In the final episode of ITS Australia's podcast series from the 2021 ITS World Congress in Hamburg, Germany, Matt Harrison, Communications Manager at ITS Australia speaks with Knut Evensen, Chief Technologist at Q-Free ASA.
Matt: Hi, everyone. I'm Matt Harrison, the Communications Manager here at ITS Australia. Over the past week, the ITS World Congress has been held in Hamburg, Germany and like many of you, I would have loved to be there in Hamburg reconnecting with our colleagues from across the globe but that will have to wait until next year in Los Angeles. This week, we've taken the opportunity to speak to some of our friends and partners who've been able to attend the Congress to hear about what they've seen and what they've heard. Today I'm pleased to speak with Knut Evensen. Knut is the Chief Technologist at Q-Free ASA. Q-Free is a long-standing member of ITS Australia welcome Knut.
Knut: Good evening.
Matt: Hello Knut. How are you?
Knut: Excellent. And you?
Matt: I'm doing very well. Thank you. I'm doing very well. It's been a pretty challenging couple of years across the globe and that’s certainly been our experience here in Australia and still is. Though we try to stay connected like we are today here on Zoom, we don't always get to stay up to date about what's happening with our friends in Europe and across the globe. So perhaps to start, maybe you could give us a quick update about how things are going there in Norway.
Knut: Well, we opened up fully, meaning removed all restrictions three weeks ago now. So things are returning to normal. Actually, it's returning surprisingly quickly to normal. In general, I think that people are feeling quite okay and the infection numbers are not increasing. I sincerely hope we’re over the bump, now.
Matt: I sincerely hope that that is our experience here in Australia, too. I think we're probably a few weeks away from having the same experience but it’s something we’re certainly very much looking forward to. So, to the topic at hand, generally speaking, what was it like to be back at an ITS World Congress, to be back face to face with our colleagues from all over the globe, and to be doing something that approaches business as usual.
Knut: In one single word, it would be super. Talking a little bit more about that, the feeling I think all around was a feeling of energy. Of now we are really back again and things are moving. That was incredible, there was an energy in everyone, I met, positiveness. So I think this was a really, really good start of the ITS world returning to normal.
Matt: That's really great to hear, we're looking forward very much to getting to Los Angeles next year, so that we can participate as well. I know that the World Congress had a number of topics that were featured this year. What were some of the themes, and some of the discussions, and some of the ideas that particularly resonated with you?
Knut: Of course, we will always have a certain level of confirmation bias in what we see and hear. Mostly my speeches were on cybersecurity. There I met with people from the European Commission, and so on, that are operating the European side of this. That was quite good because it's been ongoing. It's been operational all through the pandemic. We are where we need to be. Now it's just a matter of going ahead to the next stage, which is full commercial operation. So that was the focus on that side.
My other hat that I spent quite a bit on is in standardization. I'm leading a group called Mobility Integration, meaning, how do we fit all the pieces of the overall mobility picture together. Also there, we had a lot of new actors. Maybe I should talk a little bit about that. The ITS World Congress this year was obviously quite different from previous ones. I think I've been to all of them since the start, a long time ago. But this year the organizer had a challenge in that 10, 11 days before the start, there were 4 or 5000 registered. That made people very anxious because this is a costly event and you need some income to run it. On Monday, it was 14,000 registered. Meaning that there was a lot of actors that were waiting until the last minute to register. These actors were mainly small ones, or big ones, sending 2, 3, 4 people. But many, many new ones. Many new ones in the mobility arena, startups, and so on. That also creates a different energy into the ITS Congress and I talked to many people from small companies that have great ideas. So if I could say something, then it was a shift from the larger big actors that only sent one or two or were totally absent. Also government actors. To startups and smaller companies who are looking into mobility and where is this going? How do we get more green in transport? How do we secure transport? How do we use the smartphone in a smarter way? Lots of ideas around that so my hat with mobility integration was very happy with this event as well.
Matt: I know that standardization and harmonization is a really key concern for us here at ITS Australia and amongst the Australian industry generally. Is there any advice from the work that you've done that you could perhaps extend to us?
Knut: The obvious one is to get back and involved as soon as possible because the world hasn't been standing still, but now with things opening up, it will accelerate. No doubt about that. I know you have an event in April and I hope to get there actually and talk to some of my friends in Australia. I tried also to be in all the Australian events in the last few years. The more important thing is that the government sector still remains part of the International side. We are doing quite a bit between Europe, European countries and the US and Japan, where Australia traditionally have been a strong participant. So getting back there, getting into the saddle as soon as possible is the best advice I can give.
Matt: One of the things that I know to be—perhaps not unusual—but certainly remarkable about Q-Free is that from tolling to vehicle classification systems, to cyclist and pedestrian monitoring, Q-Free works across a really tremendous breadth of ITS systems and technologies. A lot of the conversation that I've been hearing coming out of the World Congress, just this last week, from all different organizations seems to focus around the role of the transport sector and environmental sustainability. And that's really never seemed more urgent than it does right now. So I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about how Q-Free is working towards that particular goal across all of its many different technologies.
Knut: Yeah, that is one of our pillars that you will see on our homepage. Q-Clean is absolutely a mantra. I fully agree with you that the focus has moved over to sustainability and to “How can ITS help the world decarbonize and get cleaner?”. There are several things we are doing. Of course, the core technology that we are dealing with has that as a major target in any case. That's tolling and traffic management and cycle counters and all these are pointing in that direction.
Since I am leading a small innovation group, we are focusing on a new generation of ITS stations. We already have tested some of these in Australia, since the last time Australia held the ITS World Congress down in Melbourne. We showcased this technology then, now there is a new generation coming up that is—as always—smaller, faster, lower cost and all the other good things. What we're trying to do with that one is get more environmental type services inside. As an example, during the pandemic, we have done work here in Norway. We have a relatively large-scale pilot about to go live with about 200 vehicles with this type of technology, doing electronic road pricing, meaning kilometre-based tolling with all kinds of environmental parameters, and different sounds in the city, and protecting historical centres and all that. We also focused on one other thing that we are very much focused on in Europe now. And that's privacy. Combining a tolling system that registers how much you are travelling, where you're travelling, when you're travelling, and at the same time keeping that GDPR compliant, that the authorities say that the privacy is good. It is difficult but we do have a new solution that the data inspection authorities have approved. They say yes, this is exactly how to do it. We're quite proud about that. We certainly hope that Australia would be willing to have a look at this and to perhaps pilot this downunder as well.
Matt: Absolutely. Between privacy and sustainability, it sounds like Q-Free is trying to address two of the very key concerns of modern-day life. Is there anything else that you'd like to say about this the last week: what you’ve seen and what you did?
Knut: Well, only to strengthen the message that the large organizations are slow to move. That's probably why we saw that some of the governments and super big actors in this field were either totally absent or only sent one or two persons. Also, some of the newcomers, the startups, were there really in force and came in at the last minute. It is a message that I think, points the way forward. Also for the coming ITS events that there is new energy, there are new actors, there is a whole set of new priorities coming in. I'm very excited about this. I'm very excited—in my particular hat of mobility integration—that this points the way to where we need to go.
Matt: I think that if we have the experience here at ITS Australia next year of our events having such a significant portion of the attendees register within the last couple of days, our events manager is going to have a hard heart attack for the first thing. But it's going to make quite an exciting year. So I really hope that perhaps not that is the case, but I hope that we see a big and robust attendance next year, and perhaps we will get to see you down here in Australia next year as well.
Knut: Yeah, now, I certainly can second that. I believe this will normalize that this was an exceptional case where people were looking, will they go, won't they go? And then the majority decided, yes, this is the time to start.
Matt: I think it is high time that we get back to business. Well, with that said, thank you very, very much for joining us Knut. I will let you get on with the day. I hope it's a good one.