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Traffic computer pioneer honoured

Roads to success: John Lees (left) received a lifetime achievement award for his work in traffic computer control systems, while Alexander Chapman received the ITSA Young Professional Award.

Intelligent Transport’s top honour goes to Queensland’s John Lees

1 Dec 2012

QUEENSLAND intelligent transport systems pioneer John Lees has been awarded the top honour of Intelligent Transport Systems Australia at the organisation’s 2012 awards ceremony.

Mr Lees received the Dr Max Lay Life Time Achievement Award, which is named after another prominent developer in the field of intelligent transport systems.

Other awards went to Alexander Chapman, who received the Young Professional Award, and to VicRoads, for its interactive real time traffic information website.

Mr Lees was hired in 1968 as a software engineer to work on the first computer-controlled traffic signal system in Australia, which started operations in Surfers Paradise in 1969.

“I was having a drink after work one Friday evening in 1968 and got talking to another programmer, Ken Leach,” Mr Lees recounted at the ceremony.

“He asked if I was enjoying what I was doing and I said ‘not really’. So he offered me a job and told me to ring him Monday. I was to work on this traffic signal system.

“At that time there were really only mainframe computers in the world and perhaps less than 20 in Australia.

“The PDP8 had arrived and there were a few minicomputers, and this guy decided to control 30 signals in Surfers Paradise with a computer. He was quite a visionary.”

Mr Lees said this was the first of a number of fortunate associations he had enjoyed in his career in ITS.

“I’m here today because I have been lucky. Throughout my life I have been associated with wonderful people. The most wonderful is my wife, Karyn,” he said.

In his time inside the Queensland Main Roads Department and, later, Transmax, Mr Lees was a key driver in the development of the Streams traffic management system used throughout Queensland.

Streams, which has garnered several international awards, is a fully integrated system combining hardware, software and data communications networks.

The system is based on a unique software foundation that combines service-oriented architecture and event-driven architecture.

The benefits include reduced travel time and vehicle operating costs, improved safety, reduced emissions, increased network capacity and more accurate measurement of the network’s performance.

In announcing the award, ITS Australia president Brian Negus said Mr Lees had been instrumental in the innovation and implementation of many developments in the ITS space.

“Since his involvement in the installation of the first computerised traffic management system in Australia in Surfers Paradise in 1969, John has continued to push the boundaries of traditional ITS systems and lead an experienced team to develop, deploy and support the international award-winning ITS platform Streams,” said Mr Negus, who is also the general manager of public policy for the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV).

“Prior to his role as managing director of Transmax, he was director of ITS developments for the Queensland Department of Main Roads, where he had a long career.

“He has been a fantastic supporter of the ITS industry and it is appropriate that he receives the Max Lay award.”

The other personal award made last night went to Alexander Chapman, who received the Young Professional Award from ITS Australia.

Mr Chapman is an ITS engineer from South Australia, where he works with the GHD consultancy group in Adelaide.

He has worked on four motorway projects that included ITS management systems – three in Queensland and one in South Australia.

Mr Chapman said he believed the applications for ITS were virtually unlimited given the prospects for it to be integrated with social networking to provide live information to users.

He also said ITS would become more important with the adoption of vehicle-to-vehicle communications and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.

As part of his prize, Mr Chapman will travel to Tokyo for the 2013 ITS World Congress.

Mr Negus also announced several changes that were made to the board of directors of ITS Australia at the organisation’s annual meeting held earlier in the day.

ITS Australia was established in 1992 and is a non-profit organisation focused on the development and deployment of advanced technologies across all modes of transport: air, sea, road and rail. Members include government, consumer organisations and academics.

Three directors retired after their two-year stints were completed. These were Dr Hussein Dia (Aecom Australia), Steven Mitchell (Queensland Motorways) and Phil Blake (South Australia Department of Transport and Infrastructure).

Newly elected directors were Chris Koniditsiotis (Transport Certification Australia Ltd), Soren Tellegren (Kapsch TrafficCom in Australasia) and Professor Alex Grant (Research Professor of Information Theory, University of South Australia).

Continuing members of the board are the president, Mr Negus, Adam Game (Intelematics Australia), Dean Zabrieszach (VicRoads), Gino Dompietro (Sinclair Knight Merz), Jeremy Nassau (Transurban), John Hawkins (IBM) and Martha Eddy (URS Australia).

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