Smarter travel

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Technology is changing how we live our lives, but that doesn’t seem to be reflected in our airports, train or bus stations, which appear to be sticking to a traditional product-set. Are clients looking to install new technology, or are they sticking to what they know? Paul Milligan investigates.

We live in a smart era. Smartphones are in everyone’s pockets or handbags, regardless of income or status. We are all  looking  for  ways  to  work  smarter, and
technology is helping us do that. But somehow the way we travel  –  by car, bus, air or train  – doesn’t seem to be a part of this drive to do things in a smarter way. A lot of airports and railways stations still have dot matrix information boards, or advertise services or products using large sheets of paper.

You can look at this one of two ways, the first is that we should embrace the fact that a huge opportunity lies ahead for integrators/consultants in this sector. The second is to ask why digital technology hasn’t taken hold of the transport sector already? If technology is everywhere, does this point to innate problems marrying technology with transport? Or does it just reflect a conservative client base? “It’s more of a case of clients don’t know what they want, and with digital technology it’s a case of ‘if it ain’t  broke, don’t fix it’,” says Andrew Nelson, head of global accounts, partnerships and
alliances, Samsung Electronics Europe.

But there is the possibility for change says Nelson, if we ourselves get a bit smarter about the proposition, and look at the transport companies more as businesses. Others have seen what clients are asking them for in transport projects change too.  “Clients are looking for more integration, what is the primary use of the screens? Nine out of ten times it’s to relay the data of what train or plane is arriving. Now they want to integrate news feeds and  advertising as well,”  says Gordon Dutch, managing director at Peerless AV EMEA.

Xtreme Displays Transportation Application Image

And this move is having a direct effect on the technology supplied into transport projects says Jasmin Stemmler, product marketing manager, NEC Displays Solutions  Europe. “We have seen the standard size jump from 32 to 40 to 46 to 55-in screens. This is due to a decrease in cost for the products and a desire to show more information on the screen than before.”

The days of screens in transport venues either providing  just  information  or  just  advertising are over.  Bigger screen sizes and advances in brightness and resolution  means the screens can now do both. These screens provide more travel information than their predecessors could, but also offer an attractive ROI from advertising
revenue running 24/7.

One product the display manufacturers are looking at driving sales growth in transport  is so-called ‘stretched’ displays (screens with ratios such as 16:3 or 58:9),  which  can  fit a lot of information in a small space. Sometimes biggest isn’t always best however, as Nelson revealed that Samsung’s best-selling screen in transport was a 24-in display, because it was a perfect size to be installed on a train platform.

Don’t be expecting 4K in transport venues anytime soon however, all those we spoke to say there was no demand for it at all, with Nelson’s response typical of many; “4K is still some way off. Getting the operators to make the switch from dot matrix to flat panels is enough of a jump.”

Another change being noticed out in the market was an increase in client knowledge.
“I’m seeing a more educated and savvy customer group, at the top end, who have a much better understanding of TCO, and the impact of what a 24/7 difficult, long-term  application will impact on a visual device over a period of time. We  are  seeing  customers not only ask for a long guarantee, but a guarantee on brightness
erosion and colour reproduction because we are communicating mission critical message on these  screens,”  says  Sid Stanley,  Sharp Visual Solutions  Europe  general manager.  “On paper there isn’t a big gap between how a prosumer and a professional display looks, but in terms of  performance, there is a huge amount of difference.”

In order to make transport AV systems smarter they must integrate with other networks around them, there is a wealth of data out there, we just need to start pulling it together. A project Samsung is currently involved in is a good example of how this might all work. It is working with different software companies to measure the capacity on trains, using its system-on-chip platform.

“When a train moves into a particular platform, or when it’s about to leave, we can use a mobile phone signal (subject to legislation of course), or even measure the weight of the train, so we can analyse what carriages are busy and which ones have capacity. The digital screens can then direct passengers to the quieter carriages, using algorithms which are running in the background. Imagine that ability in a busy city like London, it would be a godsend,” says Nelson.

“We have to tap into Big Data, everybody’s expectation is beyond what we currently  have on our rail networks.  Rather than looking at scheduled information when they get  there, travellers just look at their phones, because that app or website is what they are comfortable looking at, rather than a very antiquated dot matrix display.

We are beyond that in the digital age, also the IoT is knocking at everyone’s door, we are in a connected world now.” The demand for connect systems is certainly there,  80% of the displays NEC sells to transport projects have an in-built PC  says  Stemmler.  “Clients are demanding intelligent displays, which are managed from a central location.”

On a city-wide transport infrastructure, Big Data could have a significant impact. It is being used in London where TfL (Transport for London) collects Oyster card data from eight million trips per day, when a person touches in and out at Underground stations.  TfL, working with MIT, then used the information to identify the most major needs in  transportation and implement changes to increase efficiency. The puzzle for pro
AV is how to harness and present this data in a way that is valuable to transport clients.  

One untapped area for AV technology is within bus stations, says Stemmler.  “Bus  terminals are only now starting to learn the retail lessons of what a terminal should look like. They are now looking  at what they have and how they can improve it, and how they can drive new business from digital signage.”

The future for technology in transport looks good says Nelson, because companies are looking at using it to differentiate themselves from their competitors on tenders. “They  are looking to adopt digital ways of transforming the passenger experience. Within the RFP process, technology is now a scoring chart.  Where previously they were able to bid for a franchise without having to commit to new technology in any great way, adoption and implementation of extensive new technology solutions, is now, very much required. Especially in the UK where there is currently a significant disconnect between the cost of tickets and the customer experience.”