Can Networks & Real-Time Data Fix Urban Transit? Ask Singapore


Five years from now, Singapore may have a model of urban transportation that’s smart, green, and full of lessons for cities around the world. That’s the goal of a new project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Research Foundation of Singapore called the Future of Urban Mobility.

The pair announced plans last week (h/t Green Car Congress) for MIT to collaborate with three universities in Singapore to develop models and tools for planning and operating an urban transportation system using networked computing, controls, advanced simulations, devices for gathering and analyzing real-time information and other technologies.This new project comes as the fourth and latest initiative of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Centre. While high-tech transportation research is hardly new ground for MIT, the university notes in its announcement that the project “will be a significant increase in the scale” of the transportation research that MIT students and faculty now have in the works.

“When addressing issues today, especially those affecting the climate, it is not sufficient to take complex problems apart and merely investigate incremental improvements to their components,” so collaboration on this scale is necessary, MIT Dean of Engineering Subra Suresh said in the project announcement.

The heart of the Singapore project will be a simulation platform called SimMobility, which models factors such as land and energy use, environmental impacts, and commercial activities related to transportation systems, according to MIT. Using data generated by networked computing and control technology, as well as “new analytical tools that harness real-time information and management systems,” the researchers plan to design and evaluate mobility systems for Singapore at first, but eventually have a global reach.

Ultimately, this kind of research fits into the larger system surrounding what we’ve called Car 2.0 — a transportation system for the digital age, in which vehicles are connected to the power grid as well as communication networks.

As Amedeo Odoni, MIT professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who will lead the project, said, “Can we bring together the extraordinary recent advances in information technology and transportation science and increase the capacity and efficiency of urban transportation systems to provide high-quality service to urban travelers?” MIT and its collaborators aim to find out.

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