Academics pave way for e-truckies

The global uptake of e-business is cranking up the pressure on Australia's transport industry facilitating moves to tighten supply chain links, according to a joint CSIRO and Queensland University of Technology report.

By 2005, e-commerce could generate a 50 per cent increase in intercity freight trips and a potential 100 per cent increase in kilometres travelled by light commercial vehicles in major cities.

QUT School of Civil Engineering Professor Luis Ferreira said e-commerce is forcing expectations for "right now" deliveries because e-commerce is allowing business to access products from anywhere in the world.

"E-commerce uptake could alter the transport industry as more businesses switch to companies able to handle the entire supply chain; interconnectivity between customers and operators becomes crucial for business success and pressure increases for on-demand transport services," he said.

"These changes are going to place pressure on the transport system in areas such as congestion, emissions, noise and urban amenity. There is also the potential for the transport system to act as a restraint on the capacity of businesses to access markets opened up by e-commerce."

The CSIRO, in an attempt to address some of the problems that arise on busier roads, developed ITS Connect (Intelligent Transport System), applying the same philosophies to the nation's highways that are behind the streamlined information highway.

With the transport industry's growth it also becomes more vertically integrated as traditional freight companies go into different modes of transport in an attempt to control and streamline the whole supply-chain process from end to end.

Transporters are also increasingly looking to e-business solutions to streamline the document trail.

ITS Connect fits in by helping the large number of Australia's small freight operators - that don't have a huge amount of cash to upgrade - get back into the chain, according to James Lawson, project director for ITS Connect, CSIRO division of building, construction and engineering.

ITS Connect, which is currently seeking the support of industry partners, provides cost-efficient technology solutions to address issues resulting from freight movement in urban and rural areas. The system uses smart technologies such as vehicle tracking devices and real-time information services linked to traffic management, freight dispatch systems and environmental management technologies and will cut down the paperwork at interchange points, where freight meets freight, or ship or plane.

"ITS Connect is focused on bringing the vehicle into the chain and making a simple link in an intelligent chain a little smarter," said Lawson. "It makes smart trucks."

The CSIRO will establish a research and development project to develop technologies for the freight industry with a view to establishing a spin-off company to bring them to market as soon as possible.

ITS Connect will begin field trials in late 2002 and take the technology to market in 2003/4.

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