Q-Free CEO speaks on the future of sustainable mobility

HiPEAC (High Performance, Edge, And Cloud computing) interviewed Chief Executive Officer Thale Kuvås Solberg about paving the way to more efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly transportation.

Featured in HiPEACinfo 70 magazine (p. 16-17), October 2023. Reproduced in its entirety below.

‘Our vision is of a free-flowing, clean and safe mobility future’

With a population spread over a landscape spanning almost 400,000 km2, including spectacular mountains, fjords, and islands, mobility in Norway has always represented a significant engineering challenge. For many years, tolling has been used to finance major infrastructure projects such as bridges, tunnels, and roads, providing an alternative to finance generated by oil and gas extraction. Recently, government policy has also aimed to ensure that transportation is more environmentally friendly: Oslo, for example, aims to have almost no emissions by 2030, with a stipulation that all private cars on Oslo’s roads will be emission-free in 2030 and that all public transport will be emission-free in 2028. This is the context in which Q-Free – a provider of solutions for electronic tolling, traffic management, and connected intelligent transport systems (C-ITS for short) – operates. Connection and collaboration are both key to the company’s strategy and a major plank of the sector’s sustainability efforts, according to Q-Free chief executive Thale Kuvås Solberg.

“The mobility industry is no stranger to wicked problems, but it seems that we are now maturing in the way we try to solve them, going from an atomistic to a more holistic approach. Political regulations and related funding are increasingly setting a joint direction, and private players are becoming better at stakeholder dialogue and cross-industrial collaboration. This collaborative approach is crucial for more sustainable mobility,” she says. “The more we understand about how things are connected, the better we understand our role in the mobility ecosystem and the partnerships we should nurture to achieve sustainable value creation at scale.”

This holistic approach drove Q-Free to move away from a portfolio based on business segments towards structuring its solutions into three programs based on purpose, explains Thale: Q-Flow, Q-Clean, and Q-Safe. “By bundling our offerings under purposes rather than functions, we invited our stakeholders to navigate these offerings from a different perspective and extended our connection towards networks and companies who shared our vision of a free-flowing, clean, and safe mobility future,” she says.

Joined-up approach to sustainability

In terms of the trends shaping the mobility sector, although fully autonomous vehicles may be some way off, Thale explains that increased connection has a part to play in greener mobility, citing a study commissioned by Qualcomm Europe that showed that introducing 20% of connected vehicles on European city roads could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 18% across the European Union, or up to 24% in countries such as Germany.

“As in every industry, there is a lot of hype in the mobility world. While drone delivery and fully autonomous cars are still more science fiction than reality, the less radical stages of autonomous driving – together with electrification, connectivity, and shared mobility – are some of the maturing trends that will continue to shape our industry,” she says. Context is key to how the mobility sector is evolving in different areas, Thale says. “New and enabling technologies will fuel a constant stream of mobility innovation; the industry is being shaped differently in different markets, depending on the existing infrastructure, demographics, values and behaviors, economy, climate change, and public policies.” This means that a solution that is mature in one market can be groundbreaking in another, she adds. The response of Q-Free, says Thale, is to consolidate its existing technology, investing in the development of a C-ITS platform that connects vehicles and subsystems while enabling applications to be tested in real-life settings, while at the same time using new technologies such as artificial intelligence to future-proof solutions.

Q-Free’s main product offerings are tolling and traffic management systems, as well as active transportation systems.

“We currently have around 40,000 intersection controllers, 50,000 active Intrada automatic license-plate recognition (ALPR) licenses, 2,000 toll lanes, and traffic management for over 500,000 lane miles of highway in operations across the world,” says Thale. “These intelligent solutions pave the way to more efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly transportation.” The company provides clients with full solutions, including hardware, firmware, and software.

As an example, Thale cites Q-Free tolling systems in Bangkok, one of the three most polluted cities in the world, which she says have reduced the time it takes to pay a toll from between four and 15 minutes to three seconds.

“With 5.7 million cars traveling through these systems every day, this saves 120,000 hours of idle transportation,” she notes. Meanwhile, the company has been working with the University of Melbourne, Lexus, and ambulance services in Victoria to solve issues around connected vehicles for emergency transportation.

However, according to Thale, the company also tries to integrate environmental and social sustainability into its operations, as well as its solutions.

“In the context of supply chains and material flows, our supply management plays a key role in addressing environmental and social risks and opportunities,” she says. “If we really want to succeed at moving more people and more goods in a more efficient way, using fewer resources, we need to look beyond the obvious and bring the sustainability focus into all our functions.”