Life is a Highway: Embracing Intelligent Transportation Systems
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From the horse and buggy to the Model T to today’s self-driving cars, transportation has long served as a vital feature in modern society. Historically, transportation was considered a challenge of civil engineering, but the global embrace of digitization and connectivity is driving new advances in how we approach our roads and highways.
We’re used to harnessing technology to improve how we get around. Self-driving pilot cars roam through our neighborhoods, Google Maps and Waze allow us to hold critical traffic data in the palms of our hands, and Uber and Lyft have changed ride-hailing services forever.
Even with these advents in technology, our transportation system remains plagued by concerns: aging infrastructure, congestion, accidents, emissions, and the high costs of maintaining an extensive network of roadways and bridges. Most advances in transportation-related smart technology have been focused on individual vehicles, but a slew of emerging technologies have the capacity to evolve roadways past their traditional role as static infrastructure, toward intelligent infrastructure.
The Road to Intelligent Transportation
The introduction of intelligent transportation systems (ITS), which includes a broad network of smart roads, smart cars, smart streetlights and electrification are pushing roadways to new heights. Roadways are no longer simply considered stretches of pavement; they’ve become platforms for innovation. The ability to empower roadways with intelligence and sensing capabilities will unlock extraordinary levels of safety and mobility by enabling smarter, more connected transportation systems that benefit the public and the environment.
Smart roads are embedded with Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that combine physical and digital infrastructure to make driving safer and more efficient. These IoT features include sensors paired with transmitters to monitor and report changing traffic and weather conditions. Connectivity is a critical part of making this a reality.
Deploying fiber optic cable in a transportation corridor, coupled with microcell towers will provide enhanced connectivity to these ITS ecosystems, facilitating a multitude of emerging technologies and lightning-fast communications. Fiber optic deployment will also support the integration of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) through dedicated short-range communication (DSRC), and Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I), Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Pedestrian (V2P) technology.
Additionally, these roadway fiber optic networks create opportunity for broadband infrastructure and internet service providers to leverage right of way to expand high-speed coverage, helping to address and close the digital divide, which is more pervasive in rural communities.
Case Study: Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) offers a real-life example of a transportation authority deploying a fiber optic communications network that will 1) enable smart mobility and ITS, benefiting motorists; and 2) offer revenue opportunities through fiber infrastructure leasing.
Like many agencies, the PTC was eager to innovate. But their existing microwave network was limited and could not support the safety and mobility applications that PTC required. To address this, PTC launched an advanced fiber optic network project to boost connectivity between their administrative buildings and support All-Electronic Tolling (AET) and ITS for improved safety and mobility.
The two-phase project is expected to commence in the last quarter of 2020, with the east-west route starting in late December 2020 and the north-south route beginning in late January 2021. The project includes a 220-mile fiber optic network, micro-trenching on the turnpike shoulder to overcome rocky terrain and minimize driver impact, and high-speed data and fiber optic networks along the turnpike. Black & Veatch will be conducting the engineering, permitting, procurement, and construction of PTC’s fiber infrastructure. The entire project (mainline and laterals) are entirely contained within the PTC’s Right of Way.
With the high-speed data communications provided by the fiber optic network, PTC will be able to install automated tolling (the Open Road Tolling initiative (gantries above the roadway)) to support future AV traffic on the turnpike. The project will also support the ITS program and future CAV capabilities, positioning PTC to prepare for and meet its future communication needs.
PTC’s high-capacity network also includes extra fiber, opening opportunities for the transportation authority to generate future revenue by leasing the infrastructure to outside organizations such as cellular network providers or other groups seeking high-speed broadband. Infrastructure leasing will help offset the impacts of PTC’s initial infrastructure investment.
With greater connectivity, PTC will be able to improve roadway safety through applications like smart signage and notifications, as well as improve mobility on the turnpike through technologies like traveler information systems and smart parking. By building this digital foundation and putting in place a state-of-the-art communications system, PTC will be able to prepare for future needs and increase its smart transportation ability over time.
Emerging Smart Technology
Once the digital foundation, which is the high-speed data communications provided by the fiber optic network, is in place, transportation authorities will have unprecedented opportunity to maximize emerging technologies that promise to transform our roadways. Some of these technologies are shared below.
Enabling smart roads with AI-integrated sensors would offer transportation authorities a new level of intelligence gathering.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is increasingly active in the adaptation and expansion of Advanced Transportation Management Systems (ATMS). The Minnesota DOT and Washington, D.C. DOT both have a formal process to select, fund, and evaluate technologies and strategies that will prepare the respective region for a generation of CAV. The Florida DOT has installed Wrong Way Detection systems at over 500 interstate ramps statewide. Oregon, Arizona, North Carolina, and Kansas DOTs are all developing programs that will advance the deployment of fiber optics for ATMS purposes and serve as a resource for rural broadband. Several states have followed the lead of Wyoming in the use of Variable Speed Limit Signs when severe weather sets in, resulting in a decrease in multi-vehicle crashes in traditional dangerous areas.
Sensors can also be paired with other emerging technologies. For example, Mexico City, Mexico, struggles with poor air quality. To address this issue, the city is growing Via Verde vertical gardens on more than 1,000 concrete highway pillars on its Beltway. The vertical garden, which provides more than 645,000 square feet of carbon-dioxide-munching greenery, also allows for the placement of sensors, both to water the gardens and to monitor air quality and traffic flow.
Lighting the Way
Smart roads could also solve the common challenge of poor visibility. The Dutch company Studio Roosegaarde is investigating highway lighting technologies under its Smart Highway banner. The company’s Glowing Lines project involves painting existing roadway surfaces with a photo-luminescent substance that absorbs and stores daylight all day, then glows for up to eight hours after dark. The company recently completed the testing phase and is preparing to develop and launch the technology internationally. The company’s Interactive Light project offers another solution. This adaptive lighting solution illuminates specific sections of road as a vehicle approaches, then dims as the vehicles pass by, offering energy savings as well.
Roads that Generate Energy
Smart roads can be designed to generate and store energy. One method uses embedded solar photovoltaic cells that are engineered to be stronger than steel. Made of tempered glass, the roads contain LEDs, microprocessors, snow-melting heating devices and inductive charging capabilities. Another method is to capture the mechanical vibrations produced by moving vehicles, and to produce and store the resulting electrical energy in battery storage systems. This stored energy can then be used to power streetlights, digital signage and traffic signals, or in colder climates; to melt ice and snow on the pavement.
This technology was first implemented in 2009, when Highway Energy Systems Ltd. installed electro-kinetic energy ramps in the parking lot of a supermarket in Gloucester, United Kingdom. According to Smart City Lab, vehicles driving over the ramps generate kinetic energy, which is then used to power the store’s cash registers. The Spanish company Repsol has a similar project based on developing piezoelectric roads, which rely on devices in the asphalt to transform the pressure and vibration generated by vehicles into electrical energy.
EV Charging While You Drive
EVs are becoming more common as the world races towards electrification. There are roads that include an electrified lane that charges your EV during your journey. The technology is known as magnetic induction technology and relies on embedding cables and a transmitter coil in the pavement to generate an electromagnetic field. A receiver coil in the EV picks up these electromagnetic oscillations and converts them to AC power, which can be used to power the car. The technology exists for static cars, but future applications could allow the technology to advance to where it can charge batteries in motion.
According to Reset.org, this technology is already in use by the Online Electric Vehicle (OLEV), a bus developed by South Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, which features a smaller battery and follows a set route that charges the bus wirelessly.
The Future of Smart Road Tech
As society shifted from horse-powered mobility to motor-powered mobility, the largest barrier to wide-scale adoption was the lack of appropriate roadways. It took substantial investment in transportation infrastructure to make motor-powered mobility a reality for most Americans. We are at a similar crossroads today, where it will take substantial investment by today’s municipalities, community leaders, technology integrators and transportation authorities to embrace and unleash the next generation of smart mobility and intelligent transportation.
There is true community value to be delivered by intelligent transportation systems and innovative strategies to make more of these projects a reality. Integrating solutions with financial benefits for the impacted interest groups is central to unlocking the tremendous potential of ITS. Internet service providers and telecom companies could take advantage of right of way communication infrastructure to deploy Wi-Fi access points and 5G antennas, and insurance companies and real estate developers could install instruments to collect data on collisions, road conditions, and traffic patterns.
Smart roads, powered by advanced communications networks, will provide the foundation for the next revolution in transportation, creating a safer, cleaner, and more efficient mobile experience.
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