After the year-end holiday lull, roads in Singapore tend to get very busy during peak hours as people head back to work and school. What if there was a way to ease congestion and reduce time spent on the roads?
With the aid of artificial intelligence tech such as the use of predictive analytics, engineers like Land Transport Authority (LTA) scholar Victor Khoo are figuring out how to ease bottlenecks and make the journeys of Singaporeans smoother.
The 32-year-old and his colleagues are part of a team that is working on a new traffic monitoring system for the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) operations control centre, akin to LTA’s traffic nerve centre.
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The ITS centre houses a smart-enabled and large-scale back-end platform from which LTA operators monitor, analyse and control Singapore’s extensive network of roads, sensors, signboards and cameras.
Data is gathered via the extensive network and disseminated via digital apps such as MyTransport.SG and the OneMotoring’s website to reroute traffic and provide alerts to motorists and commuters.
LTA operators also dispatch recovery crews and traffic marshalls to incidents on roads, highways and tunnels.
Mr Khoo and his team are putting together the requirements for a new capability for the system that could make predictive analyses of traffic situations. They had conducted a technological trial to evaluate how well this technology can assist LTA to manage traffic conditions better and support decision making related to current and future traffic challenges.
“After running a simulation based on current and historical traffic data and trends, the system will propose three response plans plus a do-nothing scenario,” Mr Khoo explains.
“We could even predict – and possibly resolve – traffic jams before they happen. Let’s say, if the system detects that the volume of cars is greater than usual for that time period, it will know that congestion could happen in maybe the next 15, 30, up to 60 minutes, and it prompts certain actions to be done to curtail this,” he adds.
The actions could be lengthening time intervals between red lights, putting up road diversion messages on signboards and dispatching road marshalls to the ground.
A senior engineer with the Transportation Technology team within the Intelligent Transport Systems Development division, Mr Khoo is in his third posting since he joined LTA in October 2017.
Mr Khoo envisions a future where all the road systems, infrastructure (including traffic lights, road signs and lane-markings) and vehicles are interconnected in such a way that they can automatically “talk” to each other in real-time, creating a safer and more optimised commute.
They can also share useful information such as sharp curves, recommended speeds ahead, traffic incidents and jams.
Opportunities to gain new skills
A self-professed automation and robotics geek, Mr Khoo’s interest in the LTA Undergraduate Scholarship was piqued when he discovered that the North East Line was the world’s first fully automated underground driverless subway line when it started operations in 2003.
“It is pretty amazing to know that Singapore made a major breakthrough in railway automation that put it on the world map,” he says.
Thus began his journey as an LTA scholar, which saw his local and overseas studies fully funded by LTA. He received a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) degree from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2016, and a year later, a Master of Science (Advanced Control and Systems Engineering) from The University of Manchester in Britain under LTA sponsorship.
In his third year at NTU, he did a 10-week internship with LTA where he gained valuable hands-on experience. These opportunities provided a crucial foundation for his professional development as it exposed him to the real-life working environment and later, helped him make a smooth transition to a full-time career with LTA.
“My assigned mentor at LTA understood that I preferred more site work rather than being deskbound, hence he arranged for me to assist in various rail testing activities and in assessing technical issues with train models,” he says.
When he joined LTA full time in October 2017, his request to join the rail side of the organisation was granted. His first posting to the Integrated Control Systems division gave him the rare opportunity to go to Qingdao, China for the testing of trains before their delivery to Singapore for stage 1 of the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL).
Later, his second posting in 2020 sent him to the Signalling and Platform Screen Door division where he worked on delivering the signalling system for stage 2 and 3 of the TEL project. During these postings, he was also involved in the Johor Bahru – Singapore Rapid Transit System Link.
Eight months ago, he moved on to his third and current posting to expand his expertise beyond rail – but still with the aim of improving the everyday commute of Singaporeans.
For those looking to take up the LTA scholarship, Mr Khoo says that the biggest motivation is the great satisfaction one derives from seeing a project from ideation to completion.
“LTA is one of the biggest government agencies that can provide an engineering career of this calibre and lets you use your skills to benefit our day-to-day commuters and transport systems. This is what makes me passionate about my job,” he adds.