Monitoring motorists

The US$125 million deal between the UAE government and IBM will help improve road safety and avoid accidents, provided all the parties concerned make sure the project gets off the ground.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  May 26, 2005

The UAE is smaller than the United States, but its roads are more than twice as dangerous. There are almost 40 deaths caused by road traffic accidents per 100,000 residents in the Emirate each year. One person is injured on the UAE roads every two hours, with one fatal injury every fifteen hours, according to UAE government statistics. In light of this, the deal between IBM and Cert Telematics, which is part of the Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training, comes not a moment too soon for the UAE’s two million drivers. Under the terms of the contract, IBM Engineering and Technology Services will develop and build a technology infrastructure featuring a real time telematics device similar to the ‘black box’ fitted on commercial aircraft. “Telematics has significant potential to improve road safety and accident rates. There are obviously many layers of complexity to the issue of accident rates and neither technology nor regulation can address all of the human and ecosystem factors,” says Dr. Tayeb A. Kamali, CEO of Cert Telematics. The bespoke traffic management system, which sits on the underside of vehicles is connected to a small, on-board computer screen and will use a combination of microprocessors based on IBM’s Power Architecture, together with advanced global positioning satellite tracking and other wireless communications to capture, analyse and deliver data concerning driving patterns, speed and use of brakes. The government of the UAE hopes the move will improve road safety and traffic management, ultimately preventing accidents. The technology will also monitor the speed of a moving vehicle and compare it with the defined speed limit on each street. If the vehicle exceeds the limit, the device will send out a warning message to the driver. It will monitor dangerous or erratic driving patterns in real time, which will allow authorities to anticipate dangerous situations and respond quickly and effectively to highway problems. In addition, the platform will also offer facilities for tracking stolen vehicles and reporting breakdowns, providing government agencies such as the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research with a vehicle’s location and exact speed via a nationwide wireless network. This will help to ensure that dangerous drivers are penalised, according to Colonel Ahmed Nasser Al Raisi, director of IT at the Abu Dhabi Police Department, as fines are recorded within the appliance and automatically transmitted to the traffic department. While Cert’s objective is to contribute to the development of the technology in the UAE, and help develop the national knowledge economy, how the new solution will be deployed is entirely the prerogative of the UAE government, which is yet to announce an implementation roadmap. However, the overall objective of the new deal is to provide a robust, secure and scalable telematics solution to date. While, the primary focus will be on emergency services and road safety, the platform will have a number of other applications, such as enabling the enforcement of exclusion zones and toll roads around the region as a way of managing peak traffic flow. The devices will also offer road users alternative traffic routing in real time, as well as providing drivers with data relative to the vehicles’ current geographic position via a global positioning services (GPS) device. “In many countries, such as the UK and Switzerland, the trend is to limit traffic on certain roads at certain times. With telematics it will be possible to monitor driving patterns and subsequently charge fees for using certain roads during rush hours, thus improving the issue of traffic congestion,” Dr. Kamali explains. “The platform is open and scalable enough that it can be programmed to offer some or all of these services.” As part of the value proposition for telematics users, Cert wants to make these routing enquiry services available as part of the overall suite of telematics benefits to the end user, enabling drivers to determine the fastest and most convenient route to places of interest. The link to the satellite and GPRS can also be used to provide internet access through a wireless connection, thereby enabling drivers to access e-mails and the web The devices will then be able to play a strong role not only for private motorists, but also for businesses concerned with the transportation of stock or with workers in the field, allowing communication with back-end systems via the internet. The potential for monitoring driving and making the UAE’s roads safer is the key priority behind the platform, however IBM stands to enjoy strong financial gains as well. Although IBM has been active in telematics, the US$125 million deal is the first in automotive IT. “This is a big deal for us because it is going to enable a whole new range of on-demand applications that we will build on top of the technology,” says Michael Nelson, a senior member of IBM’s On Demand team. Cert Telematics plans to roll out tens of thousands of these devices, following a prototype field-testing in 2006. The plan is to offer the telematics device as an after-market component, although Cert is in negotiations vehicle manufacturers. “In other countries there have been a variety of solutions adopted. For instance, some countries have opted for providing the boxes for free and then charging according to the distance traveled by the driver,” says Farid Metwaly, vice president of engineering and technology services for IBM Middle East& Africa. Metwaly says the UAE can be seen as taking the lead in adopting sophisticated telematics technologies, claiming the project will help define telematics standards for users all around the world. Other countries in the Middle East are often quick to follow the UAE’s lead in the adoption of technology, and telematics will be no exception, although deployment parameters may vary in different countries, at the discretion of individual governments and according to each country’s specific traffic and safety issues. IBM is already receiving enquiries from other countries and is working with Cert to expand distribution. “There are several companies that are interested in the same kind of solutions — from Kuwait, for example. These companies want to play similar roles to Cert in these countries and we are keen to get involved with any such initiatives,” states Metwaly. For those end users concerned about invasion of privacy, Cert’s Kamali is adamant the laws that are in place to protect people from this kind of intrusion are stringent enough. IBM says privacy infringement should not be a bone of contention in the acceptance of telematics, insisting the deal is inherently positive, as the country becomes a test lab for telematics use worldwide.

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