ALMOST everything around us has become “smart”. You have smart phones, smart TVs, smart houses, smart cities even. It’s just a matter of time before “dumb” roads join the smart revolution. And when that happens, roads will no longer be just a platform to take us from Point A to Point B.
Rather, they’ll be able to communicate with other roads and with our cars to help us find the most efficient routes, as well as to keep us safer. They will also allow us to charge our cars as we drive along them. The traffic lights system, which until now has remained pretty “dumb” for decades, will become smarter too.
A company called Integrated Roadways has developed a Smart Pavement system that uses pre-fabricated concrete slabs embedded with digital technology and fibre optics. The slabs are said to work like a touchpad on a laptop, except with even more functions! They’re able to sense the position, weight and speed of the cars driving over them.
Built-in routers then transmit all this information to the nearest data centre and alert drivers about the best routes. The sensitivity of the slabs also allows the system to detect an accident and immediately alert emergency services. The company claims that these slabs can last four times longer than traditional asphalt and is 95 per cent less costly to install.
SMART POWERED LANES
The future of cars is electric but the one challenge these types of cars face is the need to charge their batteries for long journeys. This makes electric cars unsuitable for long-haul drives as specialised charging stations aren’t everywhere yet.
What if you can eliminate the need for charging stations and make the very surface of the roads that these cars drive over to be a charging platform? An engineering company called AECOM is working exactly on that. Their technology is called Smart Powered Lanes and it’s basically a wireless technology that charges an electric car while it’s on the go.
The wireless technology involved is described to be similar in concept to the mechanism for charging electric toothbrushes and smartphones. Such technology already currently exists for charging vehicles that are stationary, but what AECOM is working on is charging the cars as they drive.
If they succeed and one day, all roads have such charging capabilities, it would completely transform the electric vehicle industry. Batteries will no longer be an issue with electric cars, buses and trucks. You can get all the electricity you need just by driving on the road. And best of all? The company claims that any excess energy generated by its system can be used to power people’s homes, workplaces and communities.
Artificial Intelligence is bound to come into play in any kind of smart system — and smart roads are no exception. A company called Rapid Flow Technologies is working on a system called Surtrac that incorporates AI to traffic light management.
Based on technology developed at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Surtrac gives each traffic light a certain degree of autonomy in deciding when to turn red or green. That information is relayed to other intersections, which react accordingly based on the incoming data.
This is how it works. The first thing Surtrac does is sensing its surroundings to figure out what’s going on, in real-time. It gets this information from its integration with existing sensing infrastructure which can include cameras and radar.
Surtrac then processes this information and creates an optimisation plan for how to move traffic through each intersection as efficiently as possible. Rapid Flow claims its system can reduce total travel time by 25 per cent, including a 40 per cent reduction in wait time at intersections. Less idling also means lower carbon emissions from vehicles stuck in traffic, so this is good for the environment.
SAFER, FASTER TRAVEL IS POSSIBLE
How great it would be if we could reduce road accidents and traffic jams at the same time. Well, if the smart road systems described above come to fruition, we’ll see a time when driving around in a big city isn’t only fast and efficient but also safer. What a joy that would be for city slickers used to heavy traffic congestion. And what a relief for society it’d be when road deaths become a thing of the past.
Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at [email protected].