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Sunday , 3 March 2024

Smarter Roads and their challenges

Smart Roads are round the corner, says Lee Street – Director & Head of Technology Service, AECOM EMIA. He argues in favour of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles with a warning that ‘who will lead and who will pay’ is a debate that will not subside soon.

The development of Technology and its applications is making roads ‘Smart’ and fit for the future. We are entering a period that promises a step change in road operations, especially in the developed world.

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) enables the safe and effective movement of people, goods and data and addresses safety, congestion, and journey-time reliability amongst other things. More than ever we are considering sustainability and in particular, the environment we live and commute in.

Traditional ITS

Over the last many years, we have seen technology and ITS systems and their applications support vehicle monitoring and classification, and provide tactical and strategic information to drivers, largely via roadside message systems. In addition, we provide compliance and enforcement systems which are continually developing, for more complex roads systems. We control traffic compliance and information services via dedicated control centres, which are a mixture of automated control and manual intervention, with a varying degree of integration with their disparate systems and neighbouring authorities, dependent on where you are in the world. We have seen communication systems evolve from what they were normally — separated data and video based delivery services such as serial data, packet switched networks and dedicated digital video networks. But now the communication systems in the developed world are typically high-speed integrated fibre optic intelligent networks, although they are still not very well supported by high speed mobile networks, specially outside of the urban environment. Most roads authorities have an operating regime that collects data, manages information and deals with incidents through providing tactical and strategic information and supporting on-road services for its road users and partners.

With the advent of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) and a drive towards aspects like ‘mobility as a service’ (MaaS), and driven by a growing population, increased car ownership and a huge shift towards City living, we can foresee some big changes on the horizon. Combine this with the proliferation of data sets available to authorities and the public; and you realise that better information and a whole suite of travel services can be made available for advising the public and supporting improved operations. And if you take MaaS into consideration, then the same can be extended to other modes of transport as well.

Infrastructure and Communication

There is much debate on whether autonomous vehicles will have their own network space or not but keeping that aside, what is of utmost importance is that CAV will need a supporting infrastructure that will enable the vehicles to be able to move safely and effectively. For instance, it will need a higher standard of road to help it navigate, which means better road markings and properly maintained road surfaces. Also, any road infrastructure needs to be designed in such a manner that it helps the technology that drives the navigation systems and also aids the interaction between all vehicles. How many CAV units will be shared is yet to be seen but the more they are shared, the less parking we will need and more use can then be made of the land dedicated to parking. However, this is likely to lead to more vehicles on the network and when you combine this with the notion of having CAVs with at least some of their own network space, then we will have a great deal of infrastructure to change and build.

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