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Guide to emerging technologies and their effect on transport systems

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Virtual reality

Emerging technologies are changing the provision of transport services from schedule planning, real time re-routing, ticketing and payment. Here's a short guide to emerging technologies:

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence or AI is a set of software services that are taking machine ‘intelligence’ to higher levels. AI solutions exhibit the ability to learn and store knowledge, undertake analysis, identify patterns and make recommendations, sense and interpret the external world, and interact using natural language.

Examples we see around us include face recognition, financial fraud detection, virtual assistants on smartphones or via devices at home, content recommendations for video streaming services and increasingly driver support in vehicles. Probably the most well known is use is face recognition machines used at passport control in airports and vehicle registration number recognition in entrances and exits from car parks.

Virtual Reality

Fully immersive and increasingly realistic, VR’s most obvious applications are in entertainment and gaming, but advances in technology have increased accessibility while reducing development costs are starting to open up huge possibilities in fields as diverse as retail, healthcare, education, tourism, and journalism.

Augmented Reality

Initially seen as something of a curiosity, AR devices overlay information, graphics or audio content to the user’s experience of their real-world environment. For example, aircraft manufacturers with hugely complex engineering projects are already piloting AR to help achieve increases in manufacturing accuracy, productivity and control. Augmented Reality can also enable trainees to get “virtually hands-on” with complex moving equipment that would otherwise dangerous or inaccessible.


This technology has already made a name for itself as the technology behind the virtual currency, Bitcoin, but its significance goes beyond virtual currencies to traditional financial services and beyond. Offering unprecedented levels of accuracy, traceability, reliability and security to any number of transactions and interactions, Blockchain offers the potential to cut costs too.

A blockchain is, in the simplest of terms, a time-stamped series of immutable records of data that is managed by cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each of these blocks of data (i.e. block) are secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles (i.e. chain). Picture a spreadsheet that is duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers. Then imagine that this network is designed to regularly update this spreadsheet and you have a basic understanding of the blockchain. Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared — and continually reconciled — database.

The ‘Internet of Things’

While there is huge potential to link consumer appliances and devices to the web, the industrial internet of things offers even bigger potential for business: there could be several billion connected consumer devices in the next five years, but the equivalent number for industrial machines will be in the hundreds of billions. Connecting physical assets to digital networks is generating vast amounts of data, enabling the potential for unprecedented levels of insight, prediction and real-time control over production processes. The ability to track, measure and monitor in real-time also opens up new business models allowing for companies to offer almost “anything as a service”.


These emerging technologies may be different but they are increasingly being used in combination to do even more to save money and time, reduce errors, speed up processes, and often to replace or augment human abilities. Their impact on the provision of transport services has already started and the future is very exciting.

To find out more contact Peter Whitehead, Associate Director, Chartered Civil Engineer, BSc CEng MICE MCIHT