, e-commerce) as well as contributing to a more sustainable way of travelling by using public and shared modes of transport. Where I live in Brussels, many people commute within a distance of about 5 km in their cars that I believe is just not necessary. Myself, I would like to bring my daughters to school by bike, but I do not feel the streets are safe enough as yet. Thanks to the availability of data from multiple sources, the integration of eco-routing and MaaS apps could enable a behavioural change and support new mobility policies allowing for increased awareness and responsible choices. This is my dream.