The Invisible Referee

21st Century Traffic Control: The Invisible Referee University of Southampton

Sixth Sense: Time and Motion and Carbon Reduction

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Exploring how more flexible interpretations of time and motion can be used to create carbon-reduced personal and freight transport options

Our lives are very much governed by 'fixed' time schedules with activities being aligned to school and work start and end times, public transport schedules, facility opening hours and deadlines. The rise of the 'anytime' 24 hour society has lead to a real increase in our consumption of goods and services, but also the take-up of non-standard work schedules (for example rotating shifts). So as a result, we have a much more dynamic approach to activity planning, which leads to the constant 'hectic' pace of life many of us experience.

Coupled to this is how laptops, smart phones and PDAs, linked to 'social networking' have revolutionized when, where and how we communicate, both in work and at home, really softening are perception of 'time' and 'space', and allowing social relationships to revolve around the appreciation of the relativity of friends and colleagues in personal time. Under these circumstances, our trip making behaviour to engage in these activities can be very complex, often favouring single occupancy car use over more carbon efficient alternatives and resulting in our average travel distances increasing, despite the fact that our time allocated to travel is remaining relatively consistent.

So as a result, the car is highly compatible with our current scheduling patterns and alternative modes of transport are often not even considered because they require additional ‘cognitive’ effort which can just be an extra hassle.

Our research vision in this project is to understand the extent to which behavioural change in transport habits and practices can be facilitated through the creation of a new form of 'transport network', based on extending social networking principles to transport users and their individual vehicles.

We are achieving this through the development of an innovative, open, extensible technical platform which will provide users with new ways of understanding the relationships between their own future transport plans and those of others. We think this could really revolutionise the process of decision making in travel behaviour (whether it be for the movement of people or things) by using social networking principles to create 'visibility' of potential transport options in time and space.

If we are better able to visualise the activity of other people and things (which could be other cars, buses, lorries, even items within a lorry) relative to their immediate and future time schedules, and crucially, the conditions under which those people and 'things' might be willing to liaise and adapt, we might be able to realise more opportunistic and collaborative uses for transport resources, leading to a reduction in overall transport related carbon emissions.

6th Sense Transport provides a deep understanding of how multiple forms of temporality and spatiality influence our travel mode choices, and the ways in which people and 'things' might be willing to share certain personal travel information. To help achieve this we are using smart phone and tagging technologies to provide data feeds on activities and availability, which are monitored through the Platform. So using these feeds, the platform anticipates opportunities for connections that are then made visible to users in the social network.

We’re experimenting in how potential users of the system might adapt, alter and collaborate in their travel behaviour through this ‘6th sense’ if you like of potential transport options through 3 specific case studies.

The first is in Tourism – imagine if your campsite that you were visiting had its own social network that you could join. You could post up your rough itinerary of trips and also say what provisions you need (for example, bacon and eggs). Other people from the campsite on the network could visualise this through using a ‘6th sense campsite app’ on their smart phone which would link to this information when your car numberplate was scanned. You could visualise other campers shopping and trip making needs, even when out and about.

In a similar way, the second case study relates to primary school travel. I have had many occasions where I’ve nearly been late collecting the kids from school and a similar social network, using various travel feeds (car tags, feeds from CCTV) could help me visualise where other parents are in the school social network who might be able to help me and have consented to share some of their travel information. This could well lead to increased awareness over time of potential lift sharing opportunities.

The final case study is in the area of urban logistics where we are looking at how individually tagged vehicles, functioning as part of a freight social network can benefit from an understanding of the current and future delivery and collection schedules of others in the neighbourhood. This spatial and temporal transparency of supply chain operations leads to opportunities for more efficient scheduling of deliveries and collections based on users’ actual needs.

Of real interest here is how the ability to ‘browse’ the schedules of others in relation to the location of potentially available vehicles might positively encourage collaborative working and reduce freight vehicle impacts (particularly carbon) in our urban centres.

So if you want to find out more, please get in touch!