In April 2017, a man drove a stolen truck into a busy shopping area in central Stockholm and collided with a department store, killing four people and injuring 15 others.
The terrorist attack prompted the Swedish government to investigate how digital technology can be used to prevent such incidents in the future. It began a four-year research program to test one type, geofencing, in urban environments.
Geofencing is a virtual tool where software uses GPS or similar technology to trigger a pre-programmed or real-time action in vehicles to control their movements within a geographic area. It can control the speed of a vehicle within the zone, determine whether the vehicle belongs there and automatically switch hybrid vehicles to electric driving.
Johannes Berg, senior advisor for digitization at the Swedish Transport Administration, said the technology could improve road safety and lower emissions. It also has the potential to adapt speed to road and weather conditions and to ensure regulatory compliance, such as stopping a vehicle if a driver is not licensed to enter a geofenced area, he added. to.
In simple terms – such as when a map with restrictions is downloaded to a vehicle before the start of a journey to automatically reduce its speed when it enters a low-speed zone – vehicles don’t need to be connected to an outside source, Mr Berg said. †
But in more advanced applications – real-time use, for example – vehicles must be connected. Rules and regulations are in a technical cloud and can be changed based on the actual position of the vehicles, he said. “The cloud service accesses the vehicle’s engine through the vehicle’s telematics connection.”
Sweden, which began a series of geofencing trials in 2019, has long been an innovator in vehicle-related safety. In the 1990s, it introduced Vision Zero, an approach to safety that takes human error into account. The goal is to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries by creating multiple layers of protection; if one fails, others will create a safety net.
Sweden now has one of the lowest death rates in the world and many cities around the world have implemented the approach. Earlier this year, the US Department of Transportation officially adopted the strategy to deal with a dramatic spike in the death toll in the United States.
In Stockholm, pilot geofencing programs are targeting commercial traffic in the city center, including assessing whether deliveries to businesses can be made at lower speeds at night, when streets tend to have fewer people.
“By switching to electric propulsion, coupled with a lower speed, truck deliveries can be delivered almost silently at night,” said Mr Berg. “More nighttime deliveries could reduce congestion during daytime rush hours and create a more even traffic flow around the clock,” improving an area’s liveability.
In another trial, sensors added to sidewalks monitor pedestrian flow, which has caused a reduction in speed in test vehicles. “The trucks actually reduce their speed automatically,” said Mr Berg.
Gothenburg has taken the lead in testing geofencing on public transport. Since 2015, the city, in collaboration with ElectriCity, a regional private-public partnership, including the Volvo Group, has been evaluating the technology on two bus routes. The assessment focused on busy areas such as shopping streets and intersections. The city now has the ability to modify geofenced zones based on real-time conditions, with bus operators automatically informed about the changes.
During the trial, which was recently completed, buses drove in designated areas at safe and economical speeds in electric driving mode.
“We see geofencing as a tool to create a safer city with better air quality and less noise,” said Malin Stoldt, project manager for Gothenburg’s urban transport administration.
Other pilot projects, some still underway, include improving road safety around schools and creating smart urban traffic zones to protect cyclists. Geofence technology that prioritizes public transport vehicles at complex intersections is already being used for everyday traffic in Gothenburg.
Geofencing could also help make city spaces more dynamically used, Ms Stoldt said. “Areas can be easily changed and used for different purposes, depending on the time of day or season.”
The trials have been well received, Ms Stoldt said. At least one more bus line plans to incorporate the technology. Operators also approve geofencing, she said, not just for safety reasons “but also to reduce wear and tear on the vehicles.”
Rodrigue Al Fahel, chief coordinator of the Swedish National Geofencing Program, said that geofencing technology has been developing for some time now and is used to send messages to mobile phones based on the phone’s location; manage commercial fleets; set maximum speeds and monitor parking of e-scooters; and to improve some advanced driver assistance systems, such as Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), which will be mandatory in all new vehicles in the European Union from July.
Sweden is one of the most active countries experimenting with geofencing for general traffic, said Mr Al Fahel, who attributed it to “a great collaborative environment”.
Still, collecting, standardizing and digitizing data at the scale needed to implement geofencing widely remains a challenge. First, developers must figure out a way to make traffic rules machine readable and decide on communication standards. “This is something that is not yet fully developed,” said Mr. Al Fahel.
However, collaborations have been developed in Europe through projects such as GeoSence and NordicWay to promote progress.
A recent market analysis and a state-of-the-art report concluded that geofencing is on the cusp of more widespread use. “It is a tool for cities,” said Mr. Al Fahel. “You can plan the city in a different way.”
“We are trying to investigate its possibilities and effects on traffic and transport. It’s not just about technological development,” said Mr. Al Fahel, but rather about creating a system that works and is accepted by all involved.
The pilot program, in its final year, has produced enough promising results that the Swedish government is considering legislation to change traffic and other regulations so that municipalities can use geofencing for traffic management, said Mr Berg of the Swedish Transport Administration.
New applications of technology can pose privacy concerns. But one of the reasons why the Swedish program focused on professional drivers rather than private drivers, Mr Berg said, is that “we believe it’s different when the vehicle is a tool provided by the employer” compared to the employers’ ability to regulate company computers.
One of the reasons the European Union is considered the safest road network in the world, experts say, is that member states emphasize community responsibility, in addition to individual rights.
“We realized that this technology may not be bulletproof to stop terrorists, but if you can make technology smart and make the transportation system more dynamic, then you can really create a sustainable transportation system,” said Mr Berg. “It makes everything more efficient.
“The higher goal is safety and durability,” he said. “They go together.”