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New ERP System Will Draw On Tech Advances, Lower Cost

Source: Today Online

18 October 2014

LTA calls tender for next generation ERP system

Challenges facing next-gen electronic road pricing 
system surmountable if right investments are made, says expert.

By 2020, when the new Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system using satellite positioning technology is in place, it will be about two decades since the idea of a “next-generation” ERP system was first mooted here by the authorities.

Over that period, the accuracy of the Global Positioning System (GPS) has improved tremendously, making it viable for implementation. Government tests in 2006 showed the margin of error in certain areas was up to 50m. Today, sub-metre accuracy is attainable, industry players told TODAY.

The maturing of technology also means that such systems are now less costly. However, some limitations — such as reduced accuracy due to an urbanised landscape — still have to be overcome, said experts.

Tapping on satellites for road pricing is an idea the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has been exploring for years. In 2006, the LTA tested the accuracy of the GPS as a means of electronically collecting toll fares, but the large margin of error was a major issue. A trial in 2007 found that the accuracy of satellite tracking in open areas, such as highways, was above 90 per cent. However, in the city centre, this figure was only around 30 per cent. When it called for a system-evaluation test in June 2011, the LTA cautioned that a new generation ERP system was “still some years away”.

After an 18-month trial that concluded in December 2012, in which four consortia submitted proposals after having undertaken various test solutions, the LTA announced early this month that such a system is finally technologically feasible.

A tender has been called, shortlisting three companies to develop a second-generation ERP system based on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) technology, which uses satellites to pinpoint a user’s geographic location.

Mr Andrew Chow, president of ST Electronics (Info-Comm Systems), one of the shortlisted companies, pointed out that GPS accuracy has improved from 15m in the past to about 3m to 5m today.

Moreover, sub-metre accuracy can be achieved using augmented technologies. For example, a device can be installed to transmit a pulse from a fixed location to aid navigation, a technique known as beaconing.

A person’s position can also be ascertained through dead reckoning, which uses the person’s previously determined position to pinpoint where he moved to, based on his estimated speed over the elapsed time and course.

Mr Pankaj Lunia, IBM Singapore’s ASEAN industry leader for Intelligent Transportation and Public Safety, said GPS-based navigation was originally meant for military purposes, hence developments to improve accuracy for commercial use was limited due to military restrictions.

But the development of open and non-proprietary technologies over the past decade or so has contributed to reducing costs significantly.

There are also more satellites now than before. “The more visible you are to a greater number of satellites (the more it) improves the accuracy of your calculated position ... A minimum of four satellites are required to ensure reasonable accuracy,” he said.

As of December 2012, there were 36 satellites forming a GPS constellation, which means that about nine satellites are visible from any given place on earth at any point in time, he added.

Challenges remain — GPS signals are often unavailable in expressway tunnels, underground car parks or multi-storey car parks, or have reduced accuracy due to signals bouncing off tall buildings, in what is known as an “urban canyon”.

But experts say ground-based systems can be used as well to ensure position accuracy. For example, smartphone users can use a Wi-Fi connection and Bluetooth to improve location accuracy, said Mr Lunia.

Dr Park Byung-joon, an urban transport management expert at SIM University, said the challenges are surmountable if the right investments are made.

“If you solely base (data) on satellite systems, the error figure can be quite huge ... but now, we have more satellites covering and also the ground-based augmentation systems are very well developed,” he said.

For example, more relay antennas could be installed, but it would be costly. “If we want, it can be as accurate as 10cm,” he said. “The technology for making it as accurate as possible is there; the question is whether we’ll be willing to pay the price to have them.”

As for privacy concerns, experts say this is not an issue. With the advancements in technology, firms are able to “completely anonymise the geo-location data to ensure people’s privacy”, said Mr Lunia.

Mr Chow added: “In today’s context, it is no different from turning on the GPS positioning on your smartphone or using location-based services from the various telco operators.”