Since graduating in Computer Science Engineering in June, Angel Lopez Aguirre has been working as a postdoctoral researcher at UGent’s Department of Industrial Systems Engineering and Product Design. In his research he focuses on the quality of data in mobility studies and the processing of crowdsourced data – in particular geo-referenced data (GPS). Together with several colleagues from UGent he is working on the development of the neutral dashboard of TMaaS.
What does your research at UGent focus on?
“We want to provide knowledge and insights with which decision-makers can draw up their policies. For example, we use the applications of smartphones to collect GPS data, which are then processed and analysed to calculate travel frequencies, travel distances and a modal split. With these indicators we gain an insight into the behaviour of a certain group of the population. In terms of individuals for instance, we use the information to create a mobility profile for the users. For example, there are people who make a conscious choice to use their car and are not interested in other means of transport, while others choose to travel by car because there is no alternative available. This is all very interesting information, because on the basis of these profiles we can make a prediction about the potential for a modal shift: how many people are willing to change their behaviour? ”
What experience do you have on other projects?
“As a researcher I am involved in various projects concerning local, regional and European urban mobility. In Zeeland, for example, we use a tourist app to chart the behaviour of visitors. With this data we can classify them according to different aspects: the duration of a stay, the cities or countries that visitors hail from, the final destination they are travelling to, etc. This gives us the chance to identify differences between residents and local and international visitors. This information is very valuable for determining strategies for improving tourist activity. Next year we will be working in Zeeland again in particular on the InterReg project called ‘MOVE’ (Mobility Opportunities for Everyone). This project focuses on rural areas – which is something completely different.”
What was your motivation for working on the TMaaS project?
“I think that this project is a great opportunity to create a blueprint for a new vision of traffic management, namely “Traffic Management As A Service”. This concept actually benefits small- and medium-sized towns and their residents. The innovative aspect differentiates TMaaS as a framework from existing solutions. The real challenges, however, are not only technological in nature, but also revolve around governance and innovation. Technology is intrinsically there for developing solutions to existing needs.
Data is valuable today for a great many companies in the data business. This sector has developed a great many mechanisms to protect its assets (e.g. with licensing agreements that restrict data usage).
“I think that this project is a great opportunity to create a blueprint for a new vision of traffic management”
Together with my colleagues I am working on a ‘neutral’ dashboard: it is quite a challenge to bring the different data providers (some of which may be competitors) together in one environment. I work together with the technical partners to achieve that. Based on parking data, parking prices and counts, we tested six different environments for the neutral dashboard (mainly open source technology, because of the flexibility of adding extra functions). As part of this, we took into account the requirements of TMaaS. Ultimately we want to combine the environments with the greatest potential.”
How important is it for a city like Ghent to launch this kind of project?
“TMaaS is an opportunity to demonstrate that small and medium-sized cities can manage their traffic situations without having to make a major investment, which is the case with large cities (like London, Paris or Berlin for instance). Industrial solutions are usually tailored to big cities like these, where budget, infrastructure and data are already present. Small and medium-sized towns have far fewer resources. Moreover, these solutions are not always suitable for their needs. The pilot project in Ghent demonstrates the benefits of the new approach. Despite their differences, many towns have common traffic problems, and there is no simple solution. The best way to deal with the problem is to bring together good practices, experience, technology and innovation. I do not think we can go so far as to guarantee that we are going to solve all the traffic problems, but we can limit the impact on residents, transport companies and trade.”
You come from Ecuador, but you work in Gent. What made you decide to make this move?
“After studying Computer Science Engineering, I did a Master’s Degree in Information Management Systems at ESPOL University (Guayaquil, Ecuador). I also worked for ten years in my own country, in the car industry and the military sector successively. I worked for the navy for four years (in partnership with the French company CLS) on a very interesting project monitoring and managing the Ecuadorian fleet of ships using the Global Navigation Satellite System. At the same time, I worked with the business intelligence dashboard on analysing and checking fuel consumption, which has declined sharply in shipping. In the end I concentrated on academic research. Before I moved to Belgium, I worked on a PhD for three years. In principle, we should also be able to extend the research we are carrying out for TMaaS to Ecuador, where we are working on related projects (particularly risk management). In the first instance I did not opt for the city of Ghent, but for the university. My university in Ecuador (ESPOL) has a long history of cooperation with Ghent University, so it was an obvious choice. I then discovered that Ghent is really a very nice city in which to live. It is also where my daughter was born.”