City and state preparations for AVs

  • Kansas City, MO–based startup Integrated Roadways is piloting two projects that would bring sensors as well as phone and internet connectivity to those cities’ roads, according to Government Technology.
  • One of the projects will be located in Kansas City and the other in a yet-to-be-named city outside of Missouri. The combined 1.5 miles of pavement should be completed by August 2018.
  • Using data collected from the roads, the company wants to help city officials track issues like congestion and the need for maintenance monitor vehicles and offer a place to lay fiber-optic cable to increase internet bandwidth. Future hardware could support connected or self-driving vehicles.
 Interest in smart roads is growing as federal, state and local officials look for new and more efficient ways to monitor the nation’s infrastructure. Key Market Insights projects the global smart-highway market to more than double from $14.25 billion in 2015 to $32.81 billion through 2020.

In Florida, a new test track under construction will experiment with high-speed tolling technology and vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communication with the goal of increasing efficiency and speed for those traveling the Florida Turnpike.

Georgia officials are testing smart-highway and vehicle technology along a 16-mile segment of Interstate 85. Outfitted with sensors, solar pavement and electronic and autonomous vehicle technologies, the upgraded road, project partners say, will be safer, more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

Part of the rapid growth in smart highways can be attributed to the development of connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technology, Key Market reported. However, although some private companies are piloting driverless programs and state-level interest and investment is growing, CAV initiatives are still in their infancy.  More testing facilities are popping up across the U.S. T

he American Center for Mobility at Willow Run, being built near Detroit, is one such site and is among a group selected by the Department of Transportation as national testing stages for such technology as it makes its way to the roads.

Ohio has what will likely be the country’s longest autonomous car-ready roadway. The 35-mile stretch of Interstate 33 will have sensors to collect weather and traffic data, fiber-optic cables to provide nearby towns with faster internet and — by next summer, Inverse reported — the ability to share data with connected vehicles. 

  • Ohio is investing $15 million to create a 35-mile smart highway test bed north of its capital, Columbus, for testing self-driving vehicles and other developing highway and transportation technologies.
  • Dubbed the “Smart Mobility Corridor,” the four-lane, limited-access Interstate 33 will be outfitted with fiber-optic cables to transmit data collected by wireless sensors situated alongside and embedded in the roadway.  The highway carries up to 50,000 vehicles per day through rural and urban settings in a full range of weather conditions.  This data will also provide more frequent and accurate traffic counts, weather and surface condition monitoring, and incident management improvements, according to ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning.
  • Work to install sensors and a fiber optic network along the corridor is scheduled to begin in May 2017 and last throughout the summer (trenching on the shoulder, laying thick orange fiber optic cables that will allow sensors along the highway to communicate with autonomous cars, using the wifi connection to inform the connected cars about upcoming traffic, weather changes, road conditions, and accidents.  They will also connect with government vehicles using short-range radio transmitters (DSRC).  The $218 million project is intended to put central Ohio on the map for autonomous car testing and give towns along the corridor better wifi, since their internet speeds were too slow.  The towns started to look into internet speed right as the Ohio government and the Transportation Research Center, the largest independent car testing facility in North America, started looking into expanding autonomous car testing. “It’s serendipity, I guess,” says Donna Goss, director of development in Dublin, Ohio to Inverse. Suddenly, the sleepy towns of Marysville, Dublin, and Union County were able to apply for “smart mobility” grants in order to build modern internet infrastructure, as well as a smart highway.
  • Otto Motors has used the corridor to test self-driving vehicles. The sensor technology will also be used to provide more frequent reporting on traffic, weather and road conditions. Additional project partners include Honda’s research and development arm and The Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research.
Test sites for smart transit technology are springing up at major infrastructure projects across the country, including Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct and Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge. The bridge and tunnel crowd enjoys a decided advantage in deploying advanced sensors and the networks to support them, specifically definable real estate with a relatively small geographic footprint.

In August, Uber purchased Otto and teamed up with Volvo on various self-driving proof-of-concept and R&D projects, including the 120-mile autonomous Budweiser Beer truck delivery made this past October in Coors Country on Interstate 25 in Colorado.  While autonomous vehicles on the construction job-site are still several years away, on-highway self-driving technology could impact building material supply chains by optimizing delivery routes for reduced fuel costs. Budweiser, for one, says self-driving trucks could save the beer maker $50 million per year from improved supply chain logistics.

Autonomous vehicles aren’t the only smart technology being developed for over-the-road transportation. The makers of a shotcrete formulation being used to protect U.S. military sites from electromagnetic attack are also leveraging their technology to melt snow and ice from highway surfaces.

Roads that Pay for Themselves: Startup Nears Two Smart Pavement Pilot Project Contracts Integrated Roadways is close to securing contracts for projects where they could test out “smart pavement” aimed at making roads financially self-sufficient.

BY  AUGUST 14, 2017
Integrated Roadways cross section

A cross-section of Integrated Roadways’ smart pavement concept. INTEGRATED ROADWAYS

After years of planning, the next several months are when Tim Sylvester will get the chance to start testing out what he’s been telling people for years: roads can pay for themselves.

Sylvester’s company, Integrated Roadways, wants to put sensors, phone and Internet connectivity and other hardware inside the surfaces society drives on. The company has been pitching the idea to governments since 2012, but unlike the nimble cloud startups that have flared in and out of existence in the interim, Integrated Roadways is dealing in one of the heaviest kinds of hardware possible for a tech company to lift. So until now, it’s been limited to exploring the idea in partnership with governments who might want to put high-tech roads in place in the future.

Finally, it has two pilot projects coming up where it intends to actually lay down pavement and prove its concept: One in Kansas City, Mo. and one in another state. Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s chief innovation officer, confirmed the location of the first pilot. Sylvester has yet to announce the location of the second.  Sometime this month, Sylvester expects to formally enter into contracts with both state agencies involved to lay down a combined 1.5 miles of pavement. He expects construction to begin in the spring, and to finish around August 2018.  Though limited in physical length, the pilot projects are looking to offer preliminary proof of some grandiose ideas.

The status quo in most of the U.S. is that the government always has a maintenance backlog when it comes to roads, and there’s never enough money or time to catch up. So the roads sit in disrepair, the problems grow more expensive, transportation departments have less ability to try out new things without federal assistance and traffic continues to get worse.

“The reason that we’ve had the circular discussion for decades now about paying for roads is that it’s always been a back and forth between taxes and tolls,” Sylvester said. “There’s never been a voice for using technology.”

Sylvester’s idea is to veritably stuff the roads full of technology. Connectivity backbones could help telecommunications firms deploy 5G networks, or give cities a place to put fiber-optic cable and spread high-speed Internet. Sensors could gather data on vehicle counts, speeds and weights, giving cities better access to information. In the future, other built-in hardware could support the communications needs of connected and self-driving vehicles, or electromagnetic coils could charge the batteries of electric vehicles as they drive.

All of those things are valuable enough to be sold to various buyers. So valuable, Sylvester thinks, that they could enable Integrated Roadways to put down the roads without charging anything up-front to the government. So valuable that they could give transportation budgets all they need to pay for maintenance.

Emphasis on “thinks.” There’s a lot to be proven. Bennett said he has no idea how much of it will turn out the way Integrated Roadways is planning. After all, it’s a big departure from the way roads currently operate.  In fact, Bennett said he’s skeptical that the roads would pay for themselves if they were installed today.

Until such time as a sufficient number of connected vehicles on the road, or the technology that is included in the road itself, links to the applications people already have on their phones and get monetized by corporate organizations, I think that’s probably not likely,” he said.

From a government standpoint, simply getting fast, accurate, granular data on traffic conditions is highly valuable.

“Right now we estimate it, we can send people out to track it, and we can send people out if there’s a problem … but (it would be different) to now be able to give you a precise number and a trend analysis to figure out how we can get traffic off that road, ways to incentivize mass transit, ways to engage the public to mitigate that mass transit issue,” Bennett said.

Ideally, the data would fly beyond the IT offices and onto the desks of elected officials, who could use the insights to legislate better solutions for traffic problems.

Right now if I just say ‘It’s bad,’ everyone will shake their head,” he said. “But if I can say ‘It’s bad to X degree and we need to remove this many cars,’ now we can do some policy with that.”

For now, it remains a series of hypotheses to be tested. Specifically, Bennett said he will be curious to see how well the sensors work, how the technology integrates with the city’s existing civic data platform, what the maintenance needs will be, and how well the road enables him to describe Kansas City’s commuting problems.

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.

oday, efforts to create “smart communities” bring critical trends, too often considered as unrelated, into sharper focus. However, the solutions to all of these trends – including a sustainable approach to smart communities – are intimately linked.

Globalization and the decline of heavy industry in many regions of the world, including in the United States’ so-called Rust Belt, has sparked a search for solutions.

At the same time, the increasing opportunities that information and communications technology (ICT) offer to the “connected” threatens to deepen the digital divide.

The fight against climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions remains an uphill battle as tangible actions in this respect are often trumped by economic growth concerns.

**

Integrated Roadways (Kansas City, Mo.) is a company with big plans for an uber-connected world—the company is pioneering its namesake to build a world literally and figuratively connected by a mobile Internet of Things.

Integrated Roadways’ plans will hopefully soon become reality, too, because the company has patented its smart pavement system—a system of tech-embedded precast concrete slabs the provide wireless connectivity on the road.

The company’s modular concrete slab system uses dowel bars to join together individual precast concrete slabs, helping to transfer loads and providing a continuous paved road.

In addition to providing the opportunity for technology to be installed within the concrete itself, precast slabs are also quicker to install, reducing construction delays, and have a longer service life.

And then there’s all the possibilities that integrated technology provides. But nothing’s worse than a tech-embedded system that becomes obsolete after a period of use.

So the company also invented a way to service the pavement, through slab-embedded access ports that allow the smart concrete to be connected, disconnected, upgraded, and serviced.

With the approval of its U.S. patent, Integrated Roadways is well on its way to making these smart roads a reality and has already installed its smart concrete systems in portions of Missouri’s highways.

“To actually have a patent number and issuance date after all this work is still very exciting, even if we knew it was coming,” Integrated Roadways founder Tim Sylvester says in a Startland News article. “It’s rewarding to finally be at the point where we have a patent number and issue date. We first filed in 2014 so it’s been a long time coming at this point.”

So what can smart highways actually do?

In addition to the simple fact that you could connect to the internet when you’re on the go—without burning through your wireless data plan—sensor-equipped roads could make rides safer and quicker.

According to the Startland News article, Integrated Roadways is already working with the Colorado Department of Transportation to install pavement that is so smart that it can call for help when it detects that a car has run off the road.

There’s also the possibility of ice-melting heated highways.

And, according to a Racing News Co article, the roads could also achieve wireless charging for electric vehicles, increasing their range and thus potentially broadening their appeal to a wider audience of drivers.

Plus, connected pavement could directly communicate with autonomous vehicles, making driverless car technology more feasible and more safe.

Although the possibilities for smart highways are diverse, it’s clear that the ability for added technology will change our world in interesting ways.

“We need to change ever-so-slightly how we think about roads,” Sylvester says in the Startland News article. “Change it from ‘a hard flat thing that just kind of sits there’ into ‘a hard flat thing that just kind of sits there, but has cool stuff inside it that makes it possible to do new things, too.’”

Catch a glimpse of the installation of some of the smart concrete slabs in Integrated Roadways’ time-lapse video below.

Credit: Integrated Roadways; YouTube

In terms of public policy, a broadband strategy to build smart communities, regions and countries can actually be a unifying solution to all these issues if it addresses simultaneously the following three challenges:

  1. Widespread availability of broadband access (“broadband for all”)
  2. Ubiquitous application of ICT in different industry sectors
  3. Adoption and social acceptability of ICT solutions

Achieving all this is a major endeavor but one that must be tackled if so-called “smart” solutions are also to be sustainable – in other words, if they are to reconcile economic growth, environmental benefits and healthy social fabrics.

In terms of the first challenge, the “broadband for all” concept implies that it must be considered as an essential enabling infrastructure much like roads, sewers and the power grid. Broadband access is not about watching movies on the internet but is rather a fundamental pillar of ICT-enabled transformations towards sustainability in the 21st century. Broadband access should be ubiquitous, affordable, reliable, secure and truly “broadband.” For example, decentralized, municipal-based approaches in Sweden have proven to be successful in this respect without resorting to massive, nation-wide public investments.

Once broadband is available to every community, this enables enterprises and entrepreneurs to thrive with access to global information, business opportunities and customers. This is a proven strategy that provides the foundation for location-independent entrepreneurship and education, bridges the digital divide, and contributes to more efficient, less polluting smart communities.

This brings us to the second challenge of ubiquitous application of ICT solutions in different industry sectors, and more generally in various fields of human activity. It offers huge potential environmental benefits in terms of energy efficiency and mitigation of GHG emissions, all while spurring productivity and economic growth, a well documented impact of ICT. Proper adoption of ICT-enabled solutions must be achieved among individuals as well as within private and public organizations. Yet ICTs are powerful technologies and if not used properly, can wreak havoc. Hence, social acceptance of these solutions is essential to make full use of their potential to create a better life for citizens.

This third challenge may seem simple; however, it is decidedly not easy. Regulatory changes at various government levels, organizational transformations as well as cultural and behavior changes among citizens and end-users of broadband may be the most difficult barriers to its adoption and best uses. But allow me to make the case as to why we must support it.

The power of green ICT

Broadband is simply a fat pipe. It’s how we use broadband – the applications, solutions and services that ride on it – that can contribute to smart and sustainable communities. And the green ICT movement is a critical component of those solutions and services.

Studies have found that, today, ICT generates between 2-3% of global GHG emissions, about the same as another major culprit, the airline industry. However, as Internet use is skyrocketing, ICT infrastructures and applications could actually outpace the airline industry in terms of GHG emissions, with related environmental damage.

Today, the ICT industry has made great strides in a concerted global effort to exponentially improve the energy efficiency of telecom networks and reduce its GHG footprint. But the broader opportunity lies not so much in “green ICT” but in “greening through ICT.” This means that ICT-enabled transformations can drive energy efficiency, reduced GHG footprint and sustainability in various spheres of human activities and different industry verticals through the infrastructure of smart communities that will also support entrepreneurship and economic revival.

In fact, a 2015 GeSI study has shown that 20% of the world’s GHG emissions could be eliminated by 2030 through ICT-enabled solutions in various vertical application sectors. This “greening through ICT” opportunity should therefore be part of any GHG emission reduction action plan.

From smart to sustainable communities: the challenges

In my view, “smart” communities aren’t necessarily “sustainable” communities. Smart technology may make systems more efficient and autonomous, but sustainability demands more holistic thinking that encompasses technology’s entire life cycle, from manufacturing to use and disposal.

In a sense, that’s the easy part. To truly achieve sustainable communities, we could benefit from much greater dialogue and knowledge exchange between technology innovators and policymakers. And because technology should be ultimately a tool for citizens, such a dialogue could foster adoption by end users and the required social transformations that challenge humans’ tendency toward behavioral inertia.

Even with ubiquitous broadband supporting green ICT applications and entrepreneurial solutions, the people left behind by the digital revolution, i.e. Rust Belt ex-factory workers or their offspring, will need support to join what they may perceive is only a “gig” economy, which admittedly has its own pitfalls. They’d have the tools at hand, however, as they grasp the opportunities.

Case study: Stockholm

We can look abroad to early adopters of ubiquitous broadband to see how it has contributed to economic prosperity. Way back in 1994, Stockholm embarked on a city-sponsored fiber backbone that initially connected civic and educational institutions, though businesses soon sought connection to the network. By 2002, residential broadband caught on and in recent years connectivity has extended to almost all of the city’s population.

A study of Stockholm’s broadband policy – “Stockholm’s Stokab: A Blueprint for Ubiquitous Fiber Connectivity?” – cites three major resulting contributions to economic growth.

  1. It has brought Stockholm recognition as business-friendly and established it as a tech hub with state-of-the-art telecom infrastructure.
  2. The city administration is using fiber connectivity to raise the efficiency (and lower costs) of public services, and
  3. Its open data initiative has enabled third-party developers to devise new services using city-generated data.

The city’s investment showed a positive return-on-investment (ROI) within ten years for a system that is owned by the citizens and offers open access to any party’s value proposition. Indeed, scores of IT solution providers currently use the network to serve various industry verticals.

Granted, Stockholm is a major European city with a metropolitan and cosmopolitan mindset that probably sped broadband adoption and exploitation of its many potential uses. But the principles of public-private partnerships, open access, attraction of value-creating entrepreneurs and enterprises and tangible results should speak volumes to anyone pursuing infrastructure solutions for smart and sustainable communities.

The takeaways

Just as many parts of the world, for instance, pursued ubiquitous access to power in the 20th century and created special programs to ensure that power reached rural communities, so it is a 21st century need to similarly extend broadband to all.

City planners, managers, citizens and other stakeholders should recognize broadband as essential infrastructure, just like water and power, and leverage its contribution to economic development, a clean environment and healthy social fabrics, particularly when globalization and shifts in traditional manufacturing paradigms put their communities at risk. It is a core transition we all have to make in the first few decades of the 21st century.