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IoT, coming to a subway stop near you

When traveling to many different parts of the globe, the local public transportation can give individuals a real feel for a culture. Much like eating where the locals eat, it gives a taste of what everyday life is like in those locations. Public transit provides a greater perspective on people and places and makes the experience of visiting a new city that much more intimate. And, it is almost always a cheaper and more efficient way of getting around (although the Tokyo subway at rush hour might make you rethink how you commute altogether). Visiting countries where public transportation is a way of life can also give an idea of what the future may bring for this industry. In many locations, it can be surprising how smart the local transportation is.

Trying to catch the No. 43 bus in Paris to get to Gare du Nord? Get on the RATP app, and it will provide you detailed ETA for your stop. You no longer have to guess when the bus will arrive. In the world of supply chain, predictive ETAs can identify down to the hour — or to the minute — when a cargo vessel, train, truck or item is going to reach a destination. In the past, this would entail using models to predict, within a window of time, when something would arrive or when an action might happen.

Today, with smart IoT-enabled tags, we can actually “see” where and when these activities are taking place. We can follow the production of a product from supplier to factory floor and track an item all the way down to an individual container — wherever it is on the planet. Now apply that same thinking to mass transit. How can the way we commute and connect with our cities become smarter?

Predictive maintenance means more uptime

One area where IoT has empowered transformative changes is by providing greater insights into how assets are used and when they might fail. We have all seen the advertisements where the building tells the maintenance crew to repair the elevator before it breaks down; the same applies to our transportation assets. If a switch on the subway is not acting just right, smart sensors can identify where and why, and send a signal to the enterprise asset management software to request maintenance. Since the switch is smart, it can ensure that the crew has the appropriate spare parts and qualifications to fix the problem. Once you have a more robust, self-diagnosing and repairing network, what else could you imagine with your transportation network? Sounds like science fiction, but some of this technology is in use today.

Better traffic flow, and not simply for the machines

Whether it is trains, buses or infrastructure, as more assets become smarter, they will be able to better communicate among themselves. As this information becomes richer and available in real time, the network will allow for more optimal flow of vehicles and traffic. We have been exposed to the promise of smarter cars for our personal driving, but as our buses and trains follow the same concept we may start to experience more optimal flows. What about a better-connected passenger? If there are too many passengers on the platform, the IoT-enabled grid will prioritize traffic, maybe even assign a pop-up express train to reduce some of the strain. When the grid notices a surge in traffic, could it push out a message to those entering the train station, giving them a fare reduction if they take the subway an hour later? The smarter grid might even send suggestions to travelers to walk to another, less congested station.

Creating new opportunities with existing assets

Could public transit buses also deliver packages to the customer’s nearest bus stop? This is possible if the bus had sensors that could ensure the proper loading, handling and transport of the package. As its sensors are tied to the network, consumers could monitor when that bus would arrive at a certain stop. As the bus draws closer, the IoT sensors would send a message to recipients’ phones telling them when to get to the stop. The IoT-powered storage unit would then open and allow for scanning of the NFC-enabled phone over a reader. The sensors on the bus could also monitor passengers getting on or off and predict traffic flow to determine if delivering the package at that time would not cause disruptions.

IoT holds much promise for many aspects of our lives. Bringing greater efficiencies to our public transportation is one of them. As we get a more connected transportation grid, not only could we expect the incremental benefits of increased time with our assets, but it could open new business models as well. These new models have the potential to be transformative in nature. Exciting times indeed.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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