Smart roads set to get smarter?

Queensland Motorways plans to lead the charge towards building smarter networks, with chairman David Gray saying that collaboration between stakeholders is crucial.

update Queensland Motorways plans to lead the charge towards building smarter networks, with chairman David Gray saying that collaboration between stakeholders is crucial.

Queensland Motorways owns and operates 67 kilometres of toll, bridge and motorway road, with over 250,000 vehicle transactions processed a day.

IBM Roundtable

IBM Smarter Cities Roundtable with chairman of Queensland Motorways David Gray, (front), IBM's public sector expert Catherine Caruana-McManus (centre) and director of Institute for Sustainable Futures, UTS, Professor Stuart White (right). (Credit: Luke Hopewell/ZDNet Australia)

At an IBM roundtable event yesterday, Gray recounted the three-year, $2 billion free-flow tolling upgrade: an intelligent system that has replaced manual toll collection which, according to Gray, is set to get smarter in the coming years.

"The investment in this free-flow tolling is part of a journey. It's got video tagging and laser designation of vehicles. We can use three or four different forms of recognising a vehicle. Our system ... can just as easily recognise your number plate [via laser reading] as a[n e-tag] could designate a vehicle," Gray said.

Queensland Motorways is looking to implement a "system of systems" to better manage these new technological advances, said Gray.

"My perception of the reason why stakeholders don't get engaged in a system-of-systems way of doing things, is the idea that there's going to be a winner and a loser [in the deal] — that's not true," he said.

"Take our network, for example, there are a number of feeder roads run by Brisbane City Council and the motorways themselves are run by Queensland Motorways. If there's an issue on the Brisbane City network, there will be an issue on our network and vice versa."

"The mindset of a win-win is absolutely critical to system-of-systems thinking."

Gray wants to move in a direction where the Queensland road network can be interconnected to automate and better manage traffic lights, signposts, public announcements, speed zones and the gathering of traffic information and statistics.

Queensland Motorways is now looking to address the challenges that come with stakeholder collaboration, including maintaining the privacy of intellectual property, recognising where an interdependency would benefit networks and systems, and overcoming the win-lose mentality.

The principal of interconnectedness, however, is data sharing.

"It's vital when looking at a system-of-systems approach. Data underpins where the solutions are," Gray said.

In that spirit, Queensland Motorways is currently working with other key stakeholders in the sunshine state to build a new Smart Transport Centre.

"We've worked with a number of stakeholders to put together a Smart Transport Centre. It's based from three universities: Queensland University of Technology, the University of Queensland and Griffith University," he said.

"The importance of it being the universities is that it is independent of industry and independent in a way that other stakeholders feel comfortable about putting their data into that centre."

The Smart Transport Centre's stakeholders include Brisbane City Council, Department of Transport and Main Roads, Brisbane Airport, RACQ, TransLink, Transmax, Queensland Rail Passenger, Queensland Motorways, as well as IBM and French company, Thales.

"We want to go from the visionary stuff, recognise the need for interaction between stakeholders, and engage with world-leading industry partners."

"I'm not a fan of hot air and no action. We want to get stuff done so we can demonstrate what we can do in other industries," he added.

Gray pointed towards an official launch of the centre in November, and the possible addition of several other universities to the project in the near future.

Updated at 5:26pm, 22 September 2010: it was originally reported that Talos was a Smart Transport Centre stakeholder. The stakeholder is in fact Thales, a French transportation systems business.