In today’s modern world, you’d be hard-pressed to find something that isn’t touched by smart tech — from the counters at your favorite store, to the apps on your phone. Entire cities are now adopting a range of smart technologies. When we talk about transport innovation, however, the focus is almost always on the cars themselves. Let’s not overlook the goldmine of opportunities that lie beneath our automated cars: smart roads.
No longer just functional in nature, our roads are being reimagined by engineers with smart road innovations that make them safer and more convenient. In the past, neon-lined “smart highways” were a thing of science fiction stories. But recent developments, like the connection of everyday objects through the Internet of Things (IoT), have opened doors so that roads can double as data conveyors.
While this technology will take a while before enjoying mass-scale adoption, here are a few ways that smart technology is revolutionizing our roads and making them truly smart roads.
Smart roads aid autonomous vehicles
There’s plenty of controversy surrounding self-driving cars, mainly with regard to the risks. True enough, today’s GPS isn’t accurate enough to direct a vehicle where to position itself exactly. On the road, a single inch could be the difference between staying in your lane or driving head-first into traffic. Last year, 3M’s Connected Road group launched a pilot, smart road program that hopes to solve this problem. Spanning three miles of a roadway, their “smart pavement” featured special paint markings and reflective signs designed to be picked up by autonomous cars’ sensors. This smart road innovation means that drivers and autonomous cars no longer have to rely solely on location tech or cameras.
Smart roads generate electricity
China seems to be ahead of the curve when it comes to autonomous driving and smart road innovations. No longer just thinking of safety, Qilu Transportation Development Group Co. envisions an “intelligent highway” that boasts mapping sensors, solar panels, and electric-battery rechargers. Embedded underneath the transparent concrete, the solar panels aim to generate enough electricity to power highway lights and even homes. The top layer of this smart road innovation also contains recharging wires and sensors that monitor temperature, traffic flow, and weight load.
Smart roads increase safety
In Colorado, the first smart road innovation in the US has started its public test run. With the aim of enhancing road security, these smart highways are lined with sensors that alert motorists about traffic jams and can automatically call for help when accidents happen. While apps like Waze operate similarly, they depend on user data and still have plenty of room for misreports and faulty information. Moreover, the road surface contains fiber-optic cables that act as pressure sensors, which work to detect highway wear and tear. Couple that with existing technology such as fleet monitoring and truck tracking, and we’re well on our way to much safer thoroughfares for all to enjoy. Verizon Connect details how today’s telematics are already helping management to reduce accidents by monitoring risky vehicle activity, like speeding and excessive idling. IoT-enabled devices also inform users about key vehicle information such as location, engine health, and fuel levels. Surely, drivers, roads, and cars can all play a part in ensuring each motorist is kept away from harm.
Smart roads reduce congestion
Traffic lights aren’t exempt from today’s smart road innovations. A startup called Rapid Flow Technologies is currently applying AI to traffic light management. In a constant feedback loop, the system allows each light some autonomy to choose when to turn red or green, which is then relayed to the next intersection so that they can react accordingly. The company claims smart roads have already reduced travel time by 25%, and waiting time at intersections by up to 40 percent. In the future, Rapid Flow plans to enable connected vehicles to “talk” directly to traffic signals, allowing cars to adjust speed or route automatically as the light turns red or green.
Smart roads cut commutes
In a recent study by Inrix, it was found that the average US commuter spends 42 hours in traffic per year and loses $1,400 of gas idling away. Now, smart tech is helping to cut down long commutes and save resources by determining the length of the trip, where the commute starts and ends, and who is doing it. Planners leverage this data and check for driving alternatives, which could mean a wealth of time and resources saved for commuters.
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About the Author
Jemma Bream is an entrepreneur and aspiring writer with a lifelong fascination for technology and what tomorrow’s connected world might look like. When she’s not working, Jenni enjoys film photography and long walks on smart roads.