The Tech That Makes Intelligent Transportation Systems Tick —
Now that we’re deeply accustomed to the Internet of Things (IoT) era, drivers are accustomed to being wowed by their vehicles’ digital coolness. Brakes, displays, and mirrors, are not passive devices anymore. They judge distances between vehicles, detect when we may be drowsy, and even take the lead on braking and parking. With every automatic detection and maneuver, it’s clear that we cruise in miniature Transformers.
But all of this splashy tech is not just for our entertainment and astonishment. It’s part of a bigger mission to make the driving environment safer, travel times more reliable, and transportation modes more convenient. Our car gadgetry signals a new kind of road trip, led by transportation authorities who will use smart roads, smart cars, and smart apps, to tackle some pretty big transportation challenges like congestion, accidents, and emissions. Fire up the navigation app: we’re traveling toward intelligent transportation.
Decades of Smart Thinking
Smart transportation may seem like a new way of thinking but it began decades ago.
- In the 1950s, workers moved out of cities, creating a domino effect that forever changed the commuting standard.
- Retail suburbanization began, and shopping mall meccas drew residents across suburbs.
- The newly established U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT, circa 1966) established safety standards in 1967, and soon automakers added seat belts, padded dashboards, and dual braking systems, to their cars.
- In the 1970s, businesses also migrated to the outskirts, and the USDOT observed that highways exceeded planned capacity as people now commuted from one suburb to another.
To evolve, the USDOT moved beyond opportunistic and discrete system improvements and instead engaged key players in the broader transportation community like universities, stakeholder groups, and researchers.
Collaboration in the 1980s brought new thought in freeway management, safety, and advanced traffic control, as well as support for a national Intelligent Vehicle Highway System (IVHS) — the forerunner of today’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). Individual states started to think and plan collectively, and available technologies — like GPS, video cameras, and automation — were applied to transportation use cases.
The 1990s and 2000s brought rapid technology innovation and new possibilities for a safer and more efficient transportation system. The convergence of the digital and physical travel worlds could yield safer roadways and travel experiences, lower congestion and air pollution, greater traveler convenience, and more efficient transportation operations.
From sidewalks to freeways, citizens spend much of their lives traveling. With such high engagement, it is no wonder that ITS focuses on fixing the travel concerns that directly impact citizens.
Many travel elements have improved over the years, but transportation authorities are trying to knock down the more persistently concerning stats of US transportation, like the impacts of traffic. According to INRIX, Americans lost 99 hours in 2019 due to traffic congestion, equating to an average loss of $1,377 per driver each year.
Even more pressing are pedestrian fatalities and vehicular accidents. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that in 2019, 7,338 pedestrians, cyclists, and bystanders, were struck and killed by motor vehicles and transportation-related accidents claimed 38,203 lives, and 95% involved highway motor vehicles. Human (e.g., distracted driving), vehicle (e.g., brake failure), and driving environment (e.g., fog, road conditions), factors can play a part in crashes.
As the US focuses on decarbonization, eyes turn to the transportation sector, which accounts for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Electric vehicles (EV) are an attractive clean emission transportation choice as the trends show: the Edison Electric Institute estimates that 18.7 million EVs will be on US roads by 2030, which means charging corridors are critical.
Harnessing the power of technology, transportation authorities are studying and deploying impressive technologies to tackle these issues and bring transportation into the digital age.
Enabling Smart Roads
Roadways are no longer simply considered stretches of pavement; they are platforms for innovation. Sensing capabilities will unlock extra-ordinary levels of safety and mobility by enabling smarter, more connected transportation systems that benefit the public and the environment.
Many advances in transportation-related smart technology have been focused on individual vehicle capabilities. But car innovation reflects what’s happening on our streets and highways. A slew of emerging technologies will work in conjunction with car capabilities to evolve roadways past their traditional role as static infrastructure, toward intelligent infrastructure that changes the driving environment for the car and the traveler.
A critical action to enable intelligent transportation is giving the roadways and cars sharp eyes and attentive ears through devices like AI-integrated sensors, cameras, lidar, computer vision, and radar. The gathered and processed data informs DOTs about weather conditions, road conditions, like icy spots and potholes, and pedestrian locations, to provide motorists with advanced warning.
A broad range of applications are in play across the US:
- The Florida DOT has installed Wrong Way Detection systems at over 500 interstate ramps statewide.
- 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.
- Cars equipped with a long-wave infrared (LWIR) sensor can detect the absolute temperature of
objects in the driving environment. Trials show that these sensors more reliably detect human movement in low-light than even night-vision cameras. This means safer crosswalks at the
riskiest times, from 6pm to midnight.
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.
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.
Connectivity and Smart Roads
To support a wide range of smart technologies, transportation authorities need a smart communications network that integrates people and cars with transportation technologies and infrastructure. There are several communications technologies that are critical to make it all work.
1. Fiber — Deploying fiber optic cable in a transportation corridor, coupled with microcell towers provides enhanced connectivity to these ITS ecosystems, facilitating a multitude of emerging technologies and lightning-fast communications. Fiber’s expansive bandwidth supports widespread connectivity, and fronthaul and backhaul from the edge of the network to the core. Fiber is especially important in transportation, because the distance between data collection points and processing points can be many miles apart. Fiber delivers greater bandwidth, longer transmission distances, and more signal immunity.
2. Radio Frequency — Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity will allocate wireless communications for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication so the motorist safely interacts with the driving environment. In ITS, anything that interferes with this V2X link will limit applications, like a CV and AV’s ability to perceive and react to road hazards. Radios are deployed in vehicles and in roadside units (RSU) to provide V2V, vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and infrastructure-to-vehicle (I2V) communications. Security is managed through a certificate management arrangement that issues new certificates to each radio at regular intervals.
C-V2X uses long-term evolution (LTE) and leverages the same technology used by nearly all cell phones. Currently, C-V2X is based on 4G LTE technology—LTE-V2X is available—and has a forward compatible path to 5G. The 3GPP specifications related to the LTE-V2X evolution are published, and multiple chip vendors have developed LTE-V2X solutions. Interoperability testing began in August 2018 and the industry, from test equipment suppliers to global certification bodies, are involved.
DSRC, a forerunner to C-V2X, had 75 megahertz in the 5.8-5.9 GHz band as designated spectrum. In November 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to assign the DSRC spectrum for the C-V2X technology instead. The FCC ruling allocates the lower 45 MHz of the band for unlicensed use and designates the upper 30 MHz for ITS using C-V2X technology. It is unknown whether the FCC will modify the ruling to designate the full 75 MHz to C-V2X. At the same time, industry stakeholders are advocating for the entire 75 MHz for C-V2X stating concern about potential RF interference issues with the current spectrum segmentation. To accelerate the deployment of smart transportation and ITS applications, the industry stakeholders need to arrive at a final agreement on the spectrum ruling.
3. 5G — 5G supports connected devices at a remarkable scale — 2.5 million devices per square mile — and 5G’s gigabit speeds reshape data and connectivity into innovation.
- Multi-gigabit speeds allow higher-resolution camera detection to quickly identify and resolve traffic incidents.
- Single-digit latency combined with V2X improves driver, passenger, and pedestrian, safety.
- The massive amount of IoT devices deployed across a city reduces excess traffic by enabling drivers to find a parking spot more quickly, and get to their destination via the most optimal route available.
4. Edge Computing and Edge Data Centers
- Edge computing uses a distributed cloud network to process data-hungry apps at the source for better user experience and performance.
- Edge computing reduces load on backhaul networks and enables context awareness and data analytics capabilities to support mission-critical and low-latency apps.
- By 2023, 25% of 5G use-cases, like Connected Vehicles (CV) and Autonomous Vehicles (AV), will depend on edge computing capabilities.
- Cloud-based services support the full range of capabilities from driver assistance, CV and AV maintenance, and high-resolution maps used in many applications.
- Instead of one central data center, ITS design may include numerous, smaller data centers distributed geographically.
- Edge data centers assist edge computing to support V2X transportation apps that demand substantial bandwidth, rapid response times, and low latency.
CASE STUDY: The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) offers a real-life example of a transportation authority who is deploying communications to advance their ITS.
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 project kicked off in 2020, and 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 is conducting the engineering, permitting, procurement, and construction, of PTC’s fiber infrastructure. The entire project (mainline and laterals) is entirely contained within the PTC’s Right-of-Way.
With the high-speed data communications provided by the fiber optic network, PTC will install automated tolling (the Open Road Tolling initiative, for example gantries above the roadway), and advance ITS and CV/AV capabilities like smart signage and notifications, traveler information systems, and smart parking.
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 seeking high-speed broadband. This offsets some of the impacts of PTC’s initial infrastructure investment.
The Future of Smart Transportation
Smart transportation started decades ago when citizen habits changed travel and transit, spurring the transportation authorities to embrace available technologies and collaboration to change road management. We are at a similar crossroads today. Now, with available technologies skyrocketing, the emphasis is on virtualizing the communications network to integrate essential physical and digital elements to provide a network of safe, convenient roads from coast to coast.
Smart roads, powered by advanced communications networks, provide the foundation for the next revolution in transportation, creating a safer, cleaner, and more efficient, mobile experience.
Resources and Notes