March 9, 2017

Building smarter roads and bridges

Adding chips and sensors to structures would help prevent accidents and speed up the flow of traffic, tech group says.

By DC Velocity Staff

Most transportation professionals agree that the nation's roads and bridges need a general overhaul. The Trump administration has said it supports that goal and plans to request hundreds of billions of dollars from Congress to repair the nation's infrastructure.

The financial and engineering details are still in flux, but one group is calling for an unusual addition to the materials list. Instead of simply pouring concrete to build new roads and bridges, contractors should install chips and sensors as well, says the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington, D.C.-based science and tech policy think tank.

U.S. infrastructure systems could be safer, more efficient, and more adaptable if planners mixed IT components with basic pavement, the group argues. "By taking advantage of next-generation information technologies, we can upgrade roads and bridges so they actually help prevent accidents and speed the flow of traffic," ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson said in a release. "All across the board—from transportation to the energy grid—we can add capacity and improve reliability while lowering costs."

The group acknowledges that there are numerous barriers to realizing the economic and societal benefits of digital infrastructure. These include outdated regulatory policies, a lack of public funding, a scarcity of experts in information and communications technology (ICT), and privacy concerns, the group says in its recent report, "A Policymaker's Guide to Digital Infrastructure."

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