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ITS – Intelligent Transportation Systems – Part 1, Introduction

January 12, 2010

Struggling with Success, Appropriate Technology and The Joy of Driving

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) are those utilizing synergistic technologies and systems engineering concepts to develop and improve transportation systems of all kinds. IEEE ITS Society

No one likes waiting in line or in traffic jams. I spent over ten years in the SF Bay Area in the 70s and about the same amount of time in Southern California in the 80s. During that period, in my work in high tech marketing and as a robotics consultant, I spent a lot of time in my car, averaging 25,000 miles per year.

I was a participant in and witness to the clogging of the arteries of California’s once beautiful and efficient highway system. The regions are literally choking on their success. Traffic congestion, air pollution, road rage, hours of misspent time and wasted fuel are causing a catastrophic systems breakdown. The tipping point has been reached and entropy is winning. Overloaded systems are inefficient, turbulent and  less productive. This is not just a California problem.

“Traffic is a growing problem in almost every city in the world. The average American motorist spends 36 hours in traffic delays every year. The cost of traffic congestion just in the United States is $78 billion, representing the 4.5 billion hours of travel time and 6.8 billion gallons of fuel wasted sitting in traffic. Billions more dollars have been spent on electronics and systems to alleviate this logjam.” Brian Marshall, of the Canada Transportation Development Centre.

Cooperative Systems on the Move

The mission of ETSI's Technical Committee Intelligent Transport Systems (TC ITS) is the creation and maintenance of standards and specifications for the use of information and communications technologies in future transport systems in Europe.

Before we jump into this introduction to ITS, let me establish my background in the field. While most of my professional experience is in factory automation and high tech marketing, I have been interested in and have written and lectured on surveying, mapping, GPS/GIS, geomatics and intelligent systems over the last 15 years.


In 1997, I did a three part series on “Surveying the Future” for POB magazine, the leading U.S. publication for surveyors. I also keynoted and spoke at a number of surveyor and DOT conferences on advanced technology and intelligent systems. I served as a board member on the Geomatics Industries Association of America. In 1996, I wrote “Applying Lessons from Factory Automation” for GIM magazine, the International Journal for Geomatics. And in 1999, I wrote a monthly column for GeoInformatics magazine, a European publication covering the geospatial information industry.

Over the last five years Sanda has worked on long term projects with clients like Trimble, GE and TransCore on GPS, logistics and mobile asset tracking. And as this blog testifies, I maintain an ongoing interest in smart cars and intelligent transportation systems.

While the U.S. has been supporting ITS research for over a decade. The best online graphics and videos I found were from Europe. The above ITS overview and the below video are from European research groups.

Testing intelligent vehicles across European roads video

This video is a  demonstration of the depth of  Europe’s commitment to tackling today’s challenges of increased demand for mobility, the automotive industry has joined forces with various universities, research centres and other stakeholders, in a smart drive to test eight different high-tech intelligent in-vehicle technologies on real roads, with real drivers.

There are a number of online and print publications that cover ITS. I provide a list of resources at the end of this intro. My perspective on ITS is influenced by not only my history in factory automation, autonomous vehicles and intelligent systems, it is also influenced by my bias for individual versus public transportation solutions and small, localized solutions using social media and people based technology as opposed to big government infrastructure solutions.

Public transportation, telecommuting and carpooling alternatives can help reduce congestion and will certainly play an important role in future transportation solutions. I think that like future energy solutions, transportation systems ought to be tailored to solve regional and even local environments. In other words it shouldn’t be a one size fits all type solution.

I like the idea of electric cars for small towns like Corvallis and other Willamette Valley cities. EVs also make sense in urban centers like Portland. In both cases, people generally commute short distances carrying light loads. EVs are not as appropriate for the folks in Bend and Pendleton where they have to drive further, carrying more stuff in larger vehicles. And they will not have ready access to recharging stations due to lesser population densities.

Alternative energy solutions need to take into account regional environments. Oregon is water rich and sunshine poor a good part of the year, as compared to Arizona which is sunshine rich and water weak year-round. Hydro power makes more sense here and solar power more sense there. Intelligent transportation systems are about implementation of smart communication, control and command technologies in appropriate ways to solve local and regional traffic challenges. Good applications engineering is about using the best tools for the job. It requires a deep understanding the job requirements, the customer’s needs and desires, and using the most cost effective, sustainable solution for the project.

Over the next few weeks I will be discussing an array of advanced technologies and systems that will be employed in ITS solutions. You will learn how innovative application of ITS can reduce traffic congestion and slash fuel consumption while increasing a couple of the great American freedoms, mobile independence and the  joy of driving.

Happy trails to you!

Selected ITS resources

Please let me know if you know of other related sites.

California PATH was established in 1986. It is administered by the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS)University of California, Berkeley

Caltrans – ITS Architecture Documents and Websites

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) produces globally-applicable standards for Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), including fixed, mobile, radio, converged, broadcast and internet technologies.

The ITS Society advances the theoretical, experimental, and operational aspects of Electrical Engineering and Information Technologies as applied to ITS.

The Intelligent Transportation Society of Oregon (ITS Oregon) is a volunteer organization whose members foster ITS deployment through partnership building, education and outreach.

ITE Journal is published monthly by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

OSU – The Kiewit Center for Infrastructure and Transportation was initially established in 1962 as the Transportation Research Institute

PDE Publications Inc.

Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) • U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT)

Major ITS Organizations

PSU – Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium

ITS/Operations Resource Guide 2009

Telematics Update

UW – RITA, Transportation Northwest at the University of Washington is a Regional University Transportation Center (UTC) administered by the United States Department of Transportation through its Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA)

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Ling permalink
    January 17, 2011 8:45 am

    Can you help me with a problem.
    Professor asked us what is the original name of ITS.
    He said before ITS, we called it IVHS, and before this one, there was still another one.
    So, can you tell me what’s the first/original name of ITS???
    With many thanks~!~!~!

    • January 17, 2011 10:06 am


      I’m not sure what your Prof is looking for but it could be Automated Highway System. Funny that it’s related to my recent posts on the 1939 NY World’s Fair.

      Small world – unless you’re on foot… Jerry

      See Wikipedia on AHS:
      Futurama was an exhibit/ride at the 1939 New York World’s Fair designed by Norman Bel Geddes that tried to show the world 20 years into the future (1959–1960), including automated highways and vast suburbs. The exhibit was sponsored by the General Motors Corporation. Compared to other “visions of the future,” Bel Geddes’ was rather achievable—the most advanced technology posited was the automated highway system, of which GM did indeed build a working prototype by 1960.[1]

      • Ling permalink
        January 17, 2011 10:41 am

        Thanks a lot~!~!~!

        I was just not quite sure about the history of the development of ITS before 1980s. Resources about ITS/IVHS before 1980 is rare.

        Your paper in this website is very helpful

  2. April 18, 2011 2:50 pm

    Thanks man i’ve learned alot.

  3. January 9, 2013 3:05 am


    I had a query like whats the importance of tele communication in Intelligent Transportation System.

    • January 10, 2013 2:32 pm

      Snigdha Rao,

      Smart systems become more powerful and useful when they communicate interactively with vehicles, control devices, traffic controlers and drivers. Telematics and telecom raise the overall system intelligence similar to Metcalfe’s Law that states the potential value of a communications network increases exponentially with the number of connections.

      To learn more about the importance of ITS see my interview with Scott Belcher: and read below.

      The ITS America association says:
      “Our nation’s transportation system is facing significant challenges, from traffic-related fatalities and injuries, congested roadways and rising gas prices to deteriorating infrastructure, increasing costs and shrinking state and federal budgets. With a growing population challenging an already strained transportation system, we cannot simply continue to increase the capacity of the current transportation system enough to meet demand.

      ITS technologies enable us to make better use of the transportation network we already have while building smarter infrastructure to meet future demands. More importantly, when ITS technologies are deployed, it helps to save lives, time, and money and sustain the environment.”


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