Advancements in road construction technologies will make them Smart for new-age mobility.
Prabhat Khare, Director, KK Consultants
Smart Road Technologies
The exponential increase in the number of vehicles on roads has led to multiple traffic problems and associated risks, traffic congestions, etc., yet the roads, despite being arteries of modern societies and economies, are still viewed as a classical civil and structural engineering construction. However, several technological innovations over the past few decades are set to address these challenges.
Technology in road construction is now moving towards making roads sensitive to their surroundings through sensors embedded in them and developing a road network system that is utilized more effectively and efficiently. This new-age road system would become an integral part of Smart cities.
New road designs that integrate sensors, microprocessor chips, and high-end electronics in conventional technologies of road construction with a centralized server are being envisaged. Such developments in the existing conventional roads will make them Smart, responsive to their surroundings and other vehicles, harness energies from solar radiation/vehicular movement, and update the information on a real-time basis.
The real-time updated information will help improve and control traffic, pre-empt road congestions, haphazard traffic flow, etc, and quickly attend to accidents, traffic violations, stampedes etc. Using artificial intelligence (AI), this information can be used for adaptive traffic lights and to integrate various roadways for smooth traffic flow. Such a large amount of data can also be used for long-term analysis for monitoring and improving the road conditions, and also the air quality to help reduce CO2 emissions.
The world is entering an era where the “information superhighways” (connectivity, Internet, and data grid) would merge with the “physical transportation highways” to make “roads live and intelligent”. As more technologies are developed and merged with the existing ones, a completely new mobility eco-system will be created, and these intelligent, connected, and communicative roads will play a much bigger and important role.
|New Road Technologies|
|1||Roads that Talk to Surroundings (VANETS*/V2???)||6||Roads that Weigh the Vehicles in Motion|
|2||Musical Roads for Human Safety||7||Roads to Detect Traffic Violations|
|3||Roads with Wireless Digital Traffic Signs||8||Roads to Harvest Energy & Charge EVs while in Motion|
|4||Roads with Smart Intersections|
|5||Roads with Fast Emergency Rescue||9||Roads with Smart Street Lights|
|(*) A Vehicular Adhoc Network (VANET) is a group of moving or stationary vehicles connected by a wireless network primarily used for providing safety and comfort to drivers in vehicular environments.|
|(V2? Could be anything from V2X, V2P, V2I, V2H, V2N,V2V|
Mobile networks have penetrated the vehicular space with vehicle-to-vehicle communications capability (V2V). However, communications from a vehicle to any roadside infrastructure is termed as V2I, while V2X refers to communications from the vehicle to any other object. V2X is important because it allows vehicles and objects to communicate and exchange crucial information, be it position, identity, state of physical presence or speed information. With such data, vehicles can be alerted on potential upcoming traffic hazards, helping them in avoiding accidents, and enhancing safety of the road users.
These roads are designed to produce music or tunes when vehicles drive pass them at a set speed. Countries like Japan, USA, Denmark, Netherlands, Taiwan, and South Korea have constructed a few such roads using grooves or rumble strips, which are spaced at specific intervals on the road surface and forming the tunes of the music generated. The primary purpose of these musical roads is to warn drivers of any hazard, make them aware of road safety, and help them maintain the speed limit. However, such music from the roads can be disturbing to residents living nearby, especially at night, hence, their use has been restricted or they are being used more on highways and long country roads to serve as a reminder of the driving speed.
|Some of the Musial Roads in Various Countries|
|Japan||About 30 Melody Roads located in Hokkaido, Hiroshima, Shizuoka, Oita, Gunman, etc.|
|Korea||‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ melody for Warning Drivers on Highways|
|Taiwan||Vehicles Driving at 50 kmph on Kinmens’s ‘Dinglin Road’, Generate a tune of ‘The Olive Tree’ where Anti-Slip Strips are used instead of Permanently Cutting Grooves on Road Surfaces.|
|Denmark||In 1995, Danish Artists invented the ‘Asphaltophone’ - Raised Pavement Markers that produce tunes to Keep Drivers Awake and Observe the Speed Limit.|
|Netherlands||In Leeuwarden, the roads play out a tune of Friesland’s Regional Anthem at 40 mph Speed Limit.|
|USA||The Song ‘America the Beautiful’ can be heard by Drivers at the Speed Limit of 45 mph on New Mexico Historic Route 66 between Albuquerque and Tijeras.|
|Lancaster, CA||A snippet of ‘William Tell Overture’ plays for Drivers at 55 mph.|
The main challenge with road signs is their proper placement for people to read them and take necessary actions. There are over 110 road signs in India, 60 in the USA, and 170 in the UK, making it very difficult for any driver to understand them, let alone remember them.
Embedding programmable chips in Smart signposts remotely connected to a centralized Traffic Management System will enable messages to be broadcast wirelessly to the oncoming traffic, apart from physically displaying the signs. A receiver unit residing in the vehicle then picks up the sign signal and alerts the driver. Simultaneously, another set of signals can be fed to the vehicle from analyzed cloud data (based on collated data of many other such vehicles on the road) to ensure that the right action command has been received by the vehicle/driver. This would eliminate the need for the driver to keep watching out for the signs while driving and will offer advantages like eliminating dependency on the driver’s judgment in analyzing various traffic signs (especially during bad weather/low visibility/night time/any blockage, etc), and the attention of the driver will not be diverted by watching out for the signs.
Being programmable, changing a sign becomes more flexible, and unlike image processing programs, it does not require complex image processing algorithms, and can be easily used for automatic computation of traffic volume.
Roads with Smart Intersections
Road intersections are prone to accidents due to blind spots, unexpected jumping of traffic lights, and obstruction of views of vehicles coming from different directions. In the technologies for Smart intersections, multiple sensors are used for each crossroad along with the vehicle’s V2X (X stands for any object in the surroundings like parked or moving vehicles, buildings, dividers, light poles, pedestrians, etc). Connectivity and real-time mapping of the situation is created and projected to the vehicle/driver to provide information and take timely and judicious action. In another scenario using AI, these Smart intersections can be made to understand traffic densities and situations of roadways, and dynamically adjust traffic signal timing at various intersections to optimize traffic movement.
Roads Enabling Fast Emergency Rescue
Road accidents are rising with the increase in automobiles. As per WHO, every year, approximately 1.3 million people die in road accidents and about 20 to 50 million suffer from some physical disability. Road accidents and related deaths in India are amongst the highest in the world.
In the event of an accident, the time between the accident and of the victim(s) reaching a hospital is crucial. This is referred to as the ‘Golden Hour’. If the time taken is less, then the injured person(s) has a greater chance of survival, plus the severity of injuries can be reduced drastically. With Smart roads and their connectivity to other vehicles (V2I, V2N, V2E, V2P, V2C, V2H), the time can certainly be reduced as automatic crash notification alerts with geo-location will be sent to all the agencies involved in handling road accidents.
On Road Weighing of Vehicles
With in-built weighing sensors mounted on Smart roads, the weighing of various transportation/goods carriers is possible while they are in motion (WIM-Weighing in Motion). This helps in avoiding a potential hazard on the roads due to overloading as well as wastage of waiting time at weigh bridges. In WIM, multiple sensors are installed in one or more traffic lanes and the measurement of axle loading as well vehicle loading along with other parameters are captured in real-time, while the vehicle remains in motion.
When roads become Smart with multiple connectivity, the traditional methods of detecting traffic violations will become obsolete. Vehicles connected with Smart roads will be connected and communicating constantly with each other as well as with the Centralized Traffic Management System, making it easier to track any violation. The programs can be built to create necessary alarms in case of any deviation.
Energy Harvesting & Charging of Electric Vehicles
There are two factors that will make roads highly attractive for energy harvesting: first, they will have a large surface area open to solar radiation, and second, due to the constant movement of vehicles there is a lot of dissipation of kinetic and frictional energy. For harvesting solar energy, heavy-duty and rugged photovoltaic modules are placed directly on top of the road surfaces (these roads are known as Solar Roads), while to harvest kinetic and frictional energy from vehicular movement, piezoelectric devices are placed below the road surface to generate electrical energy (these roads are known as Piezoelectric Roads).
With the rise of EVs, their need to be recharged at regular intervals at a charging station is becoming a challenge, especially in rural areas and on expressways. Hence, the need for making roads suitable for charging the EVs moving on the roads.
In 2016, the first Solar Road consisting of 2,880 m2 of solar panels, was made in France; the power generated by the road was used to power all the streetlights. Later, USA, Sweden, China, UK, and Japan followed suit by developing many such road stretches. While France leads in Solar Roads, Sweden created a stretch of 1.2 miles near Stockholm into an ‘Electrified Road’; it dynamically recharges EVs on the road, using magnetic induction technology. Cables buried beneath the road surface generate electromagnetic fields which a receiver device in the vehicle transforms into electrical power for charging the vehicle’s batteries.
Roads with Smart Lighting
The first road with Smart/Intelligent street lighting system was made in Oslo, Norway, in 2006. Its purpose was to control/optimize the street lighting as per the daylight, weather condition, and traffic, to save energy. Most streetlights today have been replaced with LEDs. Sensors and Wi-Fi are also being added to the streetlights’ control unit to allow them to sense the presence of pedestrians and vehicular traffic and turn on/off the lights (while maintaining minimum illumination for social safety). Wireless connectivity in streetlights is enabling them to form networks, and be controlled remotely or tandem forming pairs or groups, based on the need.
|Some other Typical Attributes of Smart Roads|
|Environmental Integration||Focus on Co-Modality|
|Energy Efficiency||Carriers of Multiple Services|
|Service Quality & Reliability||User-Friendly Roads|
|Economic Sustainability||Safety & Comfort|
In India, improvement in roads and infrastructure picked up around 1995 when the automobile market opened up and people began to enjoy automobiles of global quality standards.
However, despite the best efforts of all the stakeholders in infrastructure development, it is worth noting that while India might rank second (next to the USA) in absolute length of roads, it lags far behind in their design and quality (only 69% of India’s roads are surfaced which also do not meet global benchmarks).
Generally, the roads in India have never been treated with respect – from designing to their creation and usage. In fact, they are one of the most abused of the country’s infrastructure, facing massive traffic flow, overloaded vehicles, and public misuse. The primitive road network, despite its impressive length, is far from achieving the tag of Smartness. The Government, engineers, and infrastructure developers, who have been focusing on creating Smart cities across the country, must also consider making new roads and reconstructing the existing roads into Smart and Intelligent roads as they will be the arteries of our future Smart cities. This is also needed for the benefit of the increasing number of conventional ICEVs and the EVs.
To move to Smart & intelligent roads even in the smaller way, India faces tremendous challenges. In its first attempt, an Indian team from HP Lubricants and Leo Burnett India put a set of prototype SmartLife poles on NH1 (one of the most dangerous roads in the world, connecting Jammu and Srinagar). The poles installed on two sides of the hairpin bends, gauge the speed of approaching vehicles and communicate with each other to alert the drivers by sounding a horn.
Modernizing roads in India is a Herculean task and would take years, but it is certainly one of the high priority areas of the Government, which is investing heavily in infrastructure development. The inclusion of Smart roads with cutting-edge technologies at this time would help India catch up with the rest of the world.
Also, since India has an ambitious target of converting 70% of all commercial cars, 30% private cars, 40% buses, and 80% of 2W/ 3W sales to EVs by 2030, the current and future road construction plans must consider the fact that Smart roads will be required to meet the needs of future automobiles, while other advanced mobility systems will also need to be integrated with the Smart roads of the future.
Road technology in India has grown very slowly compared to other components of mobility networks. However, with the Government’s focus on building world-class infrastructure, coupled with the rise in demand of EVs, the time is right for making this most critical sub-system of mobility network to become Smart. Such a move will bring greater automation, higher energy efficiency, lower cost, improved safety, cleaner air, greener environment, reduced congestion, fewer accidents and fatalities, all of which will improve the people’s quality of life.
Roads should no longer be viewed as static infrastructures but rather as a ‘dynamic and intelligent sub-system’ of society – one that senses the surroundings, operational conditions, and is responsive to the various situations. It communicates in real-time with a central server and provides regular updates on traffic conditions, road loading, weather conditions, accidents and other emergencies with exact locations, etc, across the entire stretch. It thus makes city operations efficient and smooth. The potential of a Smart road is unlimited.
It is also possible that in cities of the future, “the information grid”, “the electric grid” and “the transportation grid” will integrate to form a live neural system for Smart cities in which the Central Control Room would serve as the “Brain” while the Smart road grids would act as the “central nervous system”, while the EVs/CAEVs (forming Transportation Grids) would be the “hands and legs” and the information/power flow would be the “blood flowing” in this virtual eco-system of a real Smart city.
BE (Electrical), Gold Medalist, IIT Roorkee, Consultant, Senior Industry Veteran of Tata Motors, Honda Cars & Ashok Leyland, Life Member of National Safety Council, BEE Certified Energy Manager, Lead Assessor for ISO 9K, 14K, 45K & 50K