I apologise in advance for this slight rant. Some things get
under my nerves and this is one of them.
In 1997 when UTMC was established, local authorities were
isolated islands whom rarely spoke to one another. With email, web
and initiatives from local and central government, transport is now
seen as an integrated multi modal network, all reliant on one
another in order to get along. James and I both believe that UTMC
should not just be Urban and Traffic but Unified and Transport. To
this end we have brought many innovations and products to the
market and we believe really moved the game on in a number of key
areas, one of them being linking systems.
Back in 2006, within months of operating, Cloud Amber had linked
our first system together. We did this in a fully UTMC compliant
method using full UTMC protocols. The technical minded amongst you
may wonder how this was done without somehow changing the standard.
Well, that's where our intelligence comes in to play. I am not
going to divulge exactly how we do it as our competitors will then
find something else to copy! However with cleaver logic, software,
security and permissions it is perfectly possible to do so each sub
system, system, user and interface remains completely compliant,
the database is fully compliant and no one is any the wiser! Cloud
Amber now have over 20 systems linked to date, including Poole
Bournemouth, Dorset, Portsmouth, Southampton, Hampshire, Reading,
Windsor and Maidenhead, Buckinghamshire... need I go on...
If anyone tells you linking UTMC systems cannot be done, or it
is hard, or it takes a long time, or it is very expensive clearly
needs to sharpen their pencil. Give me a call if you want to know
Cloud Amber's Current Linked Systems
A computer simulation, a computer model, or a computational
model is a computer program, or network of computers, that attempts
to simulate an abstract model of a particular system. Computer
simulations have become a useful part of mathematical modelling of
many natural systems in physics (computational physics),
astrophysics, chemistry and biology, human systems in economics,
psychology, and social science and in the process of engineering
new technology, to gain insight into the operation of those.
Computer simulations vary from computer programs that run a few
minutes, to network-based groups of computers running for hours, to
ongoing simulations that run for days. The scale of events being
simulated by computer simulations has far exceeded anything
possible (or perhaps even imaginable) using the traditional
paper-and-pencil mathematical modeling: over 10 years ago, a
desert-battle simulation, of one force invading another, involved
the modeling of 66,239 tanks, trucks and other vehicles on
simulated terrain around Kuwait, using multiple supercomputers in
the DoD High Performance Computer Modernization Program; a
1-billion-atom model of material deformation (2002); a
2.64-million-atom model of the complex maker of protein in all
organisms, a ribosome, in 2005; and the Blue Brain project at EPFL
(Switzerland), began in May 2005, to create the first computer
simulation of the entire human brain, right down to the molecular
In a traffic environment, modelling is concerned with predicting
and modelling the transport network, predicting flows, congestion
and other parameters using a variety of fixed and configurable data
sets and assumptions.
UTMC command and control systems concern themselves with
managing the traffic on a minute by minute basis, making decisions
based on the information available at the time.
UTMC sub-systems, such as UTC collect and process data and make
second by second decisions about how best to optimise traffic
flows, again based on the information available at that time.
If a change to the network should occur (a new street work,
incident or event) these systems have limited knowledge in which to
make appropriate changes to best manage the impact.
This blog describes how Modelling can be used in the context of
a command and control system together with UTMC sub-systems to more
effectively predict and therefore manage the impact of a change
occurring on the network.
When UTMC is put within a broader context including modelling,
we can see the relationships between the various layers in the
management of transportation systems.
Modelling & UTMC
UTMC is a technical framework specification which has been
evolving from inception in 1997. In the original specification, the
standard defined the DB schema and IDL mappings used in the CORBA
type connections. Fortunately this has now evolved in to a more
universally recognised data standard.
The UTMC specification is now split down in to logical layers
used within the system; the model, definition and implementations.
UTMC Logical Model defines the data strictures, objects and
interfaces available in a open language. There are IDL mappings, DB
schemas and XSD definitions available which define the structure of
the data and their interfaces, with the implementations of those
manifested in CORBA Object Servers, Common Database Implementations
and raw XML Data.
There are a number of data sources within a UTMC system which
would be used in a modelling context.
The network definition sources are used to describe the static
network, trunked, local and other networks dependant on the source
Real time data sources can be used to view, correlate and
interpret the current state of the network, but just as important
is any historical count and flow data that may have been collected
electronically or manually.
Other data sources describe the restrictions on the network, be
them permanent, temporary planned and temporary unplanned changes.
These sources are as diverse as bollard restrictions on a timer to
snow closing or blocking roads across a wide area.
Data Sources Grouped
It is important that any UTMC and modelling systems can
understand, interpret and use these data sources to their best
effect to ensure an accurate and reliable prediction of future
We are currently generating a great deal of interest from our
customers about modelling and integrating it in to our UTMC
systems. I think in Q2 2010 we will be in a position to start a
technical work group to define the interface specification between
UTMC and Modelling. Hopefully we can get enough interest from the
modellers to join in the party as well.
Would you like to be part of it? What would you like to see
I was one of the few to battled through the sleet and snow to
attend the joint UTMC/RTIG workshop hosted by Kent. Given the
travel disruption that has been going on the last few months I am
not surprised many decided to stay in their nice and warm office
rather than risk getting stuck on the M20 or on Maidenhead platform
indefinitely. Unfortunately some of the no-shows were speakers
themselves which meant the agenda had to get re-gigged on the fly -
The first part of the day focused on the Kent system which I
very much enjoyed. There was a little too much emphasis on
suppliers for my taste but that being said the content was
relevant, focused, to the point and well structured. I think those
of the audience not familiar with the subject matter would have
gained a great amount from it. I will be interested to hear how the
launch of the bus smart card goes and if their neighbouring
authorities will adopt a similar scheme. Clearly Medway has the
most to gain, however East Sussex also has strong links with
After lunch we all heard about how the Highways Agency is
linking Kent together with their South Eastern Regional Control
Centre in Godstone, Surrey. It is great to see this kind of
initiative happening and can only be good for the UTMC industry. I
was slightly perturbed by the inference that there was likely to be
only one or two supplier for common databases with in the HA. Given
the open nature of the industry and the standard I would hope that
there could be more competition and opportunity for young guns like
us, rather than automatically sticking with the same old same old
establishment. Competition is good for the market, good for us and
good for our customers. What is good though is the HA intend to
develop the UTMC standard further to include ramp metering and
other more trunk road based objects. I look forward to getting
stuck in to those new objects shortly.
In one of the later presentations, there was a plea from one of
the speakers to produce a RTPI object within the UTMC standard. I
must admit I was quite taken aback by this, given the work the RTIG
group have done over 10 years on RTIG XML and latterly CEN SIRI. If
you ask me, CEN SIRI is perfect for all UTMC's RTPI needs and we
should stick to that standard, rather than re-inventing another
The UTMC conference was held at Bristol this year and whilst I
have had flying visits in the past, the beauty of the city had not
truly captured my heart. Its old Victorian past is clear for all to
see with proud structures and prominent Gothic cathedral. It is
also good to see a city think about vehicles that are not just on
four wheels. Their city centre maps were very helpful in getting
around plus there were dedicated lanes for push bikes and
motorbikes can use bus lanes. If only all cities were like
The first thing that caught my eye (other than Bristol it's
self) was the recent development with the Highways Agency and UTMC.
With the HA actually putting money in to the business of UTMC I
foresee a stronger link between local and unitary and the trunk
road network. In the past the goal has sometimes been to get
traffic off of their roads and on to each others, often with
difficult consequences! What remains to be seen is how involved
they become. UTMC is partly about standards, but it is also partly
about a philosophy and a common purpose. Indeed I have even taken
to re-interpreting Urban Traffic to mean Unified Transport. Think
for a second about how one can get around. Walk, Bike, Motorbike,
Car, Van, Truck, Arctic, Bus, Coach, Light Rail and Heavy Rail. My
worry is that UTMC's already heavy bias on "Urban Traffic" will
just become "Traffic" and forget that our green and pleasant land
isn't very urban and there is more to transport than cars. Overall
I feel it is a positive move and will move UTMC forward in the next
few years in a way which hasn't happened since its inception over
10 years ago.
The final area I wanted to cover is the very exciting
development of Freeflow. Nick Knowles of Kizoom gave a great
presentation about the subject, but perhaps to the wrong audience!
The main thrust of Freeflow and his presentation is about opening
up UTMC to a wider technology audience. Whilst there may be "open
standards" and "open technologies" the current state of UTMC is far
from open. The non technical ones you might not know but UTMC
is primarily based on CORBA. CORBA was a little understood
protocol in the 70's and 80's and even less so now.
Freeflow allows data to be exchanged using XML, the internet's
language, which will open up the market to many more players.
Whilst you may think Cloud Amber and our competitors have a vested
interest in keeping UTMC closed I like to think I am different.
Anyone interested in how business based on intellectual property
can use different business models should read the excellent book by
Christopher G Pike called Virtual Monopoly (http://www.virtualmonopoly.net/).
I believe innovation is the key to success, not building barriers
in ivory towers. As a result this is an important step in UTMC's
history, it will allow further innovation, further integration and
hopefully and ultimately bring more business to the industry.
One question begs to be answered though, when will traffic
signal controllers be open?
Welcome to 2010 blog readers. As a special treat for you all I
have upgraded the blog software so it now includes spam protection!
This way all your comments won't get lost in the mêlée of rubbish
which was unfortunately posted up. I am putting together my blog
posts from the 2009 UTMC conference plus exciting developments for
the new decade.
Is there anything you would like to see discussed?
Why is compliance important? Well UTMC is a broad and wide
ranging standard which tries to encompass all of Urban Traffic. Way
back in 1997 all the systems available used proprietary protocols
and standards. Once a supplier was chosen, the authority was locked
in to the products and services from the supplier without the
opportunity to change or mix and mach without significant further
investment. As a result the Department for Transport prime funded a
research project aimed at creating a set of protocols aimed at
opening up the urban traffic market to further competition. This
has resulted in creating a industry where there is a wider choose
of suppliers and products in the market for ALL traffic management
systems. The real target was not for ANPR to talk to air quality
systems but to break the quasi monopoly that existed in the urban
traffic control (UTC) segment.
The document (and subsequent revisions) that came out of all
that effort defines a broad range of technical standards, data
objects and interface specifications. It is however far from
specific in a number of key areas, time being one of them (see
What is the Date? blog entry). In addition there is no formal
verification of the standard or any suppliers' adherence. When I
first started interfacing with all of these systems I became very
frustrated with the differences that existed with all of the
implementations. To this end a "UTMC Compliance Analyser" was
created and offered to the industry as a free and open source
validation tool. It is a shame this wasn't taken up and we are
still left with the position where everyone claims they are
compliant whist asserting all of their competitors are
non-compliant. What is the point of a non-verifiable standard? Very
little if you ask me.
Remember the real driver behind UTMC, the UTC monopoly? Well it
still exists today. The supplier which implements the control
system still has a 100% monopoly on on-street controllers and other
such equipment. Yes UTMC allows you to add remote monitoring
systems (RMS) using UTMC but when the fault management system the
UTC supplier uses doesn't allow the input of faults through UTMC,
therefore meaning all RMS faults can never be actioned, it kind of
makes a mockery of the whole thing.
Of course I am trying to break through these ridiculous barriers
and change the incumbent suppliers but the going is slow and tough.
I just wish sometimes that the industry would not sit back on its
"well we have standards" laurels and make sure the imitative is
driven through in to the real world. I can only do so much, but if
you start shouting too loudly, everyone ignores you!
I have been thinking how the traffic world would benefit from
Windows Azure, or any cloud based operating system for that matter.
For those of you not at the bleeding edge of these things, cloud
computing is a computing paradigm in which tasks are assigned to a
combination of connections, software and services accessed over a
network. This network of servers and connections is collectively
known as "the cloud." Computing at the scale of the cloud
allows users to access supercomputer-level power. Using a thin
client or other access point, like an iPhone, BlackBerry or laptop,
users can reach into the cloud for resources as they need them. For
this reason, cloud computing has also been described as "on-demand
This vast processing power is made possible though distributed,
large-scale cluster computing, often in concert with server
virtualisation software, and parallel processing. Cloud computing
can be contrasted with the traditional desktop computing model,
where the resources of a single desktop computer are used to
complete tasks, and an expansion of the client/server model.
This is where I see it has some real benefits. Cloud computing
is often used to sort through enormous amounts of data. In fact,
Google has an initial edge in cloud computing precisely because of
its need to produce instant, accurate results for millions of
incoming search inquires every day, parsing through the terabytes
of Internet data cached on its servers. Google's approach has been
to design and manufacture hundreds of thousands of its own servers
from commodity components, connecting relatively inexpensive
processors in parallel to create an immensely powerful, scalable
system. Google Apps, Maps and Gmail are all based in the cloud.
In many ways, however, cloud computing is simply a buzzword used
to repackage grid computing and utility computing, both of which
have existed for decades. Like grid computing, cloud computing
requires the use of software that can divide and distribute
components of a program to thousands of computers. New advances in
processors, virtualisation technology, disk storage, broadband
Internet access and fast, inexpensive servers have all combined to
make cloud computing a compelling paradigm.
Using the cloud approach our Argonaut product can easily be
incorporated in to a Silverlight based control utilising business
and data services through the cloud. This would mean a complete
reversal of a traditional cost model where customers can be billed
based upon server utilisation, processing power used or bandwidth
consumed. As a result, cloud computing has the potential to upend
the UTMC industry entirely, as applications are purchased, licensed
and run over the network instead of a user's desktop.
Is the industry ready? I'm not so sure.
There are a number of products on the market that enable the
modelling of traffic using computer simulation techniques. These
take in count and origin-destination survey data, crunch lots of
numbers and come up with some answers about current and predicted
traffic congestion. I am not currently aware of any UTMC
system connected to a modelling system… until now!
I am working with Oxfordshire in creating a one way
interface in to modelling systems so their models can benefit from
all of the RTPI, AVL, ANPR and SCOOT data available in their
system. This is pretty exciting stuff and I am looking forward to
taking the node level data set and making sure the model is updated
with accurate and reliable data.
The really exciting stuff is probably going to happen in the new
year where we can start exchanging data in both directions, in real
time! To this end at the UTMC conference in December we are going
to get together some interested parties and start putting together
an interface to achieve the integration.
Exciting stuff for us techy geeks and should prove very useful
for the end user as well!
I attended the UTMC technical workshop in Hammersmith this last
week to discuss the technical interface between a ANPR camera and a
UTMC system. I was joined by representatives from PIPs, CRS and CA
Systems and the meeting was hosted and chaired by Halcrow.
It was a positive session with everyone contributing their
experience and expertise. There are 2 key outputs from the session
I am particularly excited about. The first key output is raw
vehicle registration numbers (VRNs) and secondly the format is in
eXtensible Mark-up Language or XML. I offered my services to help
hone the ideas and concepts coming out from the meeting and honing
this in to a document / UML for wider circulation.
With these two innovations it will now be simpler and easier to
integrate ANPR in to our UTMC system in a unified and coherent
fashion. Guess what, dates are in ISO
8601 as well!
Those of you who realise there is life outside of traffic
signals and VMS displays may have heard of RTIG or the Real Time
Information Group! RTIG was established in 2000 to provide a focus
for all those involved in UK bus RTI. RTIG has a wide membership
drawn from UK local authorities, bus operators and system
suppliers, with representatives from Government and other key
industry groups. Members have to pay a mighty £1,400 per year for
2008/2009. So what does one get for this? Well RTIG outline a
series of benefits, mostly centred on
attending work shops and getting involved in the standard.
It looks like UTMC is going the same way with a formalised
membership for organisations. In principle I support this, there is
a ambitious business plan and I hope it does well. However there is
a sticking point, the price. £1,800 is a lot of money to ask a
small company to cough up. Sure for the large margin multi
nationals that dominate UTMC it is mere chicken feed but for a
small growing company, it is money that would otherwise be spent on
furthering the product.
Fortunately there is the opportunity to give feedback before the
final decision is made. I intend to put forward the concept of a
sliding scale of membership dependant on the size of company. This
would mean the large multi 'large margin' nationals can pay a more
representative slice of their revenue to be part of the industry,
whilst small business can continue to invest all monies in their
product and future. I urge all to do the same.
By the way, the closing deadline for comments is 10 October