One of the technical brains behind TMaaS is prof. Ivana Semanjski who works on the framework for Ghent University. On 25th of October, she will speak at the ITS World Congress in Singapore, where all the major players in the field of Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) will meet, discuss and make contacts.
What are your job title and your role within TMaaS?
“I am the project manager for the TMaaS platform and professor in digital twin technologies at Ghent University, which provides research. Our mission is to help medium-sized towns with the development of their traffic management systems. Not according to traditional methods, because these systems are quite expensive. Instead, we are developing a virtual, multi-modal framework that allows cities to monitor complex mobility situations. Traditionally, traffic management focuses on vehicles, but we want to step away from that. We want our system to also be able to monitor public transport, cyclists and pedestrians. It is my job to ensure that all our plans are actually realized and that we achieve our objectives. We are currently working on a set of smart mobility dashboards for traffic management professionals and citizens of small to medium sized cities. Features included in these dashboards will be route monitoring, reporting, alerting and sending personalised messages to registered users. Based on travelling profiles that are created for users based on a voluntary questionnaire, we’ll create thematic views of the city that visualise relevant mobility information, making its easier for citizens to find points of interest, decide on their mode of transport and plan ahead for their journey. The messaging functionality will allow us to offer a personal service to the citizens to help them with alternative routes if incidents occur on their chosen routes. If, for example, there is a change to your daily route (due to an accident, heavy snow, etc.), we will be able to offer you an alternative. If you travel by train and you see that there is a delay on your journey, car sharing may be a better option for you. This means that your personal preferences as attitude towards sustainability, budget or transport modes will be taken into the account. “
You live in Ghent, but you come from Dubrovnik (Croatia). Do you notice major cultural differences from your homeland and are these relevant for your scientific research?
“It is interesting that our team is made up of people with very diverse backgrounds: some of the team are of Ecuadorian, Dutch and German origins. Our intention right from the very beginning was to design a project that could be rolled out in other locations. So Ghent is serving as a testing ground for very different urban environments – including sites outside Europe, cities of different sizes or with a different socio-economic background, etc. We regularly discuss the choices we make and we have established that people ask different questions according to their cultural backgrounds. My home is in the city of Dubrovnik, that is located on the south coast of Croatia and is very hilly. A bicycle would never be considered a good means of transport there. And car traffic was newer never allowed into the old city centre. Which makes it probably the oldest pedestrian zone. This perhaps makes me take a different approach to the actual solutions that we come up with here, but that would not be the ideal choice in a different situation. However, I have not been able to establish any really fundamental differences. Research universities everywhere are filled with creative people and curious minds so my workresearch at the University of Ghent is not so different from that in Zagreb, where I obtained a PhD in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). “
Mobility and ITC technology are very close in this relatively young field of study that covers everything associated with the implementation of ICT: synchronised traffic lights, ticket systems, traffic systems, etc. Initially, this field of study was fairly car traffic oriented, but today it is evolving more towards ‘smart mobility’.”
‘Smart mobility’, could you tell us a little bit about this?
“Smart mobility is a very dynamic concept. I also work as a mobility expert for sustainability and ICT projects for the European Commission. Our aim is to create a link between smart buildings, smart mobility, energy and smart cities. Our final goal is not so much to implement ICT solutions, but to improve the quality of life and make it possible to make good decisions. ‘Smart’ for me does not mean simply leaving everything to robots, but providing all the parameters to make effective decisions. For example, in a sustainable building it should be possible to save energy and to make people aware of their energy consumption, but it should not disable you as an ‘intelligent being’.”
Can you tell us a bit more about the ‘quadruple helix concept’ on which the structure of TMaaS is based?
“At TMaaS we innovate: that means that we test concepts that are not yet on the market. What do we need to do in order to achieve our goal? In our consortium we are constantly looking for a balance between multiple approaches. We take into account the expectations of the urban residents, research from industry, etc. In some research groups we look at ‘innovation’ from different angles. One group works around the expectations of the residents, another examines what cities worldwide need for their traffic management and another group investigates potential business models for our end product. I think it is essential for everyone who wants to innovate to take all of these elements into account. The quadruple helix concept (that refers to the four parties involved: companies, academics, politicians and citizens, and to the importance of cooperation and interaction, ed.) represents this all-encompassing approach.”
Is this approach important for you as well from a scientific angle?
“For sure. For me, traffic and transport science has to be aimed at a real life situation. Anyone who carries out research often has an idealistic view of things, but this has to be subjected to a reality check: business aspects, privacy etc. are also important. That is why we have to look for solutions that take all of these elements into account. Moreover, citizens and cities sometimes have idealistic expectations that have to be tempered. How far can one go along with their wishes? Matters that seem possible in theory are sometimes difficult to realise in practice. Delivering information in real time for example: this sometimes just takes too much time, even though it is technically possible. We try to find a balance therefore between the ideas and expectations of the various stakeholders.”