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Smart Highways are Paving a Road to the Future


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The technology revolution is making its mark on the transportation industry. Self-driving cars are now a very real thing major auto manufacturers are throwing resources behind, and the smart car, outfitted with artificial intelligence and advanced external sensors, is on its way to being fully realized and widely available.

With all of those smarts on board in today’s cars, it stands to reason that the roads upon which they drive should also be updated. We’re already seeing crews being tasked with baking in sensors and other cutting-edge technologies into roadways, both domestically and around the world. The hope is the so-called “smart highway” leads to a future with fewer accidents, less traffic, and easier road maintenance.

One of the most promising aspects of the advent of smart cars is the ability for the vehicles to communicate with one another, sharing information about hazardous road conditions and traffic automatically. To facilitate that, highways are being outfitted with advanced communication capabilities, such as a project underway in Colorado that will outfit a stretch of Interstate 70 with a communication platform that enables vehicles to “talk” to one another about what lies ahead. The project is a partnership between the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Panasonic, announced last year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Amy Ford, a CDOT spokeswoman, told Fox31 News in Denver that the choice of road for the project was deliberate, and that in 10-15 years, 3-4 million vehicles in the Centennial State will be outfitted with the necessary communication capabilities.

"We chose I-70 because it's the most difficult corridor in the country when you look at weather, the amount of congestion that we have and the extreme conditions. If you can accomplish something like this in that corridor, (this technology) can go anywhere in the world."

"We chose I-70 because it's the most difficult corridor in the country when you look at weather, the amount of congestion that we have and the extreme conditions. If you can accomplish something like this in that corridor, (this technology) can go anywhere in the world," she said.

According to Ford, older cars won’t be left behind. She says they can be retrofitted, via purchase of a radio device, to benefit from the smart highway technology.

According to Construction Dive, Florida, Georgia and Ohio are also experimenting with integrating smart highway technology into their many miles of highways. One such project is currently being worked on is along a 52-mile stretch of the Ohio Turnpike, where roadside sensors that send and receive messages in 4 adjacent counties are in the process of being installed. The sensors will provide real-time updates on work zones, weather conditions and speed warnings, according to Randy Cole, executive director of the road.

"I hope, with this technology, we're going to have safer roads with fewer crashes. Ultimately, I hope it leads to better maintained roads with more immediate detection of our infrastructure needs that will help us have a quicker response to dealing with those needs,” Cole told Construction Dive.

In Italy, drones and advanced WiFi connectivity are being combined to create a smart highway system across 1,500 miles of roadways in the country in a collaboration between design firm Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) and Italian Government-owned road construction company ANAS. The system uses a “flying pole” system of in-ground, sensor-laden smart poles, as well as drones, which will do everything from monitoring tunnels, detecting environmental hazards like floods and fires, and even bring First Aid supplies to drivers involved in accidents, according to a CRA news release.

“With this project, we aim to super impose a digital layer over the existing physical infrastructure of our road network, to gather better data about our highways. The next step will be to pool this data with information already collected by individual cars, in an “Internet-of- Roads” scenario that will make us ready for the other revolutionary breakthrough that is likely to happen in the next decade: the arrival of self-driving vehicles,” Carlo Ratti, CRA founding partner said in the release.

With cars and highways getting smarter by the day, a future where drivers are significantly better informed about potential safety hazards through smart roads looks to be just around the corner. With the size and scale of projects underway, government bodies clearly believe in this technology as a way to save lives and make the earth’s millions of miles of roads safer for all.

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