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Pictures of the Future



Mr. Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel


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Werner-von-Siemens-Straße 1
80333 Munich

Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Urban Mobility

Mobility from the Cloud

A new app from Siemens provides real-time optimized route alternatives, and even tickets that can be downloaded to a smartphone.

Networked transportation systems and a new app that offers up-to-the-minute information on the fastest connections will help city dwellers reach their destinations with ease despite rising traffic volumes. A cloud-based common platform makes it possible.

Sabine P. is late. She is in Berlin, close to Kurfürstendamm, and has 15 minutes to get to a meeting on Hackescher Markt in the city's downtown area. Although the two locations are only slightly more than seven kilometers apart, it's nearly impossible to quickly cover the distance in this hectic city, even for people who know their way around. Although Sabine is a stranger who comes from Cologne, she is unconcerned, because her smartphone has an app from her mobility services provider — in this case, her favorite carsharing company.

No matter in which city Sabine happens to be, the app shows her the quickest way to get to her destination. In addition to incorporating the information about all public and private transportation systems, the app takes the current traffic situation into account. Sabine merely has to touch her phone, and the map on her display shows her where she is. The app gets traffic information from the cloud-based mobility platform, where the data is updated every second. Sabine's display shows the latest information about traffic conditions, parking spaces, taxis, carsharing vehicles, rental bicycles, and the stops and departure times of public transportation systems — in short, all of the mobility services that are available to her. She enters her destination, and the app in the cloud calculates which mode of transportation will bring her there the fastest under current traffic conditions.

A mobility cloud networks service providers

Three suggestions appear on the display. Sabine selects the first one, which tells her that she should first rent a bicycle. The nearest rental bicycle stand is located 20 meters away. From there, Sabine should cycle to the commuter rail station and take the next train to downtown Berlin. However, if Sabine pedals quickly, she could reach Hackescher Markt in just 20 minutes. Alternatively, she could use a nearby rental car from a carsharing company. However, the app shows that most of the streets to her destination are congested if Sabine takes the quickest route. As a result, it would take her 35 minutes to drive there. She therefore presses a key to rent a bicycle. The unlocking code appears on her smartphone and she rushes to the bicycle stand. The appropriate train ticket is also sent to Sabine's smartphone before she even gets on the bicycle. She can pay for everything through her mobility service provider. The “mobility cloud" enables the invoices to be settled between the various service providers. Everything goes well, and the other participants even arrive five minutes later than she does to the meeting. “Sorry, I was caught in a traffic jam” is their excuse.

On the Road to New Business Models

Mobility services can be easily integrated into existing apps. The services come from a “cloud” that was created by experts at Siemens. “Our customers are public transport providers, carsharing companies, regional administrative bodies, and municipalities,” explains Steffen Schäfer from the Mobility and Logistics Division, which is developing the platform. As experts were developing and implementing the system, they received help from the Cloud Computing project team at Corporate Technology. The team is drawing up a cross-sector strategy for cloud-based applications and creating the basis for its technical implementation. The platform is an example of how cloud computing is leading to new business models at Siemens. The product is an integrated mobility platform (IMP), and the customers are companies that offer their products (in this case transportation systems) on the platform through their own apps.

In fact, some transportation companies have already been operating such apps for years. “Transportation companies and carsharing firms don't need a new app to dock onto the platform. The service is scalable and the companies can easily connect through their partners' mobility cloud backend systems,” explains Schäfer. The advantage for the companies is that the mobility cloud enables service providers to network with one another. “This allows you to use your carsharing app to buy subway tickets, for example,” says Schäfer. The platform also has software that handles all of the invoicing for the different companies.

Rapid Scalability and Top Technology

In principle, the entire system could also operate on a conventional server. But the advantages of the mobility cloud are obvious, because the amount of traffic and the associated transactions in urban transport are ten times higher during the morning and evening rush hours than during off-peak times.

In Germany, traffic levels also jump prior to Christmas and at the beginning of school vacation. At those times, far more people are simultaneously trying to get to the airport or to a train station. Weather conditions, such as the onset of winter, also affect the number of IT transactions that are conducted in order to provide information, make reservations, or generate and pay for travel tickets. Sufficient computing capacity that is otherwise left unused has to be provided at such times. Only cloud computing can ensure such quick scalability. Another benefit is that Siemens focuses solely on the mobility platform. All of the purely IT-related services are bought from specialized companies. “That way we can always use the latest top-quality technology,” says Schäfer.

Katrin Nikolaus
Picture credits: from top: 1. Picture: Corbis