If you want to see the future of urban transportation, Da Nang is a good place to start. IBM today said it has signed a deal with Vietnam’s fourth-largest city to install a high-tech traffic management system to help the rapidly growing seaport avoid the fate of Chinese cities choking on cars and pollution.
Software and sensors embedded in roads, highways and on buses will allow administrators to synchronize stop lights to minimize traffic jams and make the most of Da Nang’s limited public transportation system. With a population of 1 million, the city operates only 100 buses, and officials want to discourage a growing middle class from buying cars by improving the reliability and efficiency of the public transport system. Video screens and mobile apps will show commuters when buses will arrive and in the future could alert them to how crowded a vehicle will be when it arrives.
“In Europe or the US you sometimes see that public transport is laid out along historical lines based on past development,” Eric-Mark Huitema, IBM’s global smarter transportation leader, told Quartz. “In Da Nang we base the transport grid on where people are moving, where they’re coming from and where the city is growing.”
“The city wants to manage the problem before the problem is really there,” he adds.
Thanks to cheap sensors, Big Data and other technological advances, developing countries like Vietnam are attempting to leapfrog the West’s sclerotic transportation systems much as African countries skipped building a traditional telecommunications infrastructure and went straight to mobile phones.
IBM will also deploy the same technology platform that runs the transportation grid to help Da Nang officials monitor and manage its water system to detect leaks and forecast present and future demand.
“What we see is that the innovations that we are developing in our labs in Europe and in the US are now implemented in Vietnam and elsewhere and not in the US and Europe because the funds are not here or the procedures are too slow,” notes Huitema.
In fact, the majority of IBM’s customers for its Smarter Cities technology are in countries like China, India and Indonesia, Huitema says.
In China, IBM is focusing on cities with populations of around 1 million. “If we talk about the largest cities –Shanghai, Beijing – they are basically beyond the point of quick ways to solve their traffic problems,” he says.