Smart Road Technology Offers Routes to Faster, Safer Travel

Embedded highway tech could do everything from reducing accidents and congestion to charging electric vehicles.

As cities and suburbs get smarter, roads are beginning to follow suit. In the not-too-distant future, smart technology could make highway travel faster and safer.

Smart roads use sensors to gather data, then provide that data to vehicles, drivers and/or traffic control systems. State DOTs hope smart road technology will keep them informed about road and traffic conditions to help them eliminate bottlenecks and also warn drivers of problem areas and reduce accidents.

Several states are trying out smart tech on portions of their roads. Here is just a sampling of what’s happening.

Ohio: Smart corridor paving the way for connected vehicles

The Ohio Department of Transportation is converting a 35-mile stretch of U.S. 33 into a “Smart Mobility Corridor.” The $15 million project will include the installation of embedded wireless sensors that will collect data about traffic, weather and road conditions. The system will send this data to researchers and traffic monitors via a new high-capacity fiber-optic cable.

The state will eventually use the road to test autonomous vehicles as well as connected vehicles. Connected vehicles “talk” to each other by way of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology — and also to roads, traffic lights and other infrastructure through vehicle-to-infrastructure technology (V2I). By sharing among vehicles info about each vehicle’s speed, heading, brake status, etc., V2V tech will give drivers early warnings of impending problems and help them avert accidents.

Michigan: Connected work zone testing

Michigan has begun testing infrastructure upgrades that will work with connected vehicles to make work zones safer. A 3-mile construction zone along I-75 in Oakland County now features roadside signs with 2-D codes that look a bit like QR codes and can be read by connected test vehicles supplied by several auto makers. The signs warn vehicles about work zones and lane closures and convey the estimated time to get through a construction delay. 3M has provided special construction worker vests that contain strips connected cars can read; they tell the vehicle a worker is on the road.

California is also testing connected work zones.

Virginia: Real-life laboratory for smart tech

Virginia is building a 5.7-mile, limited access highway linking I-81 and Blacksburg, the home of Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute. The new test bed, which will also handle public traffic, will provide a real-life laboratory for smart road tech ranging from sensors that will monitor the physical condition of the road to magnetic tape that measures vehicle lane deviations and helps assess driver performance.

Other countries are testing smart road technology that could one day come to the United States. Israel, for example, has built roads that charge the electric buses that travel over them.

Interest in smart road technology is sure to increase as more and more companies and cities test autonomous cars. HTF Market Intelligence projects the global smart roads and bridges market will reach $751.2 million by 2022. It remains to be seen whether intelligent highways will live up to researchers’ expectations in real-life tests.