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Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) research and concepts for combating COVID-19 

By 20th May 2020 No Comments

Author: Dr Ruisong Han 

Across the world, health authorities, governments, companies, and academia are working together tightly and tirelessly to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Tremendous efforts have been made in analysing the characteristics of COVID-19 virus and its transmission, with lots of valuable knowledge and data shared across the borders. As the war against the COVID-19 and re-opening of countries with deliberate measures become the new normal, we need to start thinking what kinds of technologies can be utilised to realise this new normal and even go beyond this new normal.  

As a report from the Guardian commented, “the way people move around cities would never be the same again.” However, it is not just the way people move around cities, but also the way people travel around the world. Border Controls at each country may require more documents such as health condition proof and travel history records. Overall, more barriers have been set for travelling, and these barriers will just be lifted when the world gets enough measures to contain or wipe out COVID-19.  

Recently, Google and Apple partnered on a COVID19 Exposure Notification System in service of privacy-preserving contact tracing. This collaboration is an excellent example that the tech giants are working collaboratively and responsibly, on using the latest technologies to fight COVID-19 for global citizens. However, people may still have concerns about the privacy and security of using these kinds of techniques. Two days before the announcement of Google and Apple’s collaboration, the European Commission (EC) issued a commission recommendation on a common Union toolbox for the use of technology and data to combat and exit from the COVID-19 crisis, in particular concerning mobile applications and the use of anonymised mobility data. The recommendation serves as a guideline for the responsible data usage and contributes to the uptake of contact tracing applications by societies responsibly and cautiously. 

Locally, the researchers and engineers in TSSG, WIT perform actively in generating innovative solutions for fighting against COVID-19. It is highly recommended to read this post on the innovative ideas and solutions contributed by TSSG, ranging from Molecular Communication modelling of COVID-19 in the Respiratory System to Blockchain-based Certification of Compliance with Public Health Policies. 

As Ireland and other European countries are jump-starting their economy, the EU is gradually reopening, and the transport industry and stakeholders are expecting a return. The communication between cities and counties will be gradually recovered, but, as mentioned earlier, the ways in which people are travelling have been deeply affected or changed by the COVID-19 with more barriers set. Thus, some upgrading work needs to be introduced to help mitigate these negative effects. Then, how can TSSG help the transport industry to come back into the normal track by using the latest technologies and even go beyond the period of COVID-19? 

One of the projects that is relevant to this problem is the E-CORRIDOR with MEPS Research Division in TSSG involved in 3 major work packages. E-CORRIDOR aims at providing a flexible, secure and privacy-aware framework allowing confidential, distributed and edge enabled security services, as threat analysis and prevention as well as privacy-aware seamless access mechanism in multi-modal transport systems. Even though E-CORRIDOR is not originally designed for the COVID-19 scenarios, the concepts proposed by it may suit COVID-19 very well and can generate some positive results in the future. Here, a new scenario which was not included in the proposal but deeply rooted in E-CORRIDOR will be explained. 

As public transport in EU is restoring the capacity, one may need to provide health certificates to take flights, ships and other vehicles. It may cause an extra burden for taking and showing these documents for passengers and increase the average staying time at the airport or coach stations which is contrary to the suggestions from healthcare authorities. Besides, they may want to use Google and Apple’s applications for contacting tracing but want to control to what extend applications can access, process and share their information. Within E-CORRIDOR, these issues have all been targeted, and here some most-relevant components will be explained with Figure 1. 

 

Figure 1. The E-CORRIDOR operational concept 

  1. Information Sharing and Data Sharing Agreements (DSAs). First, DSAs can be attached to data and used to express privacy preferences or contractual requirements for providing and consuming information (i.e. notification of data leakage). Then, information is shared in a controlled manner through Information Sharing Infrastructure (ISI), ensuring the respect of regulation and with confidentiality and integrity both in rest and in transit 
  2. Information Analytics: advanced analytics functions and engines for data analytics and correlation identifying threats that hide themselves in the massive usage of services and related amount of logs.
  3. Advanced Seamless Access Mechanisms take the advantage of the analytics and sharing infrastructure to provide continuous authentication and authorization as well as privacy aware service as privacy aware data usage control. 

With DSAs defined, E-CORRIDOR passengers can define how their information can be consumed and shared with others or higher-level applications. For users, they can realise better control over the data while, for data analytics centres, they could more easily establish trust relationships with data prosumers and provide better feedbacks to prosumers with the insights generated from various data.  Besides, the health proof of passengers can also be used in the seamless access mechanism to ensure continuous authentication when using multiple transport modes, especially travelling across borders, to achieve better travel experience and efficiency. The anonymised and sanitised health info and mobility data can help healthy authorities to identify the potential public health vulnerabilities within the transport domain, with support of advanced analytics functions and engines to be provided by the project. 

Overall, the E-CORRIDOR may go beyond its initial targets and realise an edge-enabled and privacy-aware security platform for multi-modal transport which can also solve parts of the travel difficulty caused by COVID-19. 

Notes: 

  1. E-CORRIDOR has been planned to be kicked off in June 2020, and more updates will come soon.
  2. MEPS has lots of project experience in data analytics, cybersecurity and vehicle-to-everything communication (e.g. TransSec6), which serves as great initial skillsets for E-CORRIDOR.
  3. Some proposals and research regarding the COVID-19 also contributed to the generation of this blog post. One relevant one is from Dr. Stepan Ivanov, titled “Safe-To-Work: Blockchain-based Certification of Compliance with Public Health Policies.”7