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Swedish state-private partnership will use advanced IT to secure cities

Swedish authorities are working with the private sector to develop geo-fencing technology to protect cities from vehicle-related terrorist attacks

Swedish authorities have responded to recent terror attacks against major population centres by bringing forward a number of technology-based solutions to protect citizens.

The terrorist attack in Stockholm in April 2017 produced an immediate response from key government departments. The ministries of infrastructure and enterprise and innovation led an initiative to partner the automotive industry to develop an integrated IT/geo-fencing system to protect Sweden’s towns and cities against attacks by terrorists using vehicles as “killing machines”.

The 2017 truck attack on the pedestrianised Drottninggatan Street left five people dead and 14 seriously injured. Sweden’s preferred option is to employ a combination of advanced IT, digital and GPS technologies to secure restricted urban areas against terrorist-related vehicular attacks. 

“The technology exists to better protect our towns, cities and the public,” said infrastructure minister Tomas Eneroth. “What we need to do now is test it on a large scale. We are lucky in this regard in Sweden as we have some of the world’s top automotive technology firms, as well as the heavy vehicle makers Volvo and Scania.”

The National Transport Administration (NTA) formed a partnership with local authorities and the country’s automotive sector to develop and test integrated IT/geo-fencing systems to protect cities, towns and critical infrastructure from attacks by terrorists using heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses.  

The NTA is collaborating with leading automotive industry players Volvo, Scania and automotive safety systems group Autoliv to test and deliver technological solutions.

It has established a joint steering group (JSG) comprising local government traffic and public safety officials, national security advisers and senior technical executives from car and truck manufacturers. The main focus will be on “geo-blocking” technologies to restrict the speed of heavy vehicles within controlled areas in towns and cities.

“We expect to see concrete results from the geo-fencing technologies we are testing in about five years,” said Maria Kraft, the NTA’s traffic safety director. “It is very possible that we could have the first geo-fencing zones in place in urban centres in five to 10 years’ time.”

The NTA’s JSG demonstrated a prototype in Stockholm at the end of May, and Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, has been testing geo-fencing on a single bus line since 2015.

Controlling the movement of vehicles

The technology on display in Stockholm is capable of controlling the movement of vehicles within a geographic zone where the entry, speed and fuel use of such vehicles can be controlled digitally. The test technology was installed in trucks, buses and cars.

The security-based, purpose-designed IT/geo-fencing system being developed in Sweden is not currently being used by any other country.

In effect, the technology will enforce an invisible digital barrier and will be able to control vehicles fitted with specially designed hardware. It will also have the facility to regulate speeds and even bring vehicles to a complete stop.

Under the proposed system, only vehicles fitted with the geo-fencing technology, or digital boxes, will be allowed access to restricted urban centre areas.

“Geo-fencing is a tangible step toward smart cities,” said Ola Boström, vice-president, research and patents at Veoneer. “As vehicles become autonomous, the technology in them will need to be complemented with geo-fencing infrastructure. This will make the traffic environment safe.”

The project is part of the Swedish government’s ambitious Intelligent Transport Systems national plan, which aims to give traffic authorities the power to implement enhanced security measures to make cities both safer and greener.

Digital and 5G-linked technologies

The pivotal digital and 5G-linked technologies used to develop the IT/geo-fencing system are being generated from a collaboration between Veoneer, Ericsson, Volvo and Scania. The test run in Stockholm demonstrated secure exchange of data between vehicles and digital traffic infrastructure within a geo-fenced traffic zone.

Sweden is shaping its security-based geo-fencing system for the 5G era, when road travel is expected to become even safer and more efficient, and where networks will be capable of automatically prioritising mission-critical communication between intelligent vehicles and infrastructure.

Under this micro-managed traffic environment, geo-fencing zones will be supervised from command centres operated by local authority traffic safety departments (TSDs).

The TSDs will have oversight and full operational responsibility for enforcing rules on vehicles in geo-fencing areas, and will be able to “digitally force” geo-fencing-enabled vehicles in restricted zones to reduce their speed to 30km/h or 10km/h within defined security zones.

By communicating directly with vehicles via GPS, the TSDs will be able to stop them breaking the speed limit. The technology can be applied to both fixed geo-fencing zones or mobile geo-fencing units. The mobile application is expected to be deployed to protect large public gatherings, such as music concerts or major sports events.

“Despite the terrorist attacks we have suffered, we want Stockholm to be an open city that is not peppered with hard fences and concrete barrier walls,” said Daniel Helldén, Stockholm’s transit commissioner. “The integrated IT/geo-fencing solution is the way forward to preventing future terrorist attacks.”

Utilisation of geo-fencing technologies, and particularly the collection and storage of data on the movement of vehicles, will almost require new legislation before the system can be deployed in Sweden.

“We expect to see a gradual transition to the use of geo-fencing,” said the NTA’s Kraft. “There are privacy and data collection issues, and these will need to be addressed by the national parliament in the form of new rules or laws.”

The NTA’s JSG hopes to present a scalable geo-fencing system that will include sophisticated security settings that ensure user privacy protection.

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