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René Schumann et Kresimir Kusic
Monday 06 February 2023 08:30

René Schumann has been a research professor at the Institute of Informatics of the HES-SO Valais-Wallis for many years. Never short of an ingenious wit, his humour is as sharp as his intelligence. Trilingual, he is often assisted in his team by post-doctoral fellows from a variety of backgrounds. Perhaps it is this open-mindedness that naturally led him to the theme of mobility? He is rather a brilliant mind who never stops looking for scientific answers to complex problems. He admits that he is interested in mobility because it is "a difficult sector that involves many decision-makers, from users to politicians, and that also involves very emotional reactions". René Schumann therefore likes almost intractable challenges and complex research questions.

Making the most of existing data

He explains that there is a lot of data available on mobility and that some of it is even freely available, such as that of the Federal Statistical Office. However, access to data is not enough, as it is necessary to be able to make them talk by valorising them. The SI Lab - Smart Infrastructure Lab, headed by René Schumann, is working on this. Unlike other areas of sustainability, there are many stakeholders in mobility, which is affected by the actions of users at every moment. It is also difficult to influence the behaviour of private individuals as this is a matter of freedom of movement, which is perceived as an essential freedom. Thus, changes in public policy provoke sometimes violent reactions (think of the Gilets jaunes in France or the panic buying of the British in 2021 when petrol shortages were looming). A private vehicle is synonymous with freedom but is sometimes indispensable for people living in peripheral regions. Political choices in this area are therefore delicate because each actor defends its own logic (financial, optimisation or electoral). Thus, to make decisions that will meet the expectations of the population and implement effective and sustainable public policies, it is important to be able to rely on data science.

Digital twin - a simulation of reality

To enable policy makers to make the best decisions, the SI Lab aims to provide them with evidence-based recommendations. Existing actual data is used in credible models that are customised to the regions. This model works through the digital twin. In other words, a digital twin is a virtual reproduction of a system that is updated in real time. For example, the digital twin of the traffic situation in the city of Zurich can be created using the existing data collected. It is then possible to simulate what impact a change in legislation, or a political decision could have on the mobility of Zurich residents.

Evidence-based public policy

Thanks to a partnership with the University of Zagreb, Krešimir Kušić worked for a year on this topic within the SI Lab. With the help of a federal excellence grant, he combined classical road traffic simulation with existing real-time traffic data. Real time here is not instantaneous but represents a reasonable latency. Every minute the digital twin receives data from the real world and the simulation is thus constantly adjusted to be as close as possible to reality. This is possible thanks to the use of the open data platform for mobility in Switzerland provided by the Federal Roads Office, which aims to become the national platform for mobility. The SI Lab can thus create value with this data and build a digital twin. This can feed on real information and provide as detailed a simulation as possible of the situation including the number of vehicles and their speed at a particular traffic location.

SI Lab - a real mobility laboratory

Within the SI Lab, various projects are underway related to mobility. One of the projects tries to predict what will happen between point A and point B of the traffic by analysing a motorway model near Geneva. The idea is to provide traffic estimates at other points in the road network, test traffic control strategies and eventually make traffic predictions. Other mobility-related projects are being carried out by René Schumann's team, including an Innosuisse Flagship to study and reduce freight traffic in an urban area. The SI Lab is considering the development of a modelling system based on agents (a computer model for simulating actions and interactions). This model could allow us to think about new transport models and help answer a number of questions: what is the population's behaviour in terms of private and public transport, what public policies should be applied and what are their consequences? Why and how should one type of mobility be promoted rather than another?

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