The C-MobILE interviews with the project partners look at progresses and different aspects of the C-MobILE technology and solutions for a smart and efficient deployment of C-ITS services in Europe. This month, we talk to Olatz Iparraguirre, CEIT Bilbao DS leader. At the moment her main research lines are focused on intelligent vehicles and C-ITS systems: V2X communications, BigData analysis and the application of computer vision techniques for road monitoring.

What are the priorities for a city like Bilbao in terms of improving safety, traffic management and in general mobility for road users?

The Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan of Bilbao (2015-2030) is committed with “Vision Zero” of accidents inside the city. It is putting an effort to analyse every accident, improve city infrastructure and introduce the bicycle as a mean of transport under conditions that guarantee the coexistence, equality and safety of all competing mobility systems in the city.
Thus, as of September 2020, it is forbidden to drive around the city at more than 30 km/h. This new rule aim at decreasing accidents but also emissions and noise. Furthermore, it will undoubtedly benefit those people who choose another means of transport to get to work or to move around the city, such as bicycles or buses.
However, this important change needs additional strategies to improve the mobility of Vulnerable Road Users (improvement of pavements, cycle path connectivity traffic light management and vertical mobility) and the quality of the urban transport services offered to citizens.
Therefore, one of the priorities is digitalisation. Bilbao has developed an open data platform (Co-Cities project) that offers static and dynamic information on public transport, traffic conditions and on-street parking. Moreover, at C-Mobile we try to get the most out of this data to offer new services to citizens to improve road safety and traffic efficiency.

Why the participation in such projects is important for research institutions? What are the main benefits in working with an international consortium of public and private partners?

The duration of this type of project allows us to design, develop and implement innovative solutions that are perhaps more difficult to do in other more limited projects. Therefore, it also allows us to generate knowledge that could lead to technological assets in the future. It is also a great opportunity to contact and make our centre known to international and local companies and organisations. In this way, we can take our pulse and align ourselves with what the sector demands and design our future solutions. But, without a doubt, one of the greatest benefits of these projects is the boost they give to the meeting and cooperation between the public and private sectors that are key to the new mobility.

What is the most exciting and innovative aspect of C-MobILE for you?

In recent years the bicycle has been the “boom” of the city of Bilbao where only 11% of citizens choose private vehicle. Moreover, in 2019, with the introduction of a new fleet of over 500 electric bicycles for shared use, bicycles have become the protagonist. In addition, the covid-19 pandemic increased this trend in all European cities. Therefore, I believe that right now the biggest contribution that C-Mobile makes to the city is surely the “Blind Spot Detection service” that puts the focus on the safety of cyclists at the most complex junctions where they share the path with other vehicles.

Bilbao has developed four independent applications for the five services deployed in the city; can you explain why you adopted this approach? What are the advantages?

We have used a different approach than other cities in the project. This plan arises at the beginning of the project from the different needs we identified in the city and the current existing infrastructure. We decided to create a specific application for cyclists as they have different needs compared to other road users, and developed the first application for collision risk warning. The second app or service relates to the motorway parking availability, this case focus on a specific type of user such as drivers of industrial vehicles. On the other hand, Bilbao has also developed a service for urban parking availability, and the city council is committed to adding this service to its official on-street parking payment application in the near future.
It was, therefore, necessary to separate this proof of concept service from the other two services that are included in a single application for road works and road hazards warning of any driver that goes into the urban area of Bilbao.

What has been the biggest impact and challenge of the COVID pandemic on the deployment plans for Bilbao? How did you overcome it / liaised with it?

The total lockdown came in March, just when all the cities were ready to launch for the first time the developments we had prepared as part of the whole project. This was a hard blow since all C-MobILE deployments focuses on mobility, which was highly restricted due to the covid-19 pandemic. The main challenge in this situation was the dissemination and engagement of users. People move less, and if they do, many have changed or adapted their habits. Moreover, restrictions are unsteady and including a new, unknown, system to their is not a priority.
Therefore, the strategy we are following in Bilbao is to seek the commitment of the city’s services such as bus fleets or city council vehicles that are circulating regardless of the restrictions. This allows us to collect a minimum of data for the validation of the services. We hope that soon this situation will be solved and citizens will be able to enjoy and benefit from the new C-ITS services that Bilbao offers them.

Olatz Iparraguirre received the Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Electronics and Automatic Engineering from the University of the Basque Country (UPV – EHU) in 2015 and she completed the Master’s degree in Computer Engineering and Intelligent Systems from the same university in 2018. In 2015, she joined the Transport and Sustainable Mobility group at CEIT-BRTA as a research assistant in the Transport and Energy Division. At the same time, she is currently a PhD student at the University of Navarra.

Her main research lines are focused on intelligent vehicles and C-ITS systems: V2X communications, BigData analysis and the application of computer vision techniques for road monitoring.