It\'s never been easier to get from one place to another. Yet, it\'s also never been harder. Yes, people and goods can travel farther, faster, and often more cheaply than ever before. But our fast cars, trucks and buses get stuck in traffic. Ships wait to dock and planes wait to land and clear customs. And that\'s not all. From pollution and global warming to viruses and security risksadvances in transportation have also advanced some of the world\'s biggest problems.
The solution lies not just in better transportation, but in smarter transportation. IBM recently brought together some of the world\'s brightest minds to discuss innovative solutions at the annual Global Innovations Outlook conference. We give you a window into the world these visionaries see-a world with not just smart cars, but smart roads; with smarter shipping systems; and with smarter public transit systems that are faster and more energy efficient than ever.
The growing demand, particularly in emerging economies, for personal cars is worrisome. For example, today China has 20 million cars. Yet it already runs a close second to the U.S. for the world\'s worst greenhouse gas emissions. Imagine 2020, when China will have an expected 140 million cars! Here are three solutions now emerging.
Going greenGovernments may offer incentives to companies that develop and produce low-cost alternative-energy cars. This would help both their economy and the environmentparticularly in emerging economies. On top of meeting the huge demand at home, countries like China and India could become world leaders in the lucrative, yet untapped,\'green\' car market.
Sharing carsThis is already a growing urban trend in many countries. Much like renting a video or joining a gym, people sign up to \'borrow\' cars from different locations around the city. Members get the advantages of having a car, when and where they need it; while everyone benefits from fewer cars on the road.Learn more.
Adding intelligenceToday\'s cars are becoming computers as much as machines. Sensors may soon monitor your car\'s performance and notify you (or your repair shop) when it needs servicing. Intelligent engines may switch fuel sources based on travel conditions. And self-healing software could diagnose and treat system failures before they occurpreventing a whole new type of car \'crash\'. In fact, entirely new industries may emerge to maintain and protect the next generation of smart cars.
If you have driven in a large city in rush hour, you know only too well the challenges of traffic congestion. It\'s a source of costly delays and frustration. It\'s also a major source of pollution. In fact, if cities don\'t solve their congestion problems, they may lose both people and businesses to surrounding areas. This could hurt the city tax base and make it harder to provide high quality services-including essential services like transit. In turn, more people would leave, taking their taxes with themcreating a vicious cycle that can only lead to urban decline.
Short-term solutions to eliminate congestion often simply shift the problemfrom highways to city streets and from city centers to suburbs. The solution isn\'t necessarily about building more roads; it\'s about using roads more wisely. Here are two examples:
Toll roads Some cities, such as London and Stockholm, are piloting road-charging systems that increase toll costs during peak times. In Canada, the city of Toronto is home to the world\'s first all-electronic, open access toll highway which gives drivers a more costlybut often less congested-alternative to toll-free roads. While the use of tolls in these ways limits traffic, it\'s not a perfect system. Some critics argue that tolls create a two-tier system: punishing workers who can\'t change their travel patterns but can\'t afford the extra charges.
Real-time traffic informationMicrotechnology makes it possible to put sensors almost anywhere. For example, embedded microchips in tires could feed information to sensors built into roads to help monitor and control traffic flows. People could get real-time information about traffic and adjust their routes, avoiding congestion. In the future, some experts think we\'ll see automated highways, where cars are connected to a grid that dynamically redirects them and optimizes traffic flow.
Smarter roads may hold the key to reducing traffic congestion, but we do not yet understand the many ways that people, vehicles, freight and goods actually move through the urban landscape. Getting the data is a vital first step. Then, we need innovative ways to apply the data if we are to unsnarl today\'s traffic troubles.
Imagine a transit system that lets you use your cell phone to check how many seats are available on the next commuter train or subway. Or, one that can take information from people\'s mobile devices and target in real-time where to send more buses to meet demand. It could happen sooner than you think.
Integration of services and information is key to the future of public transit. For example, to match supply and demand, future transit systems will know where the riders are, and get vehicles to them. Many transit planners also dream of pushing integration beyond the bounds of a single system and integrating fares and services across transit types, cities, and even countries.
One card fits all: integrated transitIn some cities, like Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, people can now use the same smart cards on buses, trains and ferries. Some of these cards will even work for taxis and parking lots. But in the United States and Europe, privacy concerns have been a major hurdle for electronic transit passes. Knowing that the government can track their movements makes many people uncomfortable. Riders must first trust the transit system, and know their information is secure. They must also feel they are getting something they want in returnsuch as ease of use and convenience.
Staying informed: real-time, accessible transit informationThe technology now exists to send alerts and updates to travelers in a range of formats, including text, audio, images and handset vibrations. Usersincluding people with disabilitiescan automatically receive this information converted into the format they prefer. Learn more.
Some day, transit users may be able to send information from PDAs to transit systems about where they want to go and their travel preferences. An integrated system will respond with a message telling them the fastest or cheapest way to go.
Ports of gallIf ever an industry was due for a sea change, shipping is it. Every day, more than 15 million containers are on the moveat sea, on land or waiting to be delivered. Yet much of the industry still relies on manual processes and paper records. In fact, the average container ship generates up to 40,000 paper documents per trip!
Adding to the complexity, no two ports are alike. Customs requirements vary. And, in the aftermath of global terrorism, borders that were once open to trade are increasingly barricaded.
Bottleneck or entry point?The solution? A good starting point, according to experts, is an investment in \'translation\' technologies that can help different players and processes to talk to one another and share information seamlesslythe foundation for a smooth, end-to-end logistics chain.
The port of Singapore is an example of how well an integrated port can operate. Although Singapore is rarely their final destination, a sizeable percentage of the world\'s containers pass through this port. Then consider the port of Los Angeles. It takes about seven days for a ship to clear Los Angeles, and an average of 30 ships are waiting to dock each day. It\'s no surprise that many companies travel to Houston, Texas, even though it\'s farther away. They spend less time waiting and can get their goods to market much faster.
Improved traffic management can get ships into and out of ports more quickly and efficiently. Cities and governments that update their ports\' paper-based systems and processes can gain a major competitiveand economicadvantage.