Thursday, September 30, 2010

UTMS Japan Conference at UN University

Attending the UTMS Conference gave me a new appreciation for diplomacy. The presentations for the conference were given at the United Nations University building here in Tokyo. The auditorium had translators working busily as the presenters gave their Powerpoint sessions, so I was in luck. There was a one ear listening device that allowed me to follow the information quite easily. They also provided translated slides in a printed format, which was also helpful. In all, I have found the Japanese very accomodating, which made the time engaging because we share challenges as transportation professionals. I was very fortunate to have a few presentations in advance of mine to learn about what sorts of things they are working on at Saitama University and the National Policy Agency of Japan. One particular item of interest is that the Police agencies are the operators of the traffic signal system and the private companies are involved in the product development and supporting those Police Agencies in the delivery of transportation services. This is very different than in the U.S. where the Department of Transportation is mostly engineers and other public agency staff that are not necessarily run like the police. My hosts at UTMS are from the private sector and over dinner I learned a lot more about the makeup of UTMS. Best I can tell, it is very similar to our Transportation Research Board, yet the staff of the agency appear to be paid by the private companies. I imagine some of this is lost in translation.
I didn't ask for my host to take a picture while I was providing the presentation, but once I was complete, I did stop after a break and get a quick photo. The auditorium was quite large (over 300 people) and I found the stage with the lighting a bit daunting, but not overly so. Surely, no one was going to challenge what I was saying because it would be a one way communication. Yet, I tried to be somewhat provocative suggesting that in Portland we're aggressively working on Climate Change. This was actually acknowledged by the professor at Saitama University who noted Portland's work on promotion of bicycle travel and his own observations that the younger population in Japan is more open to carsharing and less likely to own a car.
Following the presentations, there was a panel discussion regarding the "Expectations of Cooperative Systems", which meant how would data from on board automobile units be used in traffic control and combined with the data we recieve from sensors that are currently in the transportation infrastructure.
In Japan, they have invested considerably in infrared sensors that are mounted above the travel lanes. We have a lot of different applications in the U.S. that we might not be doing very well with any of them. Yet, it wasn't clear how well the infrared was serving them here and some of the research was describing the use of Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) to support additional functions that were desired from the traffic control system. Obviously, there's a lot of geeky considerations going on in my head while I am taking pictures of various things throughout the city streets.
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