Smart roadside hardware.

Insight .

Exploring possibilities for roadside Smart Tech.

Smart Technology is being used more and more to improve network safety, often without us even knowing. To understand more about Roadside Smart Tech, read on!

Modern safety rated vehicles are loaded with Vehicle Safety Technologies (VSTs) to prevent accidents and help save lives. Some VSTs are:

  • Driver alertness detection system
  • Vehicle-to-vehicle communication
  • Electronic stability control (ESC)
  • Warning and emergency braking systems
  • Blind spot monitoring
  • Lane support systems
  • Speed alert
  • Rollover protection

When we look at other road safety aspects (hardware, barriers, crash cushions, etc), Smart Tech is barely used.

But what if roadside safety hardware was ‘intelligent’ and could:

  • interpret and react to surroundings.
  • give warnings or adapt behaviour to suit conditions.
  • communicate with emergency services or maintenance crews.
  • know an impact was about to happen and communicate with vehicles to avoid it.

This technology exists and is readily available, so why isn’t it being used or at least looked at?

A couple of reasons why these are not being explored:

1  People don’t like change:

As with many high-risk, highly regulated industries, people are wary of change. Unknown and unproven variables are seen as increased risk. This means change is not just slow but is discouraged.

2  Why fix what isn’t broken?

When current solutions are simple, predictable and proven, why look into anything else?

3  Is technology consistent and reliable?

People worry about being first to use unproven technology. They want to know it works and will always work. They may not know where to go to test and refine new designs.

4  Cost of implementation and maintenance.

Availability of cost-effective, suitable technology.

Unfortunately, these concerns mean the topic is not discussed enough.

Instead of letting these unknowns bog us down, we should focus on the goals and needs of the industry. We can then explore the benefits of smart tech in roadside safety hardware and find out how it can help.

Why use smart technology in roadside safety hardware?

The roadside safety industry has a goal: “Reduce to zero, road deaths and serious injuries, which occur as a result of accidents on the road networks”. Most agree that if technology help achieve this goal, then we should explore it.

But, managing a road network is difficult, so it’s hard to decide where technology could be used to improve safety. It’s a fine balance of ‘available budget’ vs ‘effectiveness of affordable safety measures’ vs ‘demonstrable results in short time frames’.

A new solution would have to be achievable in the annual budget of a single roading department and have measurable ROI (in terms of safety), over a short term (i.e. combined term of any one sitting government party). To use limited resource well, roading authorities must understand what they already have. They can then see how effective current methods are at improving accidents outcomes (or better yet, avoiding them).

Then they can decide what to spend resources on. They usually want to know:

  • What safety hardware is on the networks, how was it installed and is it maintained well?
  • Behaviour of road users.
  • Traffic volume, vehicle fleet, average speed, etc.
  • Type of accidents and why they happen (weather, angle, speed, vehicle mass, etc). Is there a trend?
  • True cost of hardware (whole-life cost vs safety gain).

Ironically, these questions would be easy to answer if hardware had smart tech onboard. Smart tech could collect and provide information including:

  • Better installation and maintenance auditing.
  • Real-time raw data on general road usage.
  • Better raw-data about accidents.
  • Collect data about individual installations for historical record.

Once we have this data, we can use the same tech platforms to lessen accident severity, or even prevent accidents!

Available smart tech could:

  • Provide real-time info on each system (operational status, system type, maintenance condition and schedule, etc).
  • Provide true statistics on road usage (weather, average speed, number of vehicles, vehicle numbers, vehicle size, etc) and collect info for analysis.
  • Have adaptive warning systems to sense potential accidents and warn the driver (excessive speed, extreme weather conditions, aggressive approach angle, proximity to barrier etc).
  • Send immediate feedback of any impact to emergency response teams (location, severity, etc).
  • Interact with other road safety technology like smart vehicle technology, autonomous vehicles or accident avoidance technology. A ‘Virtual Barrier’ or Barrier-less Barrier?
  • Create smart barrier systems that adapt to individual vehicle types and impact conditions, with optimum energy dissipation and minimal vehicle occupant hazard.
  • Make existing hardware better using discrete technology – retrofitted to installed systems – that would not negatively influence the system’s overall dynamic performance.

Are we investing enough into Smart Technology R+D for road safety hardware?

We’re already seeing increased R+D investment in this area. Partnerships between technology providers and hardware suppliers are being formed and roading authorities are trialling integrated technology (like thermal inspection systems).

Without a doubt, attitudes are gradually changing, driven by:

  • Increased competition in safety hardware suppliers meaning people need to be innovative to gain market share.
  • Global goal of reducing road fatalities and serious injuries to zero (promoted by international organisations; International Road Federation, Transportation Research Board etc).
  • Growing public and political pressure on roading authorities to show they are working toward this goal, while keeping to tough budgets.
  • Mainstream smart tech in other areas of road safety (autonomous vehicles, avoidance technology, automatic breaking, airbags sensors, traffic speed/flow management etc).
  • Suitable technology more available (small, cheap, reliable, smart materials, etc).
  • Great access to Smart 3G, 4G xG Telecommunication Networks.

But investment is still low, compared to other areas of road safety, so progress is slow. Hopefully, these advances will make stakeholders keen to bring new ideas to market: Stakeholders like:

  • Telecommunication companies.
  • Technology suppliers.
  • Vehicle manufacturers.
  • Other funding sources within roading authorities.

We will only see new innovation and improved safety when more people are willing to ask “Why can’t we?” instead of “Why should we?”.

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