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EuroAuto: innovITS Develops

The future of transportation may be taking shape in the UK.

If emissions are to be reduced and better fuel economy achieved, then it has to be recognized that the automobile is not going to achieve the best results all by itself, as it is but one piece in an interlocking jigsaw that involves other vehicles, traffic control systems, public highways, and the application of the highest level of telecommunications.

If emissions are to be reduced and better fuel economy achieved, then it has to be recognized that the automobile is not going to achieve the best results all by itself, as it is but one piece in an interlocking jigsaw that involves other vehicles, traffic control systems, public highways, and the application of the highest level of telecommunications. A key enabling tool in this scenario is ITS (intelligent transport systems), which is becoming an emerging global market phenomenon with huge potential to benefit the public and private transport sectors. It cuts across the disciplines of engineering, telecommunications, computer science, finance, electronic commerce, and vehicle manufacturing, and it encompasses the application of a broad range of diverse technologies, such as sensors, control systems, communications, and telematics so as to make networks safer, more efficient, reliable, and environmentally friendly.

The technology is so all-embracing that it is hard to find the right locations to see just how coordinated the transport systems can become. Over the years, various experiments have been carried out in different towns and cities, but the results have never been too conclusive because the interaction with "real life" means that an element of control is lost. However, a new project being unveiled in the UK intends to rectify that by creating various scenarios that can be completely controlled and changed without upsetting the local populace.

The rather bizarrely named "innovITS" was set up by the UK Government's Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) as a non-profit organization in 2005 with the fundamental objective of achieving a world-class position for the UK ITS industry. It brings together expertise from the automotive, highways and telecommunications industries to build collaborative partnerships, seeking out inventive telematics technologies to integrate on a realistic scale and validate that it delivers value to road users and transport operators. As a result, it acts as a catalyst for the subsequent promotion, deployment, and commercial exploitation of these technologies and technology providers on a global scale.

An example of the kind of research being funded by innovITS is an ongoing collaboration with Orange Business Services, a key brand of the France Telecom Group; Ricardo; and TRL, the UK's Transport Research Laboratory; along with Land Rover and mapmakers Ordnance Survey, to develop intelligent transport systems and improve the UK's transport infrastructure. Ricardo, with Land Rover, is looking at how to make the vehicles more fuel-efficient, while Orange and Ordnance Survey are heading up the telematics and mapping part of the project, utilizing their breadth of network to develop GPS, machine-to-machine, and mapping applications to provide the vehicles with the information they need to optimize their performance and lower emissions. The project has the end goal of developing advanced vehicles that can utilize technologies such as GPS and telemetry to improve fuel efficiency and emissions.

At the end of March it was announced that innovITS is collaborating on yet another project, this to create innovITS–Advance, a futuristic research and development center within the test ground of MIRA, the well-known proving ground and test facility in the heartland of England. The idea is to investigate and develop joined-up thinking for all those industries that play a part in the transport system of today to research and investigate products and systems based on ITS technologies that stretch across different industrial and governmental boundaries. The intention is to reduce the needless parallel innovations in the areas of telecommunications networks, roadside infrastructure, traffic management, and on-board vehicle electronics monitoring and control systems. By facilitating innovation in cooperative vehicle, highway, and telecommunications technologies, the aim is also to reduce accidents, improve environmental efficiency, and help to alleviate traffic congestion through the efficient and intelligent interaction of vehicles and highway infrastructure.

The types of projects which might be carried out by innovITS–ADVANCE include collision avoidance and mitigation, driver behavior studies, intersection safety, and vulnerable road-user detection. Other areas that will be researched include telematics robustness in poor reception areas, road sign detection, traffic management, and advanced driver assistance systems.

Once fully up and running, there will be a number of test circuits that will be fully instrumented with telecommunications networks including 2G, 3G, GPRS, WiFi, roadside beacons, and monitoring systems, such as inductive loops and accurate position monitoring technologies, including differential GPS and in the future, Galileo-based systems. All of these telecommunications and electronic monitoring systems will be capable of being controlled precisely and individually by the center's customers in order to thoroughly test new telematics-based innovations in any potential operating environment that may be encountered in real-world application.

The first phase of development will involve the construction of a "city" circuit–an extensive network of roads, traffic islands, roundabouts, and controlled intersections that will enable engineers to replicate the challenges of almost any European urban environment; it will be based on a footprint of approximately 120,000-m2. The entire facility will be infill development within the existing envelope of the MIRA site.

Representing an investment of approximately nearly $50-million over five phases, the project is now at the starting gates with a detailed design and planning study underway. When completed in August, construction of the facility will then commence with the first part of it scheduled to open for business in late summer 2009.

"innovITS–ADVANCE is an exciting development for the collaborating organizations in this project and its potential customers in the telecommunications, electronics and automotive industries, as well as among highways authorities and operators throughout Europe," says Phil Pettitt, chief executive officer of innovITS. "We would particularly encourage potential customers of the center to contact us now to share their views regarding the detailed design of the facility to ensure that their requirements are fully addressed. Our ultimate aim is that innovITS–ADVANCE will become the international center for connecting vehicles, highways and telecommunications, thus facilitating the more rapid introduction of intelligent transport technologies, with considerable benefits for industry and for society as a whole." 

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