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Africa needs smart transport and smart cities

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To grow and develop, African economies need smart transportation systems and smart cities. Image credit: Geospatialworld.net

To grow and develop African economies, the continent needs better infrastructure. To address this issue, the University of Pretoria (UP), in South Africa, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), recently signed a collaboration agreement on smart transport, cities and environments

According to Professor Wynand Steyn, Head of the Department of Civil Engineering in UP’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT), the cooperation means that UP can focus on creating a pipeline of potential researchers in these areas. “Smart transport, cities and environments are part of an integrated system that encompasses digitised transportation systems, parking management, reduced traffic congestion and addressing environmental problems. The aim is to reduce energy consumption levels in transportation, maximise productivity in industry and provide a higher quality of life for citizens,” he says.

To work towards smart cities, there is a need to develop researchers with advanced skills in robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and satellite technology. To this end, researchers will be trained through complementary skills at UP and the CSIR. This will further develop the skills required to design, construct, maintain and rehabilitate the extensive road networks that are vital for accessibility and mobility of its communities, and in support of economic opportunities.

According to CSIR Executive Cluster Manager: Smart Mobility, Kenny Kistan, the Smart Mobility Cluster of the CSIR sees the collaboration with the Engineering Faculty of UP, as an integral component of its strategic initiative to address transport and infrastructure challenges in the country and the continent. This will undoubtedly contribute to improving and advancing economic activity. “This partnership will enable us to share our expertise to accelerate technology solutions in South Africa’s smart mobility sector. Besides, this initiative is a positive start to co-create scientific knowledge and multi-faceted technological innovation and solutions which is in line with our implementation plan and is linked to CSIR’s mandate to support and strengthen industrial activity in the country,” says Kistan.

The collaboration includes the cooperative use of the CSIR laboratories and UP’s Engineering 4.0 campus. These facilities complement each other and allow for larger research projects to be executed, with the involvement of postgraduate students. The collaboration also entails jointly working towards the establishment of a CSIR Research Chair in Smart Mobility at UP. This Chair funds senior researchers and postgraduate students who will conduct research in areas of targeted need.

Professor Sunil Maharaj, Dean of EBIT, said the state-of-the-art Engineering 4.0 building which will be launched soon, hosts Africa’s first independent transport reference and testing facility, which will test materials for the road construction industry. “Such testing will characterise materials for appropriate construction and maintenance. It is also a research and training hub for smart transport systems.” Engineering 4.0 is an initiative between UP, the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) and the CSIR.

Disruptive technologies are changing the face of transportation in the world.  In Africa, changes in terms of mobility as a service affects the way that goods and people are transported. According to Maharaj the vast distances between communities, economic opportunities and agricultural resources in Africa, means that an extensive transportation network of some sort will remain essential for the social and economic development of the continent in the next few decades.” The envisaged smart mobility focus of this new collaboration will support the development of appropriate and functional transportation systems, serving the country,” says Maharaj.

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe says that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the university to look at innovative and unconventional ways of doing things in the higher education sector in partnership with institutions like the CSIR. “It is a big wake up call to think and do things differently, if we want to take the lead as South Africa, with our universities playing an essential role in co-creating the continent we want beyond COVID-19,” says Kupe.


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