Published on in TransportInnovation

According to our recent transport research, over a third (38%) of people feel new technologies have made their journeys more efficient.

Another 35% feel they’ve made journeys more enjoyable.

For transport organisations, this is definitely good news. It’s fantastic to see passengers recognising the value that technology brings to the sector.

But there’s also something to be said about the invisible layer of technology that’s improving customer experience every minute of every day.

Digital solutions can speed up transactions, reduce queues and grow revenue to optimise operations. And some of the beauty of this technology lies in the fact that it goes un-noticed by users, even as it’s making their lives easier.

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about the quieter forms of technology – some established, some emerging – that are disrupting our transport network for the better.

#1. Blockchain

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, has a huge role to play in the future of the transport sector.

The obvious point is that it will enable customers to pay for their travel quickly and simply and securely, without having to set up or verify a different payment account for each operator.

People will only need one form of payment for all the different types of travel they use – which is perfect for a mobility as a service model (something which I discussed in more depth in a previous blog post).

But the potential of blockchain in transport extends far beyond this. Blockchain provides a single, immutable source of the truth, so it’s the perfect vehicle for storing and sharing data within a consortium.

And transport is increasingly all about collaborating in a consortium. As journeys become more inter-linked, operators have to work together to serve their passengers’ needs.

Blockchain will enable a mixed group of public and private organisations – like Heathrow, Gatwick Transport for London and Crossrail – to all access data in a secure and contractually binding way.

Plus, there’s another hidden application for blockchain in transport: invoicing.

Invoicing, supply chain, and ordering aspect of the transport industry is huge. If you’re a rail operator, you have to ensure you receive supplies of machine parts, food and drink for the refreshment cart, and toiletries for the bathroom.

All this ordering and payment is traditionally done by raising paper invoices. But with blockchain it can be automated, in a trustworthy and secure way.

#2. Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) does a lot of background work already that helps create better customer experiences.

When you connect ordinary objects to the network, you learn new information about things which affect the passenger experience. You might learn, for example, that the last carriage tends to contain 50% fewer people in it compared to other carriages.

This information helps you make intelligent decisions about the way you run your service.

So, knowing that the last carriage is typically less full, you can reduce the air conditioning there – saving money and energy, and keeping the passengers in that space at a good temperature (and not too cold).

It’s all about using data to make the right decisions. But none of this is possible without a range of supporting technologies.

Connectivity, like 5G, enables IoT to work by facilitating the flow of information.

Similarly, edge computing keeps IoT efficient and fast, by bringing the computing near to the source of the data.

So it’s useful to remember that while IoT is disrupting the transport sector, it’s not doing it alone.

#3. Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is today’s big tech buzzword. So naturally the transport sector will stake a claim to it.

AI will change the face of transport. The Dubai metro and the Docklands Light Railway in London are already ‘self-driving’ (meaning they are controlled by automated systems – a form of AI), and more and more modes of public transport are moving in this direction.

And AI will not only do the actual work of moving people. It will also help transport organisations make decisions about how and when to move people.

But for my money, AI is of limited value unless it can show us its decision making.

When AI is explainable, we can work out if it’s making decisions in a fair and ethical way.

It’s indescribably important that we can look into the AI’s reasoning and then tweak it if we need to, otherwise we could end up programming our own biases into the machine.

We need to use this powerful tool in the right way, for the good of humanity. Transport has its part to play in this.

#4. Quantum inspired technology

Finally, we come to quantum.  

Although full quantum computing is far on the horizon at this stage, transport operators are facing complex problems which require quantum-level computing power today.

How do you solve a problem with millions of possible combinations, like finding the best way through a city centre at rush hour?

These combinatorial optimisation challenges are the bread and butter of the transport sector – and quantum technology can help with them.

Currently, we have quantum inspired technology that can achieve some of the same results as true quantum.

At Fujitsu, the digital annealer can help transport operators calculate the most difficult problems – something which would normally take weeks – in a matter of seconds.

And that has endless potential for mobility providers, and their passengers.

Driving towards the future

In the transport industry, we spend a lot of time thinking about the future – and especially how we’re going to get there.

I think it’s clear that these four technologies will be propelling us forward in the years ahead.

Together blockchain, AI, IoT and quantum are quietly changing the way we travel, by making things quicker and more efficient.

Together, they represent the future of our industry – and they’re so good at improving customer experience that passengers won’t even notice them working.

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