Anyone who has taken a summer road trip knows that orange-barrel season is in full bloom. It seems everywhere I go, there is construction underway. The other day, I hit three different road projects on my way to a dental appointment. It’s bad enough having to face the dentist, let alone deal with so much construction on the trip over!
More than $100 billion of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure funding bill signed in 2021 is earmarked for our nation’s roads and bridges. We have long lamented the state of our infrastructure and the need for repairs, but now that money is flowing to projects, we are dealing with construction inconvenience everywhere we go. You could say we got what we asked for.
While this investment is long overdue, my hope is that some of that money can be directed to research on ways to make our roads smarter. Studies are currently underway to use connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technologies that build upon the driver-assist systems found in many newer cars. Such future tech would allow cars and trucks to communicate with each other, road infrastructure, and cloud systems with the goal of enabling safer and more efficient traffic flows.
A number of states are looking into such technologies, but probably the effort that’s furthest along is one coordinated by the Michigan Department of Transportation and an organization known as Cavnue. Their aim is to install a network of smart road sensors along a 25-mile CAV corridor on I-94 near Detroit. Before going live, the system will utilize a digital twin to test real-world conditions in a virtual environment.
Eventually, this type of smart road system could be used to alert drivers to hazardous road conditions, such as accidents, inclement weather, construction, potholes, and congestion.
The systems could also talk to other vehicles in order to determine the best routes to their destinations based on current traffic conditions, much the way many GPS apps use monitoring data from other road-users to suggest alternative routes. The data could also be used to pace and align cars to allow more vehicles per mile to reduce overall congestion, controlling speeds as many cruise-control systems currently do.
Future advancements to road infrastructure could help detect and alert cars to pedestrians and bicyclists, while possibly creating dedicated lanes for truck platoons and fully automated vehicles.
After the summer driving I have done, I would be happy if the systems could at least redirect the cars whose drivers insist on driving slowly in the passing lane (you know who you are). It is called a passing lane for a reason—pass, and then get back over. Controlling those cars alone would make my road trips so much more enjoyable.