Infrastructure encompasses all the fundamental facilities serving a country, including traditional physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railways, but also digital infrastructures such as the electrical grid and mobile telecommunication networks. All these physical and digital infrastructures are growing increasingly intertwined and are becoming both physical and digital: cyber-physical. The enormous diversity in infrastructure systems that all have digital and physical components means the theme of Study Tour Shift is rather broad. This gives us the opportunity to explore many different topics and technologies. The countries the study tour will visit, South Korea and Japan, are both on the forefront of these technologies and highly innovative, which should make the study tour exceptionally interesting.
Shinkansen is the official name for the well-known bullet trains in Japan. They are operated by the five Japan Railways Group companies, of which one is on the shortlist for companies to visit during the study tour. With 2764km of railways on which trains operate with speeds up to 320km/h, the Shinkansen is a perfect example of a cyber-physical infrastructure system. This rail network is completely separate from the rest of the Japanese railway network and uses a special kind of track to reduce vibrations and increase the train’s comfort levels. Advanced monitoring and control systems are in place to minimise delays and the chance of fatalities. As a result, the average train delay is only 54 seconds, including long delays by natural disasters. The record was an average 18 second delay in 1997. Over the 50-plus year history, carrying over 10 billion passengers, there have been zero passenger fatalities on the Shinkansen due to collisions or derailments. Managing such a high speed high urgency railway network has all kinds of challenges, for which many crucial IT systems are in place. We hope to explore these during a possible visit when we are in Japan.
Another example of a cyber-physical infrastructure system is the mobile telecommunications network. Currently, 4G is widespread, but South Korea wouldn’t be South Korea if they weren’t already busy deploying the next generation. In fact, during the 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korea showcased 5G in a collaboration with KT (formerly Korea Telecom) and Intel. 5G was used to facilitate features such as live camera feeds from bobsleds and multi-camera views during cross-country and ice skating events.
Autonomous vehicles were first popularised by Tesla. More and more car manufacturers are working on incorporating autonomous systems in their cars. These range from relatively simple systems like lane keep assist and autonomous parking to full-on autonomous driving like Tesla’s autopilot. However, these systems are not perfect yet and there is basically no legislation in place to facilitate autonomous vehicles. During the study tour, we will try to visit some of the world’s leading car manufacturers like Toyota, Nissan or Hyundai, who are all working on autonomous driving and collaborating with one another. South Korea has gone one step further in the process of bringing autonomous driving to the next level. In collaboration with tech companies and car manufacturers, under which Samsung, Hyundai and Kia, they opened up K-City, a miniature city specifically designed as a self-driving testing facility. It will feature numerous real-life situations such as narrow downtown roads, pedestrians and potholes.
Cyber-physical infrastructure is a very exciting field in which many technologies are being improved and many innovations are made. The three examples above are merely the tip of the iceberg of all the research and development being done in the field. While you are reading this, our participants are busy doing their own research to perhaps make that next step towards fully autonomous driving, improved vehicle-to-vehicle communication security or improved throughput of 5G in low reception areas. During the study tour we will visit universities doing their research in this field and the companies that put these technologies into practice every day. With a field advancing so quickly, would we still need a driver to bring us to our hotel when we land in South Korea?