Smart mobility apps: shaping the way we travel

Features

The role of the smart mobility app is changing as we become more connected to our surroundings. Apps are vital for operators and users alike as they exchange information to promote intelligent, efficient and environmentally friendly mobility within cities. By Maria Highland

 Technology is moving forward at an incredible speed and this is having positive impacts on our daily lives. Everyday tasks are made easier through interaction with technology. This is particularly true for cities. We are now able to utilise real time data to shorten our communes, calculate the fastest route and to warn others of congestion and accidents. We can track our taxis, receive real time information about when the next bus is. Likewise, we can pay using our phones – pay for transport, parking and any fines. This is down to our smart phone apps, which are playing an increasingly important role in how we move around the city.

Simone Köhler, Marketing Lead, Innovative Technologies at Siemens Mobility Management explains that the task “of smart mobility apps is not to find the best stand-alone means of transport, but rather to suggest the smartest combinations of different mobility options to minimise travel time”. There is an increased need for transport authorities to make sure that their customers are well informed of travel times and know what travel options are available to them. Therefore, it has “become crucial for transit authorities to offer their own regional and independent smart mobility app,” says Köhler, adding, “after all, multimodal routing provides the basis for an intelligent, individual, efficient, and, at the same time, eco-friendly mobility.”

This is not only the case for cities, as “no matter if urban or rural residents, people want to be flexible and individually mobile. In larger cities, integrated car and bike sharing services have opened new horizons in terms of mobility. In long-distance travel, it sure pays off to compare train, long-distance bus and flight options. In rural areas where the school bus is often the only available option, it is even more important to ensure mobility by providing residents with flexible auxiliary services,” says Köhler.

Smart mobility apps, directly accessible on your phone, make mobility like this possible. But what makes a successful smart mobility app? Siemens believe that “successful smart mobility apps include cutting-edge trip planning tools that provide real-time information between transport operators. They find the best way from A to B in a single application and eliminate the need for tedious research via several different websites and apps”. The user’s needs are put at the heart of the mobility apps. This means tailoring the app experience to save the user time and provide them with accurate, relevant, information.

American company Anagog Ltd, a leader in sensor-based smartphone mobility status, has recently launched its new JedAI software development kit – the first on-handset AI engine for app-developers. JedAI works to provide real-time location and contextual status information for app users whilst maintaining maximum privacy management alongside ultra-low battery consumption. The JedAI allows app-developers to adjust their services accordingly to the needs of individuals, having a better understanding of the current and future context of their users on handsets.

Gil Levy, Anagog’s CTO and Co-Founder says: “we have combined our skills in signal processing, machine learning and artificial intelligence to create a unique AI engine that does not require any communication with backend servers to analyse the user’s current mobility status and location as well as predict future destinations and activities”. The result is a more personal experience for the user. This increases user engagement and customer satisfaction, as well as creating higher revenues.

Providing an app services that is catered to the user improves their experience, but the data gathered through the app can also be utilised to help the city as whole. By understanding the needs of the traveller and their demands, mobility apps can also be used to “provide essential information to both travellers and operators,” says Köhler. Once we have such information, public transport and public transit infrastructure can be adjusted and optimised accordingly to deliver the best possible commuter experience.

Smart mobility apps can help address some key transport challenges within the city. For example, congestion is an ever-prevailing problem for cities. The city of Pisa in Italy, being a highly-visited tourist area and major airport hub in Tuscany, faced a growing amount of congestion in the city centre. As a means of tackling this growing concern, a congestion fee was introduced in the city to reduce traffic to sustainable levels whilst having minimal impact on the local economy. Pisa also aimed to digitise all services, so the payment of fees was to be paid online and at helpdesk of the local public mobility company, PisaMo.

The switch to congestion charging was made easier with the use of mobile apps. Road users could buy and renew parking tickets, and make congestion payments using Kiunsys’ INES Sales & Info. Likewise, this included the use of Kiunsys smartphone app, Tap & Park, to redirect traffic to free parking spaces. The process is made easier for the user because they can search for the space and instantly pay for it within one app. The outcome of this reduced congestion relating to the search for parking.

Köhler also highlights congestion as one of the key challenges within in a city, and recommend that “one way to ease this problem is to make public transit infrastructure more attractive for travellers and commuters. Smart mobility apps can help by integrating public transit data with that of other mobility suppliers, such as ride/car/bike sharing offers,” says Köhler. An example of this is Siemens’ SiMobility JustGo “Be-in/Be-out” (BiBo) ticketing.

The app allows the user to use their smart phone as a ticket on their preferred means of transportation. BiBo works by detecting “installed Bluetooth low-energy transmitters (beacons) while the vehicle is running and sends the data to the backend for processing the route taken. Billing takes place on the basis of the route actually travelled, and the cheapest fare may be automatically applied,” explains Köhler. The use of this system is beneficial for both the traveller and the operator.  It saves operators both time and resources and creates ease and convenience for the user.

Siemens was chosen to be the business partner for the development, introduction and operation of a sales platform for the Schweizerische Südostbahn AG (Swiss South-Eastern Railway). This was one of the first commercial BiBo application and ticketing options for the whole of Switzerland. The “system offers the BiBo range of functions via a smartphone app and a module that calculates the cheapest fare after the journey has been completed (best price option).  This includes easy access to intermodal mobility services, enabled by SiMobility Connect, including route guidance as well as static and dynamic timetables,” says Köhler. This integration of other modes of transport makes public transport more comfortable and easy, as well as providing an optimal alternative to private car use – which is always good news for the environment.

Smart mobility apps can help improve your commute time, help you pay for your journey, help you find a parking space and then help you pay for it parking. But it does not just end there. For those users who require private transport, there is now an app that can help you decide whether they should switch to an electric or hybrid car. Mercedes- Benz has created the EQ Ready app, which records journeys made by the user, analysing their everyday mobility behaviour to create a usage profile. The recorded information is then compared with numerous parameters of hybrid and electric vehicles, allowing for a virtual, yet realistic, way of trying out e-mobility – proving to be more informative than a once-only test drive.

Likewise, to further enhance the virtual e-driving experience, users can manually enter potential charging stations near home or work. The app is planned to also include publicly available charging stations in the future.  Another perk of the app is that is can also recommend which alternatively powered model from smart or Mercedes-Benz is best suited to the user’s individual behaviour. Wilko Stark, Head of Daimler & Mercedes-Benz Cars Strategy and Head of CASE, explained the results of the app’s pilot study, noting that the “general conclusion is that electric cars and hybrids in e‑mode are much more suitable for everyday use than most people believe. Following their personal reality check with our app, even sceptics discover that an electric car or hybrid would satisfy their mobility needs.”

The variety of apps available to improve the traveller’s daily commuter routine is expanding and the role they play is now vital to users. “The increasing amounts of sensors that surround us allow for better communication with technology and vice versa. Today’s smartphones not only recognise our current position and direction, but also if we are standing on a hill and the time it will take to reach the next station with our current walking speed. We benefit from these developments and adapt our apps accordingly,” says Köhler.

Users are becoming more and more involved in shaping the direction of mobility apps development. For example, stations are equipped with beacons that allow routing within buildings, utilising real time data and the incorporation of artificial intelligence. All these advancements are reducing our travel times, and correspondingly our “transit systems are becoming more flexible, demand-responsive. The ability to predict and respond to changing traveller demands, long-term, mid-term and ad hoc, will become more and more important,” says Köhler.

Likewise, Köhler explains that apps “are in the process of becoming the backbone of mobility and one of the pillars for Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS)”.  But it is not just about being equipped with the best apps. It is also the communication between the participants that is a major influencing factor.  Köhler explains that “a travel chain needs flexible components that adapt to the respective situation and can be spontaneously rearranged on demand. When a train is delayed or a connection is no longer reliable, it is necessary to immediately provide an alternative with other means of transport, e.g. rental cars”. Smart mobility apps can help provide that solution.