A digital twin of Helsinki can simulate traffic conditions to help planners in the Finnish capital decide how to minimise disruption to pedestrians during road works. On those roads, meanwhile, autonomous vehicles can contribute to improving safety and increasing transport connectivity.

Around the world, governments are turning to technology to create smarter and more efficient transportation networks, and data is critical to their efforts. City planning requires access to data such as pedestrian footfall, road traffic and weather conditions, even though collecting and analysing such massive amounts of information is a formidable task.

Yogi Rampuria, Principal Solution Engineer at Yugabyte, says governments can best manage the data they need to create smarter transportation if they embrace the use of data, in particular real-time data.

How data makes transport smarter

Data can help governments to make transportation networks better, for instance, by showing where there is more road traffic than foot traffic, which can inform decisions on where to widen roads, Yogi says.

Traditionally, city planners analysed data retroactively to design transport networks. Government agencies would examine historical data on when buses were most crowded to pinpoint when they needed to increase the frequency of bus services.

But relying on historical data necessarily involves a lag. Real-time data, by contrast, can help make transport networks more proactive and responsive. For example, real-time data can enable adaptive signalling of traffic lights, Yogi says. Adaptive signalling works by responding to live demand. In Singapore, traffic lights at pedestrian crossings contain sensors which respond when elderly citizens scan their transport passes. The traffic lights then increase the crossing time so those individuals can cross the road more safely.

Real-time data can also power artificial intelligence for automated traffic management. For instance, sensors in pavements can detect when pedestrians are waiting to cross a road and prompt traffic signals to change accordingly. If there are no pedestrians, cars can continue to pass without interruption.

But for AI to become more accurate, countries need to input more data. And the amount of data collected at city level can be immense – terabytes upon terabytes every month. This is a challenge for governments, which will need reliable, fast ways of processing and making sense of that data.

Pain points

Four key challenges stand in the way of governments maximising their use of data, according to Yogi.

First, technology has to be able to keep up as the amount of data being collected increases. It also needs to remain cost-effective and be scalable as the quantity of data continues to grow.

Next, current data storage processes are cumbersome. Typically, different types of data are stored in different databases. For instance, graph-oriented data needs to be stored in a graph database, while time-based data is stored in a time series database. As a result, organisations end up with multiple data tools, each involving a different process and workflow.

This leads to the third problem: people. “Every new tool that you introduce, you need to retrain your people to be able to use them,” Yogi says.

Governments also need to avoid excessive overdependence on single service providers, Yogi says. This allows them to make decisions best suited to their organisations and citizens, instead of being limited by the digital tools supplied by one particular provider.

Powering real-time data

It is with those four challenges in mind that Yugabyte designed its databases.

First, the Yugabyte Cloud gives governments an easy way to store data affordably, freeing them from the need to invest in specialised hardware for data storage as Yugabyte manages the database for them. All governments need to do is to create an account online and they can begin storing data in a matter of minutes.

They also need to pay only for the amount of data storage they need at any given time. “The flexible consumption model reduces the overall cost for adopting the technology,” Yogi says. As their usage grows, they can increase the database capacity they require.

Second, Yugabyte’s databases – YugabyteDB – allow organisations to store multiple types of data on a single platform. This is particularly helpful in the transport sector, as it means that governments can access the different types of data they need to improve transport networks.

For example, governments need to understand when buses are required, where they are needed, and the best routes for them to take. Having these data stored on a single platform allows governments to access them more quickly and easily.

Thirdly, YugabyteDB minimises the need for retraining as it is built on existing, well-known tech such as SQL and Postgres databases. This ensures that data industry professionals can use the products without having to invest large amounts of time and money in retraining, Yogi says.

Finally, YugabyteDB is fully open-source, which reduces the risk of overdependence on single vendors. Open-source programs give organisations access to the back-end design of software, meaning that governments can easily adapt it for their own needs, and also allowing them to ensure that the security of YugabyteDB is up to par.

Resilient databases

Another advantage of YugabyteDB is that it is geo-distributed. Geo-distributed databases replicate data across different regions or areas in a city, ensuring that data is easily accessible from anywhere.

In larger countries, transport data can come  from many different parts of the nation. If data has to traverse across the country to be stored, it may suffer from lag and increase network costs. But having data scattered across the country allows governments to consume the data closer to where it is produced, ensuring easy access to it.

Another benefit of geo-distribution is that it makes databases more resilient. Countries such as the Philippines, for instance, frequently suffer natural disasters in the form of typhoons. If all data is stored in a single location, a natural disaster affecting that area can result in the government losing access. With geo-distribution, governments can simply access data from elsewhere.

Transportation of the future will be smart and automated, but making that a reality will require city-wide access to real-time data. Databases will therefore need to keep pace to support governments in their efforts to bring new transport technology to life.