Gone are the days when digital maps did not exist and you had to pull out the A-Z to make an executive decision on how you were getting to your destination. This now seems ancient, as we are now so used to simply opening an application on our phones or using our car's satnav to get to wherever we want in the world. The emergence of digital mapping has completely revolutionised transport and location services and could be considered as the most important innovation in transportation ever, able to look at real-time traffic, peak hours and roadworks. Now, software companies want to go further, focusing on smart software for the future of mobility in cities around the world, helping cities, companies and people save time and money.
PTV Group aims to make mobility more efficient, safer and better for the environment, optimising routes, simulating virtual scenarios, modelling city networks and predicting traffic flow. The organisation that now works with over 2,500 cities was formed as a spin-off from the university of Karlsruhe in Germany, where engineers combined IT with traffic planning to create the first strategic digital maps. PTV’s core functionality surrounds planning and optimising and it does this with every mode of transport that moves people and goods. Speaking to Verena Hochrein, PTV’s Marketing Communications Specialist, and Michael Schygulla, head of PTV’s Transport Policy and Research, I find out how important simulation and prediction software can help create more efficient cities. “We deal with all facets of transportation and you won't find any other company in the world who does this,” says Hochrein. “Of course, we have competitors, but only in one segment. Traditionally, we started operating with public authorities and then moved into areas such as the logistics industry.” Today, everything is connected and growing together and it is important that we have specialists like PTV Group with this knowledge in order to make the world more efficient.
In September, PTV Group was acquired by Porsche Automobile Holdings, which gives proof that the automotive industry is having to think about what kind of new mobility the future will bring and the demand needed for software specialists in the transport space. “We are looking forward to working closely with partners in the automotive industry as it is a new target group for us,” says Hochrein. “Porsche wants to keep us as an independent company and they will open the doors to further collaborations in the automotive industry. We will continue to work independently in the future to do business with a range of players in the industry.” There is still a huge gap between old automotive processes and this new ideology being brought in from software specialists, so collaborations like this are vital in bringing together two industries that will marry and create a more efficient outcome for cities around the world.
Hochrein tells me that this acquisition creates a lot of new awareness of what PTV is doing: “We are a B2B company, so we are not known that well by consumers, but instead by the traffic authorities, traffic planners and the logistics industry. Now, everyone in the automotive industry is looking at us. We understand traffic best; there is no one in the automotive world that has the same level of skill and we have subsidiaries all over the world where we can offer our solutions.” Mobility is at the heart of the mega trends we are starting to see in today’s world and it is important for players in the automotive and transport industry to be aware of what is going on and what approach they will have to take. Digitalisation and the optimisation of technology is now one of the most important aspects to future mobility, which is PTV Group's core business.
“It is about shaping the system, creating the infrastructure through road networks and collaboration between public authorities,” Hochrein continues. “We want to create a more livable city and we can aid this through a range of planning tools.” The next step, she tells me, is that there needs to be a mobility offer on the infrastructure with service providers which offer the public transportation. “Through this, there can be seamless transportation between all modes. We also need to look at this from an environmental perspective, where we can calculate such things as CO2 footprints in a specific area for every route or trip made, which creates a greener solution.” By receiving a range of different data, PTV can analyse traffic information that is utilised for different functions in urban environments, such as relieving congestion and environmental improvements.
The research and development group at PTV are dealing with a number of different projects, to make sure that it can support the software for future applications and requirements which we are starting to see. Schygulla explains that the company must also focus on future trends over the next five to ten years, to understand what could be relevant for PTV’s applications and products. “Our role is to attain project results both internally and externally and we are very active in a number of expert groups and international networks.” He tells me that it is important to follow these emerging trends closely, understanding the new jargon that is being introduced into the automotive and transport industries. “We are looking at the buzzwords: big data, single modality, autonomous driving, real-time and e-mobility, to find out what is relevant for us,” he says. “It is important to integrate the planning application with real-time transportation monetary, which is already happening today.”
Areas such as e-mobility are so important to creating a cleaner and more efficient transportation network, requiring completely new ecosystems to support growth and adoption. Schygulla has been working in the e-mobility space for the last six years, from the modeling of the infrastructure, navigation and fleet management. “We are working on a project with a modeling solution to forecast the possible demand for car sharing and EVs within different areas, to get a clearer picture on the situation that we will see in the future,” he explains. “We operate with a range of different partners around the world, from city planners to data providers across different projects.” Range is, of course, a major issue with EVs, so Schygulla wants to optimise energy efficient routing and simulate the best places to locate charging infrastructure for drivers. “This will allow the rollout of EVs to accelerate and work towards greener cities, focusing on the fleet or single user of the EV through applications that notify the driver on the current range and available charging stations.” Recently, PTV headed a project with The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) for autonomous and electrically powered minibuses, to understand the possibilities for public transport providers to imtegrate self driving vehicles into their fleet and what kind of scenarios we will see in the future. “In Europe, mobility will co-exist over the next few years, so we want to take a look at how the situation will play out, with autonomous vehicles, analogue vehicles and pedestrians all living in harmony,” says Schygulla. Through understanding this emerging megatrend, we can learn the best rollout methods, infrastructures and operating knowledge through different cities, which will increase public awareness of an innovation that will revolutionise city transport. If we can learn and understand megatrends like these, the process of future mobility will be organic, seamless and progressive.
Cities around the world range in size, density and lifestyle, which means that it is important to understand what each city wants. For example, Copenhagen's main mode of transport is the bicycle, so it is important to take this into consideration when building and monitoring that specific ecosystem. Even with bikes, PTV can analyse capacity and rollout, locate suitable locations for bike stations and monitor busy routes at specific times. This also applies to mobility as a service, such as as car sharing. PTV has created a mass accelerator programme to contribute to the evolution of mobility, which is a tool that can be used by the automotive industry as well as cities to model a business structure to cope with mobility as a service. “Through this, you can create a KPI (key performance indicator), understand what would happen if you increased, say, the ratio of autonomous vehicles or ride sharing services in a city,” says Hochrein. “We can identify how many vehicles they need and what service levels they can offer. All of this leads towards a smart city and we can deliver all that is necessary in mobility.”
It is all about offering a service that allows people to consume the mobility, as we will start to see less privately-owned cars and an acceptance of autonomous vehicles and mobility services. These will significantly reduce traffic and emissions which is the key goal for a company like PTV. “There are a lot of questions about where this will go and no one truly knows the answer, but it is fascinating to work on different scenarios to find out what is a suitable solution to each of these problems,” comments Hochrien. Cities are so unique to each other, with Shanghai set to be the world's first smart city whilst London struggles to build on top of its underground systems due to the old architecture. Schygulla explains that it is important to identify that every city has its own solution, specifically tailoring software to each environment to improve efficiency. “We have many areas for the realisation of future measurements and actions in different cities to enhance mobility. We collect all the best practices in cities around the world to combine them and look at the different strategies each has taken. Some have completely different goals, where some have very dense areas that public transport systems cannot operate in and others which are much larger,” he says. “We can contribute to all the modes of transport in many different ways. However, we do not believe that there should be a benchmark over all cities in a continent like Europe, as this makes it incredibly difficult.” It is easy to install EV charging stations and bike dispensers, but it is a huge challenge to completely alter the existing infrastructure in a city. However, this can be overcome by modeling, visualising and creating around it.