TECHNOLOGY ROADMAPPING
IN THE CANADIAN TRANSPORTATION SECTOR

Paper Presented at the Annual Conference of The
Transportation Research Forum: TRF, October 18, 1996, San Antonio, Texas

by

Michael Moore
Senior Transportation Economist
Industry Canada
Ottawa, Canada
E. mail: moore.michael@ic.gc.ca


Technology roadmaps are defined in this paper as a mechanism for identifying the new critical technologies required by an industry sector to meet future demands in the marketplace. Originally developed within the U.S. aerospace and defence sectors, they are now being used by other industries to guide their technology investment decisions and to strengthen the technological infrastructure. This paper reports on an initiative to develop a technology roadmap for the Canadian transportation industries sector. The emphasis of this Technology Roadmap Initiative is on freight transportation because it is viewed as a strategic sector in that virtually all resource, processing and manufacturing industries depend on reliable, efficient and affordable transportation in order to deliver finished goods to markets, both inside Canada and for exports, and to move raw materials and industrial inputs to processing plants. Technology roadmapping is technology forecasting in a decision-making context. This "pragmatic" approach to technology roadmapping provides a base for long-term technology development planning, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises. Research and analysis to date has involved a preliminary assessment of some techniques that may be appropriate for predicting technologies in the transportation sector. Specifically, the implications of using various quantitative/objective versus qualitative/intuitive methods are compared. An additional focus of the Technology Roadmap Initiative has included an initial technology scan of the Canadian transportation sector.


I. Introduction

Technology roadmaps are defined in this paper as a mechanism for identifying the new critical technologies required by an industry sector to meet future demands in the marketplace. Originally developed within the U.S. aerospace and defence sectors, they are now being used by other industries to guide their technology investment decisions and to strengthen the technological infrastructure. These "technology roadmaps" can lay the groundwork for pragmatic technology partnerships that will focus government, private sector and academic efforts on common technology targets in an industry.

This paper reports on an initiative to develop a technology roadmap for the Canadian transportation industries sector. The emphasis of this Technology Roadmap Initiative is on freight transportation because it is viewed as a strategic sector in that virtually all resource, processing and manufacturing industries depend on reliable, efficient and affordable transportation in order to deliver finished goods to markets, both inside Canada and for exports, and to move raw materials and industrial inputs to processing plants. Benefits to this industry of a successful Technology Roadmap Initiative may include: more precise focus on technologies to be introduced over the medium term (three to five years); identification of industry weaknesses and customer needs; increased productivity; formation of expert networks; and influence on government policy development.

The next two sections set the stage. Section II explains some of the current transportation policies in Canada and the goal of a modern, more efficient, commercially driven transportation infrastructure. Section III provides additional context; namely: a description of the Canadian Government’s new S&T strategy for the 21st century.

No formal definition of "technology roadmapping" seems to appear in the published literature. However, for our purposes, technology roadmapping may be defined as technology forecasting in a decision-making context. It includes investigating the future characteristics of useful machines, procedures or techniques, but also suggests how these future characteristics may have practical impact. This "pragmatic" approach to technology roadmapping provides a base for long-term technology development planning, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Technology roadmapping as a strategic planning tool for SMEs is discussed in section IV.

Research and analysis to date has involved a preliminary assessment of some techniques that may be appropriate for predicting technologies in the transportation sector. Specifically, the implications of using various quantitative/objective versus qualitative/intuitive methods were compared. These technology roadmapping methodologies and techniques are described in section V. For example, the Delphi technique is a proven method of accomplishing technology roadmaps: it relies on the intuitive forecasts and assessments of expert personnel in the given area of investigation and is designed to synthesize convergent opinions. This approach is sometimes used in conjunction with quantitative methodologies, such as trend extrapolations.

An additional focus of the Technology Roadmap Initiative has included an initial technology scan for the Canadian transportation sector. Section VI presents a summary of some major technology groupings. In particular, some of the major types of new information and communication technologies applicable to transportation are described. For example, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is employed to allow the automatic processing of data from information exchanges between independent business entities. EDI technology enables shippers, carriers and related parties to communicate effectively via electronic media, leading to the operation of seamless transportation systems.

II. The Context: Transportation Policy in Canada (1996)

This is a time of significant change for the transportation sector of Canada's economy. Over many years, governments in Canada invested in, owned, operated, regulated and controlled the Canadian transportation system. This led to an over-built, over-subsidized and over-regulated environment. But now, a far-reaching modernization is under way. The goal of these modernization initiatives is a more efficient, commercially driven, regionally responsive infrastructure that is less dependent on public subsidies.

Transportation is a strategic asset that can drive Canada's economy and an important area for Canadian jobs and economic growth. Across all sectors - air, marine and land transport - the recent policy initiatives have several common themes: reduce public subsidies, achieve greater efficiency, establish more say for users and passengers and more business discipline, and make transportation infrastructure more responsive to the needs and opportunities of Canada's regions. The following paragraphs summarize some of the major initiatives:

III. The Context: Federal S&T Strategy (1996)

Technology is one of the keys to economic success in the 21st century. In order to do more to harness its power for job creation and economic growth, the federal government developed a S&T strategy, Science and Technology for the New Century, and outlined plans for working in partnership with business to develop and commercialize advanced technology. The new Strategy was announced by the Canadian Government on March 11, 1996.

Technology drives innovation in all sectors of the Canadian economy, bringing increases in competitiveness and productivity, which, in turn, result in long-term growth and job creation. Therefore, one of the main objectives of the S&T strategy is to help improve the ability of the Canadian private sector to develop and commercialize technology. Its main theme is partnerships with the private sector, academic institutions and other governments to build a stronger Canadian system of innovation. The following paragraphs summarize some of the new S&T initiatives:

IV. Technology Roadmapping - A Strategic Planning Tool for SMEs

Governments and firms have been developing technology forecasting tools for several decades. They are popular because of the recognition that sustaining and enhancing technology capabilities is a critical component in industrial competitiveness and economic growth. Also, the rapidity of introduction of technical successors is increasing in most fields. Therefore, each technological advance has a shorter marketplace life because of prompt challenges from new, superior and often cheaper technologies. To remain competitive, firms must undertake research and development, often at considerable cost, but the marketplace success of these R&D expenditures is not guaranteed. To minimize risks, many larger firms have developed technology roadmaps tailored to their particular circumstances.

No formal definition of the term "technology roadmapping" seems to appear in the published literature and it is often considered to be equivalent to technology forecasting. However, for our purposes, technology roadmapping may be defined as technology forecasting in a decision-making context. It includes investigating the future characteristics of useful machines, procedures or techniques, but also suggests how these future characteristics may have practical impact. This "pragmatic" approach to technology roadmapping provides a base for long-term technology development planning, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

SMEs are arguably the main potential beneficiaries of technology roadmapping, as defined above. They tend to have a shorter-term planning focus than larger companies, but they are usually more dynamic and flexible in adjusting to change. While there are major differences in the methodologies that can be used for technology roadmapping (some of them are described in Section V of this paper), a notable characteristic is that their results must demonstrate visible and concrete linkages to future market demands. This makes them especially suitable as a planning tool for technology investment decisions by SMEs. Technology roadmaps should offer insights with respect to the long-term evolution of technologies while keeping a firm base in the near-term marketplace.

V. Technology Roadmapping - Some Methodologies & Techniques

This section provides a review of seven different methodologies and techniques that could be appropriate for accomplishing "technology roadmapping" in the transportation sector. For each item, there is a description of the methodology or technique and an explanation of its possible application to a transportation industries technology roadmap.

a) Delphi Technique

The Delphi technique is a multi-step survey method for the forecast and assessment of technological, political, social and other events, relying on the intuitive forecasts of many experts in the given area under investigation, and is designed to synthesize convergent opinions. The Delphi operator chooses respondents on the basis of knowledge and expertise with the field under investigation, and in the first round asks them to make forecasts either of what they themselves feel are likely possibilities, and what time-frame is required to accomplish it, or to make forecasts on specific questions suggested by the survey operator. In subsequent rounds, the operator rephrases survey questions to focus group attention on certain points, and to develop a range of assessment on what time-frame is required for any given forecasted achievement. This technique is especially useful in situations where the task of data collection and analysis might otherwise be impossible. It has already been used in technology forecasting situations. Objectivity is retained as the results are based on the complete range of relevant opinion.

b) Simulation Games

Simulation games are an exploratory technique; they are intuitive, like Delphi surveys. In simulation games, decisions or their consequences, which involve conflicts of interests, are simulated in that subjects play the roles of those decision-makers who, in reality, would have to take the decision. This technique was first used for the investigation of political and military conflicts, using a given scenario as a basing-point. However, more recently the technique has been used for business investigations, i.e. hypothetical "case studies" of commercial decision-making. For example, each participant or panel represents a given firm with certain resources, goals, strategies and constraints. The game operator passes messages, ensures continuity, and introduces critical variables (e.g. certain economic or technological trends, or even a novel technological breakthrough) into the game as required for investigative purposes. Simulation games bear some resemblance to the Delphi technique as they rely on expert intuition of participants to develop results. For example, simulation games allow expert interaction, as with the Delphi technique, but the experts can themselves choose exploratory avenues, and the same game can be run several times with certain critical variations to develop a range of alternative futures. Simulation games are mainly used for assessing technology impacts; the real technology forecasts are in the scenarios anchoring the game. However, the assessment function is directly tied to given forecast technological changes and hence is applicable to technology roadmapping’s decision-making context.

c) Trend Extrapolations, Trend Correlations and Mathematical Models

The trend extrapolation technique analyzes historical data to determine uni-dimensional or multi-dimensional continuous change in the phenomena under investigation and extrapolates these changes into the future time-frame, relying on the change in the phenomena to continue at the same intensity, quality and duration as before. This technique is objective in that intuitive opinion is not an integral part of the process. Trend correlation techniques are a form of trend extrapolations that extrapolate into the future a continuing relationship between several variables observed in the past. Mathematical models include more complex forms of trend correlations that are based on theories of causal development. Being objective, these techniques are mostly applicable to quantitative variables, which implies technological forecasting. However, they can be combined with intuitive techniques, such as the Delphi technique or simulation games, for the technology roadmapping context.

d) Relevance Trees

The relevance tree technique analyzes systems or processes in which distinct levels of hierarchy of causation can be identified – this technique examines the relationships and dependencies between elements of some system. This technique is normative in that the objective is to determine the technological capability required to carry out a certain function based on an anticipated demand. The relevance tree can describe the examined function in terms of levels of technological causation required to achieve it, as well as alternative methods along the tree’s "branches". Relevance trees analyze hierarchical technological relationships; they organize and visibly structure the problem, enhancing the possibility that all technological avenues leading through successive technological elements to a specific function are identified. The relevance tree technique is the most "neutral" of the normative techniques and this tends to make it a very appropriate approach to technology roadmapping. It is neutral because it does not explicitly assert the desirability of the goal.

e) Mission-Flow Diagrams

This is a normative technique that involves mapping the alternative sequences in time by which some mission, task or function can be accomplished. Alternatives can be identified and isolated; if no currently available path is feasible or cost effective, a new alternative is imagined. A mission-flow diagram resembles a relevance tree, but it distinguishes time hierarchies rather than causal hierarchies. It is sometimes described as a "critical path" or "decision tree". In practice, the mission-flow diagram usually has an explicitly stated desirable goal. The mission-flow diagram is an excellent technique for technology roadmapping, especially in situations where a consensus has already emerged that a particular technology is worth pursuing, but the desirable steps toward future development of the technology need clarification.

f) Morphological Models

Like relevance trees and mission-flow diagrams, morphological models are a normative technique. The morphological model breaks a problem, such as technology roadmapping, into parallel parts. Each part can then be treated independently. This differs from both the relevance tree and the mission-flow diagram, because these techniques are hierarchical. If more than one solution can be found for each part, then the total number of solutions to the entire problem is the product of the number of solutions to individual parts; and the higher the number of potential solutions, the more promising the technology. However, the morphological model approach is usually much less precise in forecasting results because it does not pre-suppose a certain hierarchy; it treats all possibilities as being equal – which is very unlikely. In one respect, this even-handed treatment of all potential solutions is positive in the sense of not pre-judging desirable results, but it makes this methodology much less useful for calculating probabilities. Morphological models are very appropriate to a decision-making context, such as technology roadmapping, if one assumes that any one solution is as good as the others.

g) Cross-Impact Matrix

The cross-impact matrix is a mathematical technique for estimating the effect of one forecasted event on others. For example, two forecasted events may not interact directly, but one or both may be greatly affected by a third, and even more complex event configurations can also be projected. The cross-impact matrix is suitable for technology roadmapping because it systematizes the comparing of several different forecasts, each relying on their own methodology, and it enables a range of alternatives and timings to be accommodated.

h) Hybrid Approaches

Several of the techniques and methodologies described above may not be complete in themselves for technology roadmapping purposes. Accordingly, a technology roadmapping exercise in the transportation industries sector may well benefit from a hybrid approach involving more than one technique, used either sequentially or concurrently. Indeed, there could be considerable benefits from a hybrid approach, providing the two (or multiple) approaches are properly complementary.

VI. Summary of Initial Technology Scan

As background for the Technology Roadmap Initiative, an initial scan was undertaken to describe some of the current technologies that are pertinent to the transportation sector and to provide some examples of instances where they are being used. This section presents a summary of four major technology groupings that are especially important to the Canadian transportation sector, namely: wireless communications systems, location systems, vehicle performance systems, and information systems.

a) Wireless Communications Systems

The characteristic that distinguishes a transportation organization from manufacturing or processing is that its plant is mobile. Thus, the standard methods of planning, coordination and control are complicated by virtue of the absence and distance of management from the working force. Modern technology, however, has assisted transportation managers in overcoming the deficiency of distance removal and has improved the quality of service offered. Four forms of wireless communications are examined: radio, cellular telephone, satellite tracking and advanced train control systems.

Radio: Radio transmission is one of the oldest forms of wireless communications used in the transportation sector. Even though its usefulness has been diminished somewhat by cellular and satellite technology, it is still the most effective means of communications in certain transport lanes. Furthermore, some new technological advances have again placed radio in the limelight as a key form of wireless communication. For example, in Europe, the combined impact of the European Union's decision to integrate railway networks through the International Union of Railways and the increased role being played by high speed rail has led to the need for a system that even exceeds the accuracy available with the Global Positioning System. This system is known as the European Train Control System; it transmits signaling information directly into the locomotive cab and on-board computers determine the maximum allowable speed on a continuous basis.

Cellular Telephone: Advances in cellular technology have allowed for significantly improved productivity in transportation. For example, UPS forged an alliance of cellular carriers to provide immediate tracking capability for its air and ground package movements. UPS delivery vehicles are equipped with cellular equipment that transmits package tracking information from the vehicles via UPSnet, the company's worldwide telecommunications network. Another example is the PhoneCell system used by Conrail and developed by Telular. In addition to PhoneCell acting as a four-wire communications link, it also provides backup connectors to wayside VHF radio base stations, hot box detectors, scale applications or temporary connections to wreck or construction sites. The system can also be used for fax machines, as well as providing cellular trunking to any PBX or key system in the field.

Satellite Tracking: Most truck drivers could relate horror stories of lengthy waits for pay telephones at truck stops or describe breakdowns in remote areas, accompanied by the inability to communicate with sources that could correct the problems. For long distance transport operators, satellite tracking is undoubtedly a "wave of the future". The ability to precisely pinpoint the location of any piece of moving equipment and then communicate on a real time basis is appealing. The benefits of immediate communication with moving vehicles, from a routing and dispatch perspective, are quite apparent. Obviously, the cost of any satellite-based system must be weighed against the benefits that will be derived. The first Canadian carrier to use satellite technology, Frederick Transport, was forced to discontinue its use because they could no longer justify the costs of the network.

Advanced Train Control Systems: Most major railroads in North America coordinate much of their research through the Association of American Railroads. Advanced train control systems (ATCS) is one of the major initiatives being undertaken by the AAR. In addition to voice communication, ATCS incorporates a concept known as data radio. Data radio transmits/receives train control messages in a form other than voice, as well as handling work order and other selected applications. The initiative was begun in 1982. While the initial emphasis was placed on increasing train capacity and productivity, it has now shifted primarily to accident avoidance. The major ATCS experiment is on 700 miles of trackage - primarily in Oregon and Washington - operated by the BN and UP. The only on-going Canadian ATCS project is being carried out by CP Rail on four sub-divisions: between Calgary and Edmonton, as well as Calgary and Swift Current.

b) Location Systems

No single area of contact between transportation carriers and their customers occasions more calls and causes more frustration than the simple desire of shippers to know where their goods are. Employees within transportation companies are often equally frustrated by their inability to locate consignments when transferred to other carriers. While it is possible to rationalize this situation on the basis of the millions of individual shipments that are made every day within North America, that approach has little merit, given the technology available today. Three technological approaches to overcoming these difficulties are explored: hand-held computers, automatic identification systems and the global positioning system.

Hand-Held Computers: Courier companies have been in the forefront with respect to introducing hand-held computers to the transportation industries. Federal Express, UPS and Purolator equip their drivers with hand-held computers. For the most part, these hand-held computers allow immediate transmission of bill of lading information to centralized office locations. When combined with fleet management systems, these hand-held computers not only allow companies to optimize their drivers’ time on the road, but also to pre-plan their inter-city operations. This latter point is facilitated by having advance information on which consignments will be arriving at centralized dispatch locations.

Automatic Identification Systems: Transportation companies have always attempted to keep track of equipment and shipments within their network. In early years, manual methods were employed wherein "checkers" would physically inscribe the identification numbers of the vehicle or consignment and then pass it on to whichever function required the data. The first large-scale attempt to replace "checkers" with automatic systems was the installation of track-side or road-side scanners, which could read a colour code on the side of vehicles and transmit that information to a centralized computer system. This approach, similar to the use of bar codes in the manufacturing and processing industries, was often unfeasible in Canada due to severe winter weather conditions. The latest automatic identification technology uses transponders and the Global Positioning System.

Global Positioning System: A key enabler of many new transportation technologies is the Global Positioning System (GPS). This technology evolved through extensive international efforts. For example, in early 1989, scientists and engineers from 13 countries and 30 international agencies and institutions cooperated in the most extensive GPS field campaign. The campaign concentrated GPS receivers in Central and South America and created one of the first international GPS satellite tracking networks. GPS provides airplanes and ships with accuracies of 10 to 100 times better than those achieved by ground-based navigational aids. The principal commercial transportation uses of GPS are for navigation, fleet management and parcel tracking.

c) Vehicle Performance Systems

Most observers of the Canadian transportation scene agree that one of the greatest potential areas for productivity improvement in this industry lies within the area of equipment utilization. While many of the potential benefits relate to the manner in which shippers and carriers do business together, there is also much that transportation companies can do on their own. Three areas are examined: electronic engines, on-board computers and intelligent vehicles.

Electronic Engines: Increases in fuel efficiency of 10-20%, as well as lower maintenance costs, have been attributed to the development of electronic engines for the trucking industry. Sensors monitor accelerator pedal position, engine speed, rpm's, and other variables. This sensor information is then fed to an on-board microprocessor, which calculates fuel quantities and timing requirements for conditions at hand. In transmission systems, the sensor information is used to determine gear ratios and shift points. The microprocessor then sends command signals to the actuators, which make needed adjustments to fuel quantity, injection timing, or gear ratio.

On-Board Computers: On-board computers were originally designed to serve two major purposes: to improve the performance of truck and bus drivers and to automate the paperwork aspects of drivers' responsibilities. Today, many on-board computers are linked to wireless communication systems, thereby providing a range of additional benefits. On-board computers can automatically measure speeds, rpm's, braking, idling and driving/non-driving times; all aimed primarily at optimizing fuel utilization. An ancillary benefit is lower maintenance costs.

Intelligent Vehicles: The inclusion of microprocessor technology in vehicles has led to a quantum improvement in truck safety and efficiency. While the visionary dream of vehicles operating on radar-controlled lanes without any human intervention is still in the realm of science fiction, considerable on-going improvements are being pursued. Advanced Traveller Information Systems provide assistance in trip planning and changing course enroute to bypass traffic congestion. These systems can include broadcast travel reports, in-car navigation systems and automated transit trip planning.

d) Information Systems

The transportation sector is arguably one of the most information intensive areas of the Canadian economy. Because of the complexity of most shipments; e.g. moving through different jurisdictions, countries and continents; the accounting function can be enormously complicated and information requirements are extensive. Two uses of information technologies in the transportation sector are described: EDI and fleet management systems.

Electronic Data Interchange: One of the major causes of information problems is that information is transcribed incorrectly from one data entry system to another. Electronic data interchange (EDI) provides a resolution of this difficulty by eliminating the need to re-transcribe data that has already been inputted by one of the parties in the supply chain. EDI transmits machine readable data between trading partners' computers; for example, the buying company generates the transaction in its purchasing system and then translates its form into a standard interchange format that can be used to submit to another EDI system that understands the standard format. Two recognized standards dominate the market: ANSI X.12, dominant in North America, and EDIFACT (EDI for administration, commerce and transport), mainly for the European market.

Fleet Management Systems: Fleet management systems usually comprise a method of locating a vehicle and then communicating this information to a control centre. For example, as part of Prometheus, a fleet of Ford trucks is being monitored relative to a three-tier system. Not only were the trucks equipped with GPS equipment, but Ford plants were also equipped with local beacons that improve accuracy from 100 metres down to 10 metres. The aim is to monitor the exact location of consignments within a plant. This provides an obvious logistical advantage to fleet managers, but also to individual plant managers, who can spot the location of trucks more easily. Advanced fleet management systems can also provide guidance as to what to load or unload into which vehicles and at which locations.


VII. Conclusion: Project Status and Future Issues

John F. Kennedy once said, "The task of government is to set before the people the great unfinished business of the nation." This paper has reported on a technology roadmapping project that has barely begun; there is still much unfinished business to be completed. Industry Canada is interested in the technology roadmapping concept because of the belief that technology is the driving force behind innovation in all sectors of the Canadian economy; that this brings about increases in competitiveness and productivity; and that this, in turn, will result in long-term growth and job creation. Most of the background work for this project has been summarized in the previous sections and the source documents are listed under "Selected References". A private sector Steering Group for this project has been created and its first meeting was held in June 1996. Where do we go from here? Much will depend, of course, on the further deliberations of the Steering Group. However, one would hope and assume that there will eventually be a full and open discussion of the critical issues related to the emergence of new technologies in the Canadian transportation sector.


Selected References

Government of Canada. Science and Technology for the New Century. Ottawa, March 1996.

Industry Canada. News Release: "Science & Technology Underpin Success of Jobs & Growth". Ottawa, March 11,1996

Industry Canada. "Speech by the Honourable John Manley, Minister of Industry to the Canadian Advanced Technology Association". Ottawa, March 11, 1996.

Industry Canada. "Speech by the Honourable John Manley, Minister of Industry to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry". Ottawa, May 1, 1996.

Industry Canada. "Speech by the Honourable John Manley, Minister of Industry to the Canadian Advanced Technology Association". Toronto, May 6, 1996.

Industry Canada. "Speech by the Honourable Jon Gerrard, Secretary of State (Science, Research and Development) at the S&T Strategy Launch". Ottawa, March 11, 1996.

Long, Stephen. Technology and Transportation: A Review of the Literature (Research Paper prepared for Industry Canada). 1996.

Nordicity Group Ltd. An Instructional Manual in Technology Roadmapping for Transportation Industries (Research Paper prepared for Industry Canada), 1996

Schwartz, Peter. Technology Scan: Canadian Transportation Industries (Research Paper prepared for Industry Canada). 1996.

Transport Canada. News Release: "Transport Minister Introduces Canada Marine Act". Ottawa, June 10, 1996.

Transport Canada. News Release: "New Canada Transportation Act Proclaimed". Ottawa, June 27, 1996.

Transport Canada. "Speech by the Honourable David Anderson, Minister of Transport to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport". Ottawa, May 9, 1996.

Transport Canada. "Speech by the Honourable David Anderson, Minister of Transport to the National Transportation Day Dinner". Vancouver, May 31, 1996.

Williams Consulting. Generation and Use of Technology Roadmaps as a Practical Planning Tool (Research Paper prepared for Industry Canada). 1995.


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The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Industry Canada nor that of TAF Consultants. Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.
Revised: January 09, 2005