14 December 2018
The transport sector is undergoing a major transformation, a kind of Renaissance according to experts. The driving force behind this change is undoubtedly the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), together with the arrival of machine learning, the series of mechanisms that enables an intelligent machine to autonomously develop its skills through self-learning, thanks to the gradual improvement of the algorithms’ performance.
The data age
Over the last twenty years, the advent of orbiting satellites to support human activities has allowed us to collect information about transport on the earth with increasing frequency. From air traffic to wheeled vehicles, trains and ships, the “eyes” of probes have located, monitored and catalogued a huge number of movements, traffic junctions and shunting.
In addition to satellites, many types of sensors are now available to gather information: a widespread network of small “detectives” capable of producing and transmitting traffic reports, reporting incidents, closely assessing the rate of pollution and noise due to transport, reporting potential fuel spills at sea and so on. The moral of the story is that we have never had so much data on transport (and transport conditions) as we do now.
Companies have always used this information to make increasingly informed management decisions. The next step is that today, in addition to an enormous quantity of data, we have computer infrastructure at our disposal that is much more elaborate than in the past and new algorithms that can function autonomously and can make more precise evaluations, initiatives and predictions much faster, often in real time. In short, in addition to information, there is an increasingly intelligent “brain” to process it.
Not only driverless cars
The field of unmanned vehicles, which autonomously manage their route, is not limited to cars, even if they are what we hear about most often. Even in Europe, there are already active projects to test artificial intelligence for public transport, using small buses which, thanks to sensors, cameras and GPS, are proving promising and could make it possible to create an automated transport network in the future capable of guaranteeing greater coordination, punctuality and safety.
The same principle is beginning to be adopted in the transportation and delivery of goods, not only with regard to road vehicles, such as trucks. This revolution is also starting to impact trains, including subway trains in major cities, and naval transport, with the first fully unmanned, remotely captained cargo ships ready to set sail in 2020.
Everything could also change when it comes to garbage collection, with vehicles that can collect rubbish and clean roads and sidewalks by themselves, as well as salt spreaders and snow ploughs designed to ensure clear road access in cases of snow and frost.
The passenger’s point of view
In addition to questions of logistics and driverless vehicles, many new developments are expected in connection to the travel experience that directly impacts passengers. Today, we already use voice commands and GPS while driving and it is not long before the advent of a new generation of virtual assistants and programs for driving assistance that can make the journey even smarter, providing support to less experienced drivers, for example, or offering live alerts regarding weather conditions, traffic expected along the route and accidents. They can even assess our level of concentration and performance and notify us when we are too tired, nervous or distracted to drive, or simply when we have been behind the wheel for too long.