“Transportation is the glue of our daily lives. When it goes well, we don’t see it. When it goes wrong, it negatively colours our day, makes us feel angry and important, curtails our possibilities,” American transportation entrepreneur and Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase once said.

Transport infrastructure is often thus described as the lifeblood of cities, powering employment, education, retail, business and recreation.

Although globalisation breaks down spatial borders and connects people in novel ways, the increasing density of urban living has become ever more dependent on efficient transport systems. Yet even the smartest of cities still find their transport systems represent a constraint on their socio-economic growth.

But Eugene Ong, Senior Sales Director of NEC Asia Pacific’s Digital Business Unit, has some insights on how governments can usher their ageing transport infrastructures into “Society 5.0” using Internet of Things technology, data analytics and intelligent transport systems.

Embedding EV infrastructure

Ong says intelligent transport systems have been around for many years, advancing traveller information, traffic management and vehicle control and operations systems. But the surge in demand for sustainable transport has given rise to the implementation of a new generation of such systems.

“The shift from Industry 4.0 to Society 5.0 can prove to be a real challenge for governments and organisations,” Ong says. “From the perspective of energy usage, optimising electricity demand and supply through information and communications technology contributes to the realisation of not just a smarter but also a more sustainable transportation network.”

The global electric vehicle market is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 26.8 per cent in the coming years, from 4,093,000 units in 2021 to 34,756,000 units by the end of the decade. Catering to this demand, governments have begun to endorse long-range, zero-emission vehicles through a mix of subsidies and tax rebates, incentivising consumer and fleet adoption of EVs.

But the migration to clean energy is not as simple as manufacturing more EVs and making them cheaper. “Every type of charging location – homes, multiple dwelling units, workplaces, commercial and industrial sites, petrol stations, retail sites and public charging – has its own requirements,” Ong says. Amid the varying requirements, EV users still need a seamless charging experience.

Ong says the gold standard for EV interfaces is a “self-healing” capability that automates troubleshooting processes in real-time. One instance of this could involve developing remote capabilities so that chargers can be fixed without requiring physical repair call-outs.

Powering the EV transition for effective traffic management

NEC offers a charging management system that’s fully digital and which integrates IoT charging point locations to users’ mobile devices and operators’ back-end systems. This provides operators with the ability to analyse and fix problems remotely, keeping EV chargers continuously available across the growing spaces in which they will be made available.

With more data, analytics and advanced information technology can be included in traditional transport planning processes, creating intelligent transport systems. Such systems create the potential for new information-based services, Ong says.

These could come in the form of pre-trip and on-trip journey planning and traffic alerts, and a range of pricing and business models such as variable pricing based on usage, emissions or peak periods. Such real-time functions can trickle down into improved traffic congestion management, safety management and reduced emissions at a national planning level.

Powered by data analytics, the system supports multiple countries in various language, tax and billing requirements, exponentially increasing the reach and applicability of sustainable transport and managing the demand and supply of transportation networks.

NEC’s technology has already been implemented, with a cloud-based EV charging platform having been adopted by the Japanese town of Hakone as long ago as 2013. Getting the system up and running involved addressing several requirements, including user authentication alongside maintenance and tamper prevention for charging infrastructure.

To resolve these issues, NEC installed a charging controller at each charging port to enable cloud-based authentication and billing, allowing operators to leave charging ports unattended while preserving their billing safe and authenticated.

“A human-centric, inclusive and sustainable future powered by innovative technologies” should be the aim in every 21st century transportation network, Ong says – and that’s what NEC’s team is striving to offer city planners everywhere.