Easing traffic congestion, one of ICT’s biggest challenges

The Seeds for the Future students visited the big and busy capital of Beijing on one of their excursions.
28 July 2017

Computer engineering undergraduate Xavier Ripoll, from Barcelona, believes that greater connectivity worldwide will bring huge changes in society.

One of the main reasons I chose Computer Engineering as my major was to help the world become more connected. When visiting Huawei’s headquarters, on the Seeds for the Future study visit, I encountered people and technologies that will surely lead to great global transformations in this direction.

I didn’t have much knowledge about telecommunications when I came on this trip, and I was somewhat nervous that I would be behind others in the training. But it soon became clear that the training was more oriented to familiarising ourselves with specific products, which gave me valuable insight into the kind of improvements that could also be made to Spain’s communications infrastructure.

Barcelona traffic a big problem

I live in Barcelona, Spain, which is one of Europe’s pioneer smart cities. A handful of conferences are held there every year regarding this subject and I have had the chance to work with open data concerning the city.

Nonetheless, Barcelona still has a long way to go if it is to become a fully connected city. One of the main problems is traffic, which can get very dense in the rush hours in the morning and especially the afternoon, because of the people from nearby towns who come to work in Barcelona.

To alleviate the problem, some lanes in the city change driving direction at certain times of the day. Adding real-time sensors on the road, working in conjunction with big data algorithms, would enable these directional changes to be made more frequently during the day.

Cameras connected to screens in the road already warn users of specific congested areas. But, again, we could use more alerts to predict which zones are going to become the most congested before they do.

Easing metro and bus congestion

We could also apply many new technologies to ease congestion on the metro and bus networks. Real-time sensors could count the people waiting at each stop and, as a function of that, send more or fewer buses, and of different sizes, on each route. The same applies to underground trains, some of which are already fully automated and could really benefit from the application of usage data for each line at specific times.

Barcelona, like many other cities in Europe, has a cheap public service of bicycles for rent. Users can take the bike from a station by swiping their card and then park them in any other. But China already widely uses more convenient methods, which do not even require the rider to park the bike at specific locations. I really believe these technologies would substantially improve the usefulness of such a service in my city.

More openness increases knowledge

Finally, openness is a very important issue with new communication technologies like the Internet of Things. Barcelona City Council has already declared the city to be open and has launched many transparency initiatives aimed at citizens. The implementation of more techniques to gather information will benefit: individuals, who can get to explore and know their own city better; companies, for building better and more optimal solutions and applications with more reliable information; as well as education and research institutions.

Metropolitan areas such as Barcelona still have a lot of work to do when it comes to implementing data capturing technologies, but we are on the right track.

Xavier Ripoll Echeveste (20 years old) studies Computer Science Engineering at the University of Barcelona.