Introduction to the RET
RET (“Rotterdamse Elektrische Tram”) is the main public transportation operator of the Rotterdam city region. It is a public limited company and the municipality of Rotterdam is the sole shareholder. The history dates back to 1878 when it started with horse-drawn trams. Nowadays, RET transports about 186 million people in Rotterdam and the surrounding municipalities on an annual basis. Furthermore, the company has approximately 2,600 employees and 10 business locations in the Rotterdam – The Hague conurbation (RET, 2014).
The digital transformation
RET has achieved a strong position as the transportation provider of the Rotterdam conglomeration. Incentivized by its value proposition and a robust reputation among its three different customer segments, it tends to have a pioneering role in the Dutch public transportation market and therefore, despite a likely shift in workforce, should endeavor to embrace innovation through articulating an IT strategy together with its business strategy.
Public transportation is expected to become key for urban travel and commuting in cities of tomorrow and RET should thus attempt to offer its customers increased capacity, flexibility (i.e. on demand services, Owczarzak & Żak, 2015) and safety via automated trams and metros, as well as autonomous cars and buses. In this context, the technology of automated trams and metros is partially in place but would need a few more years, including some regulatory changes, before being able to be fully utilized. In addition, autonomous buses should be introduced to complete the entire market coverage. Last but not least, autonomous cars offering door-to-door services could constitute RET’s strategic response to trends like car-sharing and expand its market opportunities through the use of big data. Further, they could retaliate to the introduction of substitute providers like Uber.
It remains clear that this technology’s success primarily depends on customer’s acceptance and trust. Although one might not be sure whether people will welcome this new technology, there is no question that the latter will come, only a debate about when it will be ready. Issues like software security threats, vehicle expensiveness or legal and liability cul-de-sacs could negatively impact customer’s view and thus hinder a straightforward application of the autonomous driving technology. Further, the final technical feasibility of some autonomous vehicles, especially of cars, still has to be proven and hence a final market launch decision cannot be made yet. If, however, the technology would reveal to be watertight, this could have a significant impact on most of today’s routines and automotive stakeholders, but most importantly would constitute a welcomed solution to some of this century’s major problems like population growth, demographic change or accelerated urbanization.
Owczarzak, L., & Żak, J. (2015). Design of Passenger Public Transportation Solutions Based on Autonomous Vehicles and Their Multiple Criteria Comparison with Traditional Forms of Passenger Transportation. Transportation Research Procedia (10) 2015, Pages 472-482 Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235214651500188X [Accessed 12 October 2015]
RET.nl (2015a). About RET. Available at: http://corporate.ret.nl/en/about-ret.html [Accessed 5 October 2015]
Those who have difficulties with spoken language or hearing can find communicating difficult. This problem may be intensified if others do not understand sign language, which replaces words with gestures. However, designer and media artist Hadeel Ayoub may have found a solution to the problem with her invention the ‘SignLanguageGlove’.
Hadeel Ayoub is a Saudi student from Goldsmiths University of London who has just completed her masters in computational arts. The smart glove that she developed translates sign language from hand gestures into visual text on a screen and converts the text to spoken words. This will allow speech- and hearing-impaired people to communicate with those who do not understand sign language; as most people.
How does it work?
The gloves are equipped with sensors on the fingers to recognize sign language. The sensors in combination with an accelerometer detect and keep track of how a person bends its fingers as it signs and how the user orientates its hand as it signs. A computer programme then translates these recorded motions into a visual language displayed on a screen. In addition, the glove includes a ‘text-to-speech chip’ that enables an audible dialogue.
How original is the solution?
Even though the SignLanguagueGlove is novel, in the last few years others have come up with similar smart gloves. In 2012, for example, a team of four Ukrainian students developed the ‘Enable Talk Gloves’, a prototype that won a software design competition. Likewise, Mexican researchers developed a prototype that transmitted the glove wearer’s signs via Bluetooth to a mobile device capable of translating the movements into text and speech to facilitate communication between people. According to Ayoub, her glove is different from current designs in matters of size (more compact) and the fact that it enables multilingual translation features.
Future and developments
Besides incremental improvements, progress is being made to develop smaller versions for children. In addition, next prototypes are expected to include a smart phone and tablet app which can receive the glove’s output over Wi-Fi within a reasonable range.
Hadeel Ayoub has already been approached by several companies interested in taking the glove into production. The gloves have already gone through three prototyping stages and the fourth is expected to cost around €300 per piece to produce.
Personally, I see some challenges in incorporating the arms, body and facial expression parts of sign language into the system. However, I truly believe that the smart glove has a big potential in successfully breaking down language barriers and to improve communication between people with and without different (hearing and/or speaking) disabilities.
We all know the traditional self-storage warehouses in which you can store stuff that you don’t need on a daily basis or during a certain period of the year. Storing your stuff often is very time consuming and sometimes even expensive, e.g. requiring you to rent a van, trailer wagon or to buy moving boxes and other shipping supplies. According to Rocket Internet startup SpaceWays from London, this traditional self-storage is not fit for urban areas. Their ‘new, easy, convenient, safe and affordable way’ to store all our stuff is an on-demand storage solution that means customers no longer need to haul stuff back and forth to a self-storage facility.
The business model is based on a monthly subscription for which in return SpaceWays picks up, stores and returns boxes or bulky items in just a few clicks via their website. If a customer orders a pick-up, first some boxes will be dropped off to your door so you can pack the things you don’t have room for. Once you’re ready, the company will collect your boxes (or bulky items e.g. bicycles that don’t fit in the boxes) and bring them to their warehouse. When you want your stuff back you can easily view your online inventory page and select which boxes and articles you want to have returned within a promised 24 hours.
The service offered by SpaceWays seems to perfectly fit a generation with a ‘hassled urban life’ in which flexibility, efficiency and convenience are highly valued. However, personally I’m still not completely convinced of the (potential) success of the offered solution. I see the advantages of never having the hassle of having to drive somewhere and access a self-storage unit again. Yet, I wonder if it wouldn’t be too much of a threshold for people to put their stuff into the hands of others that are supposed to take good care of it and safely bring it to (or return it from) a warehouse. Some might argue that this wouldn’t be a problem since people usually don’t store their most valuable items in a storage box. However, since people do want them to be stored (instead of e.g. throwing away) it means the stuff does matter to them.
What do you think? Would you use on-demand storage services without worrying about how your stuff is being taken care of? And do you see a disruptive potential?