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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Public transport industry is a rapidly transforming business sector where sustenance is ensured by embracing change and fulfilling customer expectations. Now more than ever, it is imperative to deliver quality services and have control over operations for significant savings and improved productivity. However, lack of technology solutions continue to mount challenges for fleet operators.

In this direction, Cloud Amber is now offering Icarus Fleet Management Solution, a complimentary mobile, tablet & desktop solution to obtain vehicle information in real-time. It is free and does not require any additional hardware.

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Posted by on in Development

Implementing the most appropriate release strategy for a product is a tricky business. Release too slowly and users get frustrated with features not being updated and bugs fixed. Release too quickly and you spend all of your time testing or fixing bugs which should have been picked up in testing.

For our mature products like Argonaut, Voyager, Data Broker we are continuing our approximate 2 month release cycle. The releases include key features and bug fixes all rolled in together, using our waterfall mechanism (requirements, design, development, testing, trial, release).

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Posted by on in Development

Single Points of Failure I have suffered at the hands of two single points of failure this week and I couldn't do anything about either of them, however both were easily avoidable if not for a modest amount of investment. For those of you unfamiliar with the term 'single point of failure' it is where a critical information flow, business process, system or service fails and there is inadequate provision for dealing such a event. Let me explain what happened to us.

We process DAIP or bus positions in real time for buses running in Bristol, Bath and Birmingham. The data from the buses is transmitted over the mobile data network, through the data aggrigator and then terminates on our customers network. We have a small piece of software we call and 'end point' which effectively acts as a proxy and forwards the message on to our Icarus cloud. The end point is installed on one our customers virtualised servers in their hosted environment. Unfortunately the area is prone to power cuts and on Thursday the servers and the environment was up and down all day. Now for our system, this is such a small and insignificant piece of software, when the loss of data occurred we scratched our heads as the usual suspects were all still working. It was only when we ruled out all of the heavyweight business processing apps we realised that one of the few SPoF's we have was indeed living up to it's name.

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Posted by on in Development

From the beginning of Cloud Amber's history I have always believed in the benefits of a thin client model for user interface. I chose that path because it means in order to login and use all of the features of all our products, you simply need a web browser and internet connection. The question then comes around what browser to use and which ones to support and this is where it gets tricky.

In order for browsers to render content in the same way there needs to be a standard for the data which is downloaded. Currently most sites and all of ours are built off XHTML or HTML4 and is widely supported by old and new versions of Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari. XHTML has been around for quite some time now and the World Wide Web Consortium (w3c for short) is in the final throws of releasing a new and updated version of the core standard and it is called HTML5. HTML5 is usually used in conjunction with two other browser technologies - CSS (for styling the pages) and JavaScript (to provide interactivity and advanced features). As a result, "HTML5" tends be used as a shorthand for the HTML5/CSS3/JavaScript combination of technologies and when I use HTML5, I also mean HTML5, CSS3 & JavaScript.

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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.

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Posted by on in Development

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 level.

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Posted by on in Development

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 - old agenda.

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 Kent.

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Tagged in: RTIG Standard UTMC Workshop
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Posted by on in Commercial

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 this!

Highways Agency

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Posted by on in Commercial

(no relation!)

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 computing."

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Tagged in: Cloud UTMC
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Posted by on in Development

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.

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Tagged in: Modelling UTMC
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Posted by on in Development

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.

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Tagged in: CORBA UTMC XML
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Posted by on in Development

Dates and calendars... they been around for a while. There are also many different types. We use the Gregorian calendar here in the western world. The Persian calendar is used in Iran and Afghanistan. The Islamic calendar is used by most non-Persian Muslims worldwide. The Chinese, Hebrew, Hindu, and Julian calendars are widely used for religious and/or social purposes. The Ethiopian calendar or Ethiopic calendar is the principal calendar used in Ethiopia and Eritrea. In Thailand, where the Thai solar calendar is used, the months and days have adopted the western standard, although the years are still based on the traditional Buddhist calendar.

Given the fact the UK uses the Gregorian, connecting to a common database and using a date should be easy right? "Ah" I hear you cry, but there are many different formats for a date. Indeed there are. This picture shows the different date formats used throughout the world:

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Tagged in: Date Standard UTMC
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Posted by on in Finance

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.

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Tagged in: UDG UTMC
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Posted by on in Development

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. 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.

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Posted by on in Development

Bradford recently came out with a maintenance contract for their 300+ traffic signals.

Unfortunately their existing contractor has a fault management system (FMS) that does not allow two way communications. As a result, a key requirement for their new maintenance contract is for the FMS used within the maintenance contract is integrated and synchronised with their existing UTMC common database.

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Tagged in: FMS UTMC
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Posted by on in Development

CORBA is a mechanism in software for normalising the method-call semantics between application objects that reside either in the same address space (application) or remote address space (same host, or remote host on a network).

In the UTMC context, the technical standard defines a CORBA interface to and from the UTMC common database. Anyone interested in UTMC and CORBA should read this article on the Rise and Fall of CORBA.

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Tagged in: CORBA UTMC
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