The automotive industry is on a verge of a dramatic transformation – numerous vehicle manufacturers, along with tech companies like Google are trying to manufacture a completely autonomous vehicle, an intelligent self-driving car which will, in the near future, take us wherever we like. Manufacturers around the globe have got over the initial setbacks in innovation and so cars are becoming more intelligent than ever before. But the same cannot be said about the roads and highways.
Industry experts argue that the development of intelligent roads is lagging. The technology for building them basically hasn’t changed for more than one century, and the existing roads are too costly to maintain. That is also about to change soon, since our cars are becoming more intelligent, roads too have to become smarter, they have to be able to communicate with the vehicles, improve our safety and save energy, or to put it even more simply, the roads have to become alive.
“There cannot be a smart city without a smart road and together a smart city with smart roads can provide citizens with smart mobility”
Intelligent roads are, in short, the bedrock of all future road transport. “There cannot be a smart city without a smart road and together a smart city with smart roads can provide citizens with smart mobility”, the Smart Transport Alliance (STA) stated in its report “Smart Roads: A vision 2015”.
Upgrading the infrastructure
The GCC region has some of the smartest cities in the world and over just a few decades they have made significant progress in embedding their public infrastructure with the newest technologies. Euromonitor International estimates that the global market potential of smart cities will reach $3.3 trillion by 2025 with the GCC region expected to become a global driver in the Internet of Things (IoT) connected innovations.
By 2020, the combined government expenditure in the GCC is forecast to be $480 billion (bn), of which the minimum of 60% or around $288bn are to be invested in road infrastructure and transport. GCC is a highly competitive and mature market for road builders, and now they are forced to think outside the box since it, Dubai, recently announced that 25% of all transportation trips within the emirate will be smart and driverless by 2030.
Qatar is also working at developing an intelligent transport system which will quickly and safely respond to incidents and events in the likelihood of the roads network being affected. But, according to Akin Adamson, Director of transport consultancy TRL Middle East, at the moment, there are no developments in building new smart roads in the GCC. “Majority of the roads being built in the GCC are still being developed with the use of relatively traditional technologies,” he stated.
“Countries in the region are currently working on upgrading their existing road infrastructure to smart ones, making them ready for all future technologies by developing safety standards.”
It appears that the countries in the region are currently working on upgrading their existing road infrastructure to smart ones, making them ready for all future technologies by developing safety standards. Meanwhile, government officials are introducing relevant legislations in keeping with these changes.
“Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) is probably the most active in building smart roads and are getting closer to achieving the road infrastructure readiness targets for autonomous vehicles. RTA has been rolling out a number of new and state-of-the-art technologies. For instance, Dubai has installed traffic surveillance and photo analysis cameras that not only to detect violations, but also analyze abnormal traffic patterns and allow the traffic center to pro-actively manage traffic across the city,” said Camil Tahan, Principal with consulting company Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company) and part of the PwC network.
“RTA has also been deploying smart traffic sensors, virtual signs, smart traffic light systems which aim to enhance the traffic flow and safety of passengers. More importantly, these technologies will also enable communicating with autonomous and connected cars in the future,” Camil said.
About Dubai’s plan to have 25% of all transport driverless by 2030 and whether there was adequate support infrastructure to ensure mass appeal, he pointed out that Dubai had progressed well in its plans to develop smart infrastructure.
“For one, the metro system is increasingly becoming the mode of choice for a large segment of the population. Second, Dubai has been piloting autonomous vehicles in the city for over a year now which allows it to learn to better deploy the technology for cars and buses once ready. Third, Dubai has already started upgrading its intelligent traffic systems (such as connected traffic lights) to better adapt for autonomous and connected vehicles in the near future,” Camil said.
Akin partly agrees with this view, but adds that it needs to be considered on a case-to-case basis. “Dubai’s metro and tram system could probably be in the future. If other forms of public transport (e. g. last mile buses/shuttles) and delivery services become smart and driverless, then it is conceivable that 25% is achievable. But, if you are looking at 25% of all personal vehicles being driverless by 2030, then this is probably far-fetched at this point”, the Director of TRL Middle East stated.
Further away from the GCC, countries like Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, or the USA are already testing various solutions for intelligent roads. At the beginning of 2017, according to the media, Amazon developed and patented a unique infrastructure that helps driverless vehicles navigate and identify the correct lane for their journey. Also, start-up Solar Roadways is examining if standard asphalt or concrete surfaces can be paved with panels fitted with photovoltaic cells that generate and store electricity.
In October 2016, a $12.3-mn smart bridge was opened in Nuremberg, as a part of the project “Digital Autobahn Test Field”, launched in 2015, that allows tech and automotive companies to test their future technologies at the A9 highway in Bavaria in a real road condition.
In June 2016, Siemens installed an overhead line for electric and hybrid trucks on a 2-km highway north of Stockholm. It allows hybrid diesel-electric freight trucks to switch to electric mode when they detect the cables. In Oss, Netherlands, light-emitting lines are painted along the N329 highway – the 500-meter long lines absorb light during the day and glow at night for up to eight hours and save electricity, which would otherwise have been consumed by overhead lighting.
In order to describe how the use of technology could make future roads safer, more intelligent and more connected, Akin refers to Dubai’s implementation of a series of initiatives that have been created to redefine what mobility would mean within the city. They use new transportation technologies that include connected and autonomous vehicles, alternative fuels, keyless fleet management, traffic analytics, etc.
“The emergence of new technologies being used for on-road communications is expected to drive a change in how vehicles will operate and supply information”
“The emergence of new technologies being used for on-road communications is expected to drive a change in how vehicles will operate and supply information. This, in turn, can effect better, real-time traffic management. Industry experts have revealed that this is being made possible through the continuing development of essential network infrastructure. Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) will play a key role in the efforts to transform urban mobility into a seamlessly connected and more dynamic component of the city-as-a-system (CaaS),” he said, adding that the experts have also explained that the arrival of connected vehicles will play a big role in the technological shift within the mobility segment.
“This is particularly true for wireless communication, e. g. vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), collectively referred to as V2X. Primarily set to ensure transportation safety, V2V technology allows cars to continually communicate to the other vehicles around them so each are aware of the others’ speed, heading and direction. Connected vehicles also help in recognizing and alerting drivers to dangerous situations,” Adamson said.
“By adding a communication layer to the road infrastructure, (especially at known hazard points and intersections), V2I technology extends crash-reduction and greater efficiency capabilities by giving advanced notice of incidents, allowing automatic control of signal timing, speed management, and the prioritization of public transport and/or commercial vehicles,” Adamson added.
According to the TRL’s director, one of the biggest safety benefits will come from the widespread adoption of vehicle safety technologies that already exist. “These include making multiple airbags, ABS and ESC (Electronic Stability Control) standard on all vehicles. This is further reinforced with the implementation of newer technologies like Automated Braking Systems, which will also bring benefits if more widely adopted”.
When it comes to the benefits of making roads intelligent, they are easily transformed into numbers. According to the RTA, their new smart transport strategy will reduce transportation costs by 44% or more than $245mn, saving around $408mn trough reduction of environmental pollution, and $4.9bn through raising efficiency of the transport sector by 20%. Also, it will increase productivity of individuals by 13% by saving up to 396mn hours, which are at present wasted every year during travel on roads. It will also help in reducing traffic accidents and associated economic losses by 12%, thus saving $544 million a year.
Qatar’s Mobility Innovations Center (QMIC) mentions in its 2016 Traffic Report that the average number of extra hours spent due to congestion is 109 hours per commuter, while the economic cost of congestion in 2016 was estimated to have been between $1.5bn and $1.8bn, which translates to a loss of about 0.9 – 1.0% of the GDP in 2016.
The GCC region has significantly higher rates of death from road accidents than the international benchmark, leading to economic losses equivalent to 2.5% to 4.5% of the GDP among GCC states including non-fatalities, stated the report by Strategy& ‘Tech-enabled transport: Building smarter transportation networks in the GCC’.
Akin stresses that smart roads can be classified according to three characteristics: Adaptable – i.e. self-monitoring, self-maintaining, adaptable to traffic loads and environmental conditions; energy generating; Automated – multi-layered, interoperable communications systems embedded enabling V2V, V2I and a host of resulting applications; and Resilient – sense environmental conditions to (e.g.) harvest heat, de-ice, manage drainage and provide warnings.
“The potential benefits and advantages to be gained from smart roads are enormous. Users are likely to witness benefits such as improvements in travel time, enhanced road safety, reduction in congestion, improved performance of road systems and fuel efficiency,” said Camil.
“Smart roads are able to work within a connected infrastructure network, which in turn, enhances the overall transit of goods and people. It can also provide drivers with advance warnings and information regarding hazards, such as ice, road blocks, road construction work, etc. Smart roads can also provide data on driver performance, traffic flow and other issues that can be considered as useful and timely information,” he added.
“GCC governments can use transport technologies to develop more cost-effective, safer, accessible, and environmentally sustainable transportation systems”
According to Camil, GCC governments can use transport technologies to develop more cost-effective, safer, accessible, and environmentally sustainable transportation systems. “Capitalizing on these technologies requires a structured technology adoption framework with four components: regulate, pilot, build, and incentivize,” he said. Explaining it further, Strategy& principal is adding that as a first step to take advantage of emerging transportation technology, governments will need to build the correct regulatory foundation.
“Transportation regulations in most countries were designed for an analog world and are limited in their ability to deal with new technologies. For example, automobile liability and insurance requirements currently fall on drivers, which is meaningless for autonomous vehicles. The authorities will need to determine how to allocate liability and insurance, potentially to manufacturers or operators (or even potentially to connectivity providers controlling the data flow to vehicles) for driverless vehicles,” he said.
According to Camil, the second component of the framework is to conduct pilot programs to test new technologies, evaluate their potential benefits, and improve them over time.
“In many cases, this may require partnering with the private sector, particularly given that individual companies have the technical expertise required to launch such tests and most government agencies do not. For example, Dubai’s RTA recently partnered with Emaar Properties to conduct trial runs of a 10-seat autonomous shuttle on a 700-meter track along Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard,” he said.
The third component of the adoption framework entails building the required infrastructure to support new technologies. “That includes both physical and IT infrastructure. Physical elements include charging stations, road sensors, LNG bunkering facilities, automated port terminals, and traffic management control centers,” he explained. And the fourth and final aspect of the framework is to use incentives to encourage both customers and service providers to adopt new technologies.
“Governments have a variety of mechanisms they can use to create such incentives. On the customer side, for example, companies can encourage drivers to use emerging technologies by giving them access to richer information, such as real-time traffic-flow data, which can help drivers avoid congestion (or choose to take mass transit instead of driving),” he concluded.
Akin added that connectivity continues to be most important aspect – especially when it is powered by high-speed, low latency networks. “In addition to seamless and fast connectivity, the ability to collect and analyze data in real time is also an essential factor. Regulation, standards and type approvals will also all need to keep pace with technology development. Lastly, new smart roads will require investment, probably through trials and proofs of concepts initially, in order to see what works and what doesn’t.”
In the near future, the GCC region will surely start building new, smart roads capable of catering to future means of transport, not just cars, but also trucks and other heavy equipment which are essential in the region, where the construction and logistics industry will continue to play an important role in the diversification of local economies.
“The strategy of continuously building conventional roads has already proven to be inadequate, especially in the heavily congested cities of the GCC, because with more vehicles on the road the danger of congestion is even greater, threatening to become a permanent condition”
The strategy of continuously building conventional roads has already proven to be inadequate, especially in the heavily congested cities of the GCC, because with more vehicles on the road the danger of congestion is even greater, threatening to become a permanent condition.
The numbers speak for themselves. There will be a total of 19.1mn vehicles on GCC roads by 2020, up from 14.35mn in 2015 – Saudi Arabia will have 10.03mn vehicles by 2020, the UAE 3.53mn, while the rest of the region, which includes Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, will have 5.54mn vehicles, according to Frost & Sullivan. In foreseeable future cars will remain the dominant mode of transportation, and as they become more intelligent, they will need similarly intelligent roads.
Will those future roads be solar ones or wind-powered, or will they be built by using high-tech materials like self-healing concrete that glows in the dark, remains to be seen, but for sure the roads of the future must address the people’s highest expectations in relation to road transport and define a model that adapts to societal demands.
This article is from BQ Magazine’s Issue 44 – May 2017.
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