Connected Highways for the Greater Good
We are living in an era of instant communication and gratification. And, while daily life seems to be going faster and faster, the road systems seem to be moving slower and slower. I waste hours on the road in bumper to bumper traffic, listening to the radio… growing increasingly frustrated. I continue listening to the radio hoping to learn why traffic is delayed. By the time the report finally comes, it is clear that the news is old and no longer correct. I am further frustrated. Sound familiar?
One fine day, again struck in traffic, I like always, was listening to the radio when a report came on about global warming and increasing carbon emissions. Some newsflash, considering the numerous cars in my immediate vicinity, all standing, with their engines running. When traffic finally started moving again, I saw that the delay was due to an accident caused by the adverse weather conditions that day.
Not an uncommon story. It has happened to us all. The big question is what can be done to improve the traveler experience in modern times?
The answer: Intelligent transport systems that enable highway agencies and departments of transportation to:
- Improve traveller satisfaction
- Meet safety requirements
- Reduce congestion
- Reduce pollution
Intelligent transport systems leverage thousands of IP devices situated along the side of the road or highway to provide real-time video from closed-circuit TV cameras (CCTV), voice from emergency telephones as well as deliver data from sensors and weather stations that can be prominently displayed on highway message signs. IoT can take this one step further by sharing the same information directly with the vehicles on the road.
To support the evolution to intelligent transport systems, telecommunication networks first need to be refreshed to provide a future-proof, IP-based infrastructure that can support information transfer and flow from the new IP based sensors to connected cars. Telecoms networks also must continue to provide seamless support for the current traffic management infrastructure. In doing so, highway agencies and departments of transportation will be able to address their most pressing challenges.
CHALLENGES FACING HIGHWAYS AGENCIES
WHAT THE INTELLIGENT TRANSPORT SYSTEM COULD BRING
The data gathered from the roadside sensors and connected cars can be analyzed in real-time to provide rapid and accurate knowledge about the highway conditions. This knowledge can be used by the highway agencies to control congestion by adjusting traffic speeds, access to highways, etc. In addition, the data can be communicated to drivers, either directly to their car’s onboard systems or indirectly via information boards. This enables drivers to make informed decisions about their journey.
In addition, the data can be used to help engage and direct emergency and maintenance services. These services, in-turn, should be provided on secure, private networks where bandwidth can be easily scaled, as required. For example, good HD video could help emergency services with what to expect at an RTA (road traffic accident) site, so the team can best prepare and dispatch the appropriate people and materials. This advance intelligence could literally save lives.
For maintenance services, intelligent systems can analyze video feeds to determine abnormalities. This data could then be used to communicate important information to drivers and allow maintenance crews to be easily dispatched. For example, say a lorry dropped part of its load, or smoke was seeping from a vehicle fire - if this information is known by drivers, well in advance of arrival to the site, drivers could redirect or be redirected, and a potential RTA and the associated congestion could be averted. Naturally, law enforcement agencies can benefit too by using data like video and number plate recognition to track cars in real-time.
WHAT TO DEMAND FROM THE TRANSPORT NETWORK
The telecoms network is fundamental in helping the highway agencies meet these goals. It provides the foundation and the glue for smooth transfer of information from the roadside sensors and connected cars to the highway’s control center. This data can then be analyzed in real-time to provide rapid and accurate knowledge about the state of the highways.
To achieve these advances the refreshed telecoms network must be inherently multiservice so that networks can easily transport data from many different types of voice, video and data sensors, as they are added to the network. The network must then operationally support the intelligent transport system on an application by application basis in processing and transporting vast amounts of data for analysis.
Highways never go to sleep, so the network must be designed to always be up. This means the network must be designed to be fully hardened and protected against multiple failures. But this is not enough. Advanced operations software is needed to monitor the network performance in real-time and help anticipate any failures.
Secure networks are not just required for the emergency and law enforcement services. The whole network must be highly secure. Critical infrastructures like highways are a prime target for cyber-attacks and proper protection, from amateur school-aged hackers to organized bodies looking to maximize disruption, is a particularly complex matter. The telecoms network must provide a holistic solution to address these security threats.
Road traffic systems must continue to work as they evolve to intelligent transport systems. Every highway agency will have different starting points and different end points. This means that the transition needs to be seamless and tailor-made for each highway agency.
In short, telecoms must provide a risk-free transition to an intelligent, always-up, secure packet network to maximize the potential of a full power intelligent transport system.
I look forward to the day when my car tells me the most appropriate route based on real-time situational information and predictive analysis of traffic flows; when the information on the road information systems is actually current; and when in the event of an RTA or road closure, I am told that nothing is going to move for some time, in which case I can turn off the engine and read a book.