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IoT for transport

In 2019, CENSIS was commissioned by the Scottish Government to explore and support the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) in Scotland’s key economic sectors.

We held workshops across key industry sectors as part of our FutureTech programme, and as part of this programme, we explored opportunities around adopting IoT technologies in transport.

IoT technologies are transforming the transport ecosystem, with applications that can generate costs savings, drive operational and supply chain efficiencies, improve customer service and increase passenger safety. IoT has the potential to empower individuals and organisations, helping them make informed decisions about how transport is planned, managed and used.

  • Public transport users could use information to decide how to and when to travel, which mode of transport to use, and which route to take
  • Public transport operators could use data to plan to offer a more seamless traveller experience. Continuous monitoring and management of vehicle parameters could help operators with predictive maintenance of assets.
  • Freight operators could use IoT to lower capital and operating costs or meet emissions targets
  • Local authorities can use it to support future city and town planning and travel priorities, while smart street infrastructure such as traffic lights could help manage safety, congestion or pollution issues.

With over 90 inhabited islands, and a population density ranging from 8 to nearly 3300 people per square kilometre, it is fair to say that in terms of transportation, Scotland is geographically challenged.

Adding to these challenges are the rise in internet shopping, a steady increase in tourism (hopefully bouncing back after COVID-19) and also the need to reduce our carbon footprint and become carbon neutral.

So can Scotland fully embrace the IoT revolution and use it to mitigate the challenges we face?

IoT can help in areas such as maintaining or improving service-delivery, managing customer expectations and shaping the much talked-about tourist experience.

At the workshop, we also discussed experiences and knowledge of known and emerging challenges and the approaches taken to address these. Examples of IoT-based projects already undertaken provided a useful base upon which to generate further ideas for solutions to meet core needs.

Benefits of incorporating IoT into transport include

  • Vehicle/fleet health and maintenance, leading to fewer breakdowns or maintenance delays
  • Advanced analytics for streamlined operations, transport flow and traffic management
  • Improved transport logistics, condition monitoring and asset tracking
  • Greater reliability and enhanced safety features
  • Reduced fuel consumption
  • Enhanced security and screening – of people and cargo
  • Reduced administration for regulatory compliance
  • Reducing reliance on vehicle ownership with the concept of ‘Mobility as a Service’

If you would like to know more about CENSIS activity in this sector, let’s talk.

Use cases for Transport

  • Logistics and fleet management

    Transport and logistics companies are using IoT to manage vehicle fleets and generate efficiencies in day-to-day operations.

    As IoT becomes more widely accepted, more and more sensor-based devices and systems are being created that can help lower capital and operating costs for businesses, e.g., through asset tracking, increased freight visibility, environmental monitoring, or predictive maintenance and fleet management. Well integrated IoT systems can reduce (or even eliminate) manual tracking and human error in deliveries and enable data-driven decisions to be made to manage unexpected, or unknown, problems throughout the supply chain.

    Some of benefits of IoT in this sector could include:

    • Goods tracking: real-time monitoring of freight to determine when and where items were delivered or even if they were compromised en-route, e.g., tampered with or subjected to extremes of temperature, vibration or g-forces.
    • Driver safety: IoT-based system on board vehicles can help operators monitor driver behaviour such as idling time or driving style, and monitor fuel consumption and the general health of the vehicle.
    • Condition monitoring: not only of the delivery vehicle to support planned maintenance, but also a vehicle’s contents, measuring multiple metrics such as temperature, humidity, VOCs, light, vibration, noise, dampness.
    • Route optimisation: inefficient delivery routes can greatly affect environment impact and the company’s bottom line with increased fuel consumption and time spent on the road. IoT can help to combat this by using data planned routes to achieve a more efficient operations system.
    • Last mile optimisation: the crucial last mile of a delivery is often the most expensive and time-consuming part of a route involving multiple stops, and with a high dependency on external factors such as traffic, weather conditions, parking availability or driver behaviour. It can be the least efficient but at the same time is often the most crucial in terms of customer satisfaction.
  • Public transport

    Sensor systems, IoT and advanced analytics have the potential to bring a host of benefits to public transport operators – and users – allowing companies to improve services without the need for major capital or infrastructure investment. A more seamless public transport system also brings a number of environmental benefits, resulting in reduced air pollution and less traffic congestion.

    IoT technologies are also crucial for facilitating the future development of MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service): the integration of public (and private) transport services into a single service that is convenient, sustainable, reduces congestion and is accessible on demand.

    Examples of IoT for public transport could include:

    • Increased reliability and safety: Sensor and IoT systems can be deployed across public transport fleets to monitor the health of a vehicle for scheduling planned maintenance or providing alerts when a breakdown may happen. Sensors systems on board vehicles or within the wider network could conditions through variables such as pressure, temperature, moisture or others that could have predictive value. All this helps operators provide a more reliable experience for transport users.
    • Management of unexpected events: Accidents, road closures, weather disruption or other emergencies can all affect how public transport runs on a day-to-day basis. IoT systems can seamlessly gather data from tens of thousands of sensors to let operators re-route vehicles or update passengers in real time.
    • Efficient operations and improved communications: Information gathered in real-time can help manage traffic, perhaps redirecting traffic away from congested or polluted areas, take action to optimise traffic impact on the environment, or optimise fuel use or refuelling in fleets of vehicles. CENSIS completed a project with Scottish SME FuelLink on smart vehicle refuelling. Vehicle tracking could let operators know exactly where buses are on a particular route to update timetables in real time.
    • Improved communications and passenger experiences:  IoT technologies can bring a level of personalisation to public transport users with new integrated travel apps providing easy access to travel information. Commuters could be notified ahead of time if a station closes or a bus re-routes. Users could have access to up-to-the-the minute timetables, or offered alternative travel suggestions to avoid congestion, delays or other types of disruption.
  • Traffic management

    Incorporating IoT into traffic management can have a dramatic effect on traffic flow and congestion.

    Smart traffic systems can help not only to regulate traffic, but also reduce air pollution, improve quality of life and reduce the risk of accidents. While daily traffic congestion can never be prevented, IoT systems can help manage and control transport for planned or expected events such as road closures or rush hours.

    Smart traffic lights can make roads safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists by identifying patterns and updating sequencing to respond to conditions. Sensors can collect data from traffic junctions, while machine vision systems can count vehicles to see how traffic is moving, measure the direction and speed of travel, and even determine whether an object is a car, bike or pedestrian. With this information, modifications can made in real time and managed throughout the day as traffic fluctuates.

    Examples of IoT in this space might include:

    • Smart parking: IoT-based sensors in car parks and on the street can provide drivers with real-time information about empty spaces to avoid drivers ‘circling’ for space.
    • Traffic lights and signalling: Smart traffic lights that turn green as drivers approach and then tell drivers exactly what speed to drive at to arrive at the next set of lights just as they turn green too.
    • Prioritising transport flow: Traffic lights can be modified to prioritise certain modes of transport over others, e.g., ambulances that take priority over other vehicles, or buses or cyclists over private cars or taxis.
    • Smart roads: Sensors embedded in roads can monitor road conditions, notify drivers of upcoming hazards, and even generate energy. They could be used to detect the location and speed of vehicles and receive alerts when an accident has taken place and guide responders to the site of the accident.
    • Smart lighting: For roads with less traffic, roadside lighting could illuminate only as cars approach and then dim again once they pass, offering ‘just in time’ visibility and thus reducing energy.
  • Electric, connected and autonomous vehicles

    Electric vehicles

    Advances in battery technologies in recent years have brought electric vehicles (EVs) into the mainstream, with charging points increasing and charging times reduced.

    Accessibility of charging points is still one of the key challenges that mass EV adoption faces. Home charging requires a garage and so drivers without one, and without easy access to a charging point on the street, will be put off the idea of owning an EV. Currently, many public charging points are used by EV owners simply for parking, and while they might charge for a while, they are not fully utilised as a charging point.  So the questions are raised, where are the charging points, which one are available, how long has the latest incumbent been there, is there a way to book the next slot, or is there a way of anonymously contacting the incumbent that it is ‘my turn’.

    Smart IoT enabled charging points could providing information to operators about how their charging spaces are being used, and perhaps even provide a booking service for charging. In home garages, IoT could be used to identify the best time of the day – and the cheapest tariff – for charging a car at home, and perhaps even allow these charging points to be used by others.

    Connected and autonomous vehicles

    Many cars on the road now are already equipped with sensor systems and IoT enabled. Networks of sensor and imaging systems, embedded software, and communication technologies monitor the health of a vehicle or assist drivers with decision making. These technologies are now becoming the norm, and range from simple brake level indicators, engine health, tyre pressures or exhaust emissions though to more sophisticated and semi-autonomous features like smart parking, collision avoidance technologies, automated emergency braking, or blind spot monitoring.

    IoT enabled cars of the future will not only connect with their own drivers, but with other vehicles and with the road network’s infrastructure; providing a fully integrated and smart exchange of data in order to provide a safe and fuel-efficient driving experience.  As self-driving cars mature and begin to appear on our roads, these attributes will become a baseline in smart IoT and data exchange.

    Most car manufacturers are already working on fully self-driving cars, but while it may be some time before we have access to a self-driving car, many autonomous vehicles are already in commercial use or are being tested to go into production on public roads, including Scotland’s CAVForth project that aims to introduce autonomous buses travelling across the Forth Road Bridge between Fife and Edinburgh.

    IoT-enabled self-driving cars can have tremendous benefits through the reduction of:

    • Emissions – by driving at consistent speeds and maintaining safe distances between vehicles and so avoiding harsh braking, acceleration and/or manoeuvres.
    • Accidents – through the elimination of human error including tidiness.
    • Traffic congestion – by having fleets of IoT enabled autonomous vehicles communicate with each other to optimise routes and evenly distribute the flow of traffic.
  • Rail, air and sea

    IoT impacts the entire transport ecosystem, not just road traffic. In every sector, the ability to integrate data gathered from hundreds of thousands of sensors allows operators to take a system-wide approach to the management of both fixed and moveable assets to create digital transformation within their businesses.

    Ports and shipping

    A lot of maritime trade is still managed manually, with containers and cargo tracked using paperwork and visual inspection. IoT could greatly simplify and reduce this burden, while creating a more secure and visible supply chain around the movement of goods across the world. Lower operating and capital costs could be derived from using IoT technologies and analytics for asset tracking, loading and unloading cargo, environmental monitoring, and predictive maintenance to reduce (or even eliminate) human error.

    Real-time monitoring can determine when and where cargo was delivered or even if it is has been compromised along the way, while condition monitoring is used not only on board a ship but also for its cargo, measuring multiple metrics such as temperature, humidity, VOCs, light, vibration, noise or dampness. ‘Smart ports’ are beginning to emerge, e.g., the port of Rotterdam that aims to support autonomous ships by 2025.

    Aircraft and airports

    IoT in airports offers great opportunities for generating efficiencies and improving traveller experiences. Sensor systems can provide real-time updates in busy areas like security checkpoints, bag-drop, check-in, boarding gates or baggage reclaim; and could be widely incorporated by facilities management for general maintenance. Over the longer-term IoT could support more autonomous operations such as refuelling, airside vehicles or baggage handling.

    Within aircraft, engine manufacturers are already using IoT for condition monitoring of aircraft engines, diagnosing potential faults and predicting maintenance scheduling. Information on the health of an engine or fuel use is collected from thousands of networked sensors, and analysed to detect operational anomalies or signs of developing faults. Improved communications between the pilot and ground teams could be used to know in advance what actions are needed when an aircraft lands.

    Trains and stations

    IoT can support information decision making and generate improvement in operations, management and monitoring of trains, train networks and stations; to the benefit of operators who may be responsible for maintaining older infrastructure. This might include imaging techniques for surveillance, condition monitoring sensor systems for predictive maintenance and improving the travel experience for passengers. Crucially, sensor systems could gather real-time information on safety-critical issues such as ballast movement or track displacement.

    Within stations, IoT systems can generate improvements in facilities management; from automatically detecting and dealing with icy platforms, to emptying smart bins that tell you when they are full. Linking data collected inside stations, e.g., footfall count or ticket sales, with data from outside, e.g., weather conditions or local events schedules, could help predict how busy a station will become and how to optimise resources for the safety and security of passengers and staff.


We explored various areas of transport subjects within our CENSIS FutureTech programme.

This is an area where Internet of Things (IoT) technologies could deliver huge benefits and enhance people’s lives.

Sector knowledge

Within the FutureTech programme, CENSIS met with people from different sectors to hear their ideas about the transformative potential of IoT.

IoT technology will transform business operations across Scotland and impact every sector of the economy.

5 subject areas

The Scottish Government-funded FutureTech workshops were held across Scotland throughout 2019 in the subject areas of

  • Food and drink
  • Health and social care
  • Smart towns and cities
  • Transport
  • Tourism

Take a look at organisations we have worked with

If you would like to find out more about our work with businesses of all sizes, public sector bodies and universities, we have highlighted some of the challenges we have faced together with our clients.