Tech of the Year: Smart highways
Miles of roads:
$32.81B by 2020
Smart vehicles need smart roads:
As developers race to deliver the first and most sophisticated smart vehicles, the highways beneath them are following suit.
On the road to smart:
Florida, Georgia and Ohio are experimenting with new ways to connect vehicles and nearby infrastructure.
While companies like Alphabet-owned Waymo and ride-sharing giant Uber work to get ahead of the curve in the autonomous car space, states and municipalities are working with developers to bring their highways up to speed.
One such development is underway along the 241-mile Ohio Turnpike, according to the toll road's executive director, Randy Cole. A 52-mile segment of the highway is being prepped by crews to outfit its roadside with sensors that will eventually receive and broadcast messages in four nearby counties with the goal of making the road and those driving along it safer in real time.
Those sensors, part of a $1.46 million contract with Logicalis in Cleveland for equipment and software from Cisco Systems, will be connected to existing fiberoptic cables and are slated to begin collecting and relaying data in the first quarter of next year. The system's software will be able to collect and broadcast information on the presence of work zones, road conditions and weather advisories, and traffic and speed warnings in its initial rollout.
For Cole, the project means a step forward in changing his department's operations from reactive to proactive.
"Right now, our communications center is mostly responding to incidents," he said. "It's a very different job to monitor systems that are showing you in real time what's happening on the road before you get a phone call."
But, for Cole, it's not just about technology — it's about understanding how that technology affects those around it.
"I hope, with this technology, we're going to have safer roads with fewer crashes," he said. "Ultimately, I hope it leads to better maintained roads with more immediate detection of our infrastructure needs that will help us have a quicker response to dealing with those needs."
According to Cole, that capability will help lead to fewer crashes, cleaner pavements and a safer overall environment.
The Ohio Turnpike project is part of a recent plan from Gov. John Kasich called DriveOhio, which promotes vehicle communication technology and aims to entice developers to test the technology there. But Ohio's isn't the only project working to develop a new generation of U.S. highways. Similar developments in Florida, Georgia and Missouri are also experimenting with new ways to connect vehicles and nearby infrastructure.
And while those testing grounds will likely continue to expand rapidly with the maturity of connected and autonomous vehicle technology, for now, the Ohio Turnpike hopes to be a model for future projects.
"There are a lot of people watching this development," Cole said, "But until we have these systems running effectively there are a lot of misperceptions about the data that's being collected. "We'd like to lay a foundation in Ohio and the Midwest on the data we're getting and how it's being used to help our people and policies."
The smart highway market is expected to grow its market share until 2026 as tech companies race to make automobiles and the roads beneath them smarter and more connected.
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