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We are thrilled to have Bob McQueen, from Bob McQueen & Associates as a guest blogger on our channel. Bob is an internationally recognized expert in smart mobility and Intelligent Transport Systems. He has over 40 years of experience in helping public and private sector clients to get the best results from advanced transport technology, working in the USA, Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific regions. Clients include leading technology companies such as LG, Samsung, Rockwell Collins and Egis Transportation Systems.

This is the first in a short series of blogs addressing the subjects: safer, smarter, and greener roadways. In this blog, I address “smarter”. We will take a look at the definition and discuss several aspects of smart roadways.

 


How do you know if your roadway is smart?

It is quite simple, prod it with a stick and see what happens! While this is a humorous approach, there is an underlying message.

If the roadway is smart, it will detect the prod and react appropriately. This implies that the roadway has both sensing capabilities and intelligence. Of course, the roadway doesn’t actually make the decision itself, the sensing data needs to be sent back to the “brain” or the traffic management center where an appropriate response can be defined. This gives an initial understanding of what a smart roadway is: sensors, high-speed telecommunications, decision-making, and command-and-control. But it is more than just technology elements.

Interactive

As we apply technology elements, the roadway evolves from a passive resource into an interactive component of a framework that includes roadway, vehicle, driver, and management systems. It takes its place as a vital, active part of a systematic approach to traffic and mobility management. This is the first part of how I define “smart roadways” – the ability to be interactive.

Disproportionate impact

The next part relates to the effects that smart roadways manifest. The obvious effects are improved safety, increased efficiency, enhanced user experience, minimized environmental effects, and improved equity. A less obvious and yet inherent quality of the operational technologies used in smart roadways is what we would call the “Sun Tzu” effect. General Tzu was a famous Chinese general who lived around 500 BC. His book on military strategy, The Art of War, has been influencing military and strategic thinking ever since. In his book he said, “small forces can achieve great things.”

When you apply a small force at the right time, amazing effects can happen. The small force in this case is advanced transport technology in the form of Operational Technology or sharp end Information Technology designed to support real time traffic management.

Annual spending in Europe on advanced transport technology is about 5% of what is spent on asphalt, concrete, and steel. Yet the results significantly influence the performance of the conventional infrastructure. It is time to apply more “small force” to get bigger results. Political goals have been set with respect to greenhouse gases and road traffic fatality reductions. These goals are not going to be attained with just asphalt, concrete, or steel. We need to add new infrastructure in form of operational technology, commonly referred to as a network.

These days, when we refer to roadway infrastructure, we are actually talking about two different things working in harmony, as a single system – the roadway infrastructure and the operational technology infrastructure. The small, new forces of operational technology will become critical to the successful operation of our transport network.

Showing the signs of age

This brings us to another reason why the time is ripe for action. Much of the current operational technology network for traffic is aging. Not just in terms of hardware and software, but in terms of outdated architectures for connectivity and cybersecurity. Can you rely on it or is your network living on borrowed time? Being smart is also about being current.

The essence of smart roadways

So, if your roadway is smart then it will react appropriately when you prod it with a stick. It will have the sensing capabilities to detect threats and opportunities. It will also deliver the intelligence required to determine the appropriate response and timing of that response. Smart also includes the capability of the roadway to go beyond passive into a proactive, interactive component in a bigger system. And finally, smart embodies an inherent ability to do more with less. However, the most significant part of being smart lies in what you do with it. It is now time for us to harness the full power of smart roadways to help us to attain both our greenhouse gas and safety goals.

So, ask yourself this: Are your roadways and intersections smart enough for the road ahead? Is it time to consider an upgrade to operational technology and infrastructure? Are you on course to achieve future safety and greenhouse gas targets?

 

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Sources

[1] Road Transport Performance in Europe, European Commission, working papers produced by The Directorate General for Regional and Urban Mobility, WP 01/2019.

[2] Nick Harris, Chief Executive, National Highways Agency England, Smart motorways stock take, Second year progress report 2022.