Biggest shake-up in ITS for a generation? UTMC overhaul gets underway

20/05/2024
Dominic Browne

A major overhaul of the UTMC back-office system for running highways ITS assets is underway, co-ordinated by the professional body ARTSM and set for completion late next year.

The Association intends to facilitate widespread local authority engagement with the plans, which are being carried out in partnership with key industry players through a working sub-group.

In a statement, the ARTSM said: 'UTMC has served the traffic industry well for some years. However, it became clear pre-covid, that the UTMC systems interfaces were insufficiently robust to cater for the needs of the future and we were all frustrated at the increasing issues around interoperability.'

The ARTSM said the coding language behind the system, CORBA, was now dated and ITS operators often had to set up bespoke systems to allow their products to interface with it, increasing costs throughout the sector.

It added that the goals for the specifications for any new system would be:

  1. Use of modern technologies that provides open, secure operation with future expansion as system capabilities develop
  2. Easily adopted and maintained by current and new industry suppliers
  3. Certified operation to confirm interoperability.

The working group of industry suppliers was formalised in 2023, members include Idox, Mott Macdonald, Swarco, TRL and Yunex.

Although no final decisions have been made on the set-up for the next generation of UTMC, Highways understands a popular plan within the industry is to have an open system that ITS companies can test products against for free.

This system would likely be hosted by TOPAS (the Department for Transport-backed, Traffic Open Products and Specifications), which would charge a fee for those who wanted to register a system or product as compliant.

'It is expected that the communication framework and data object specifications will be published as TOPAS specifications,' ARTSM said.

ARTSM chief executive, Kealie Franklin told Highways: 'We want all local authorities to know that we are starting to review the system to help make it future-proof.

'The feeling in industry is that the easiest way to do this is to make it an open system and put the testing platform onto TOPAS, so everybody can see it. When people are designing a product and writing the code it will be public and they can design the system to be compliant from the start.

'The hosting could be funded by registration of your product against that functionality. There would be no obligation to register but many local authority tenders ask for products to be TOPAS registered so councils have that surety the system will work for what they need. These are initial plans at the moment and no final decisions have been made.'

The current ARTSM timeline for the project states:

  1. End of 2024 - The working group publishes a communications framework, defining the new communication process, protocols and any supporting functions.
  2. Jan 2025 - The working group commences defining the data objects to be used on the new interface. This will expect to publish a draft in Q2 2025 for consultation with the wider community. ARTSM will circulate the draft to its members, user groups and other interested stakeholders to review and provide feedback from a wider audience.
  3. Q3 2025 - It is expected that the data objects will then be finalised.

The ARTSM said: 'We have reached out to the user community and will continue to engage and update everyone regularly. We will work together with the user community to address protocols/interfaces in order of priority.'

Highways understands that traffic signals, under the UTC systems, will be the first area to be worked on.

Current products are expected to have interoperability with any new system.

ARTSM will provide regular updates on the project, but anyone can contact ARTSM for more information.

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