Tracking innovation in intelligent transportation systems
Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are all around us: they let us know when the next bus will reach our bus stop, help monitor and manage road traffic and make air travel safer. But how does innovation work at this complex intersection between the transport and the ICT industries? The T-TRANS project found answers and laid the foundations for a European ITS innovation network.
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ITS, the implementation of information and communication technology (ICT) in the transport domain, aims to make transport more efficient, clean, safe, seamless and – last but not least – cost-effective. ITS also offers extensive opportunities for the development of business and innovation ideas. Yet many new developments which should in theory fly off the shelves do not take off.
To better understand how innovation in ITS works and to help overcome barriers which hamper market introduction, the EU-funded T-TRANS project sought information on innovation mechanisms in the ITS domain, encouraging and facilitating accelerated market deployment for related innovative products and services. To achieve this, the project partners analysed the current situation and activity in the ITS area, including the key factors influencing the innovation chain, in four specific case studies.
The studies addressed four distinct areas of application: the smart grid for intelligent control systems for battery and network management (especially for electric cars), revenue management for freight transport, the revolution of intermodal transport units, and the development of more efficient technologies for the European rail network.
T-TRANS devoted initial efforts to developing an ITS technology map that would identify and describe all major technologies and applications involved in each of the case studies. Then the project designed a growth path for the period 2014 to 2020 for the different technological areas and applications involved, determining technology trends, market vision, critical variables, technology alternatives and gaps for each of the case studies.
In essence, T-TRANS elucidated critical aspects of the innovation process, and ultimately proposed a strategy for the commercialisation of a number of applications derived from the case studies.
“It was of utmost relevance to understand the environment in which ITS innovations take place, and to identify the relationships between the critical actors in the diverse innovation chains, to be able to propose a robust set of guidelines for market commercialisation,” explains project coordinator Xavier Leal of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “We had to consider all the components necessary to maximise economic benefits and minimise the risks and investments needed to successfully deploy new applications in this particular domain.”
Demand for a truly collaborative environment
One of the project’s major successes was effective stakeholder involvement. “The relevance and impact of T-TRANS lay in achieving a level of stakeholder interaction which helped the consortium partners grasp the complexities of the innovation chains at case study and application levels,” Leal points out. “Although there are various support structures and associations in the ITS field operating across the EU, T-TRANS needed to find its own level of interaction with stakeholders, taking into account the wide range and complexity of the ITS applications involved.”
T-TRANS defined and designed an ITS innovation network, based on the assumption that multi- disciplinary collaboration and user involvement are increasingly important to implementing creative ideas successfully, and to bringing innovation to the market and to society at large.
The T-TRANS network is based on the concept of Communities of Interest to Market (CIMs) in pre-selected regions of Spain, Greece and Latvia. These are informal networks assembled around a topic of common interest where people can exchange information, obtain answers to questions or problems, and improve understanding of a subject.
A total of 80 organisations were involved in the CIMs on the basis of which T-TRANS then formulated how a potential future innovation network should be shaped. “Participants agreed that it should be an open innovation network,” says Leal. “Our idea was to focus on establishing a proper collaborative environment, in which participants would interact extensively regarding a specific topic of interest in the area of ITS. In essence, CIMs bring together individuals from different cultures and disciplines, and the major unifying feature is the common goal of solving a specific problem.”
Setting up such a European ITS innovation network was beyond the scope of the project, but T-TRANS laid the groundwork. Now the hope is that someone will bring the idea to life to offer researchers and practitioners a powerful tool to take advantage of the innovation potentials of ITS.