To the ordinary person, the Internet of Things (IoT) is only for the home. But the Internet of Things covers a whole range of devices and applications. One of them is intelligent transportation systems, promising smarter roads and smarter traffic.
You are probably already familiar with how the Internet of Things is changing your cars. Today you can own a car that uses proximity sensors to park itself. Soon, perhaps, you can even own one that will drive on its own. Google is one of the most prominent companies testing such self-driving cars, and their own data show that these cars are even safer than cars driven by professional drivers. Specifically, human-driven cars are more prone to sharp brakes and acceleration than the autonomous ones.
But smart cars are only part of the picture. Smart roads are equally important, and are also in the works. Virginia’s Smart Road, for instance, was built over a period of more than five years and opened in 2002. And according to reports, it costs around $50 million to build.
The Smart Road features around 400 sensors on the road and uses fiber optic cables to transmit the data being gathered. It also has capabilities for making rain, fog, or snow. Apart from that, it also has information systems on road weather, a GPS system, road surveillance and access.
For now, the Smart Road is not open to the public. Instead, it is being used by car manufacturers and other transportation-related researchers for their own purposes. The project, however, highlights one of the features, functionality, and benefits of the Internet of Things: its ability to gather data efficiently, quickly, and conveniently. Researchers using the Smart Road do not even have to stay on it to conduct their research. Instead, they stay at the control room that is located in Virginia Tech.
There are several applications for the IoT that promise to improve road safety and roadworthiness, as well. Michael Totty, writing for the Wall Street Journal, cites a few examples, such as roads that are able to tell motorists about an impending traffic jam even before it occurs, a bridge that reports to the proper authorities when it has some structural problems that might cause it to collapse, and electric grids that are able to diagnose and troubleshoot problems on their own.
The possibilities are endless. Even today, you can see up to the minute traffic data being gathered by sensors, transmitted to data centers where they are being put into good use. You see this information in Google Maps and other similar services. With the advent of telematics in cars, this kind of information might go directly to drivers, as well.
California’s Department of Transportation also uses sensors and wireless technologies to help them gather data about cars traveling on several freeways in San Francisco. The department is able to monitor the speed of each vehicle on the freeway and see how long they would get from one point to their destinations. So you get information on the expected travel times even before you get on the freeway. The data they get could lead to other applications such as being able to suggest other routes, or even taking a bus or the train rather than driving on the freeway.
And the Internet of Things is not just useful for traffic monitoring and control; it is also great for infrastructure monitoring such as the bridge example mentioned above. It can also help detect and eliminate potholes. One early application presented at the 2008 International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications and Services describes the use of Pothole Patrols. These are vehicles that are fitted with sensors used to check on road surface conditions. Using vibration data and GPS information, the researchers were able to identify potholes accurately almost all of the time.
There are those Internet of Things applications for roadside signs. One of the pioneers in this field is All Traffic Solutions. The company manufactures and sells road signs that notify you of your speed. Some of their products even alert you when there is an accident ahead, or simply tell you to slow down. Some signs are used for parking spaces.
The company’s customers are able to access data using smartphones and tablets via their mobile apps. They can then make use of this data for information-based decisions and even change what their sign says without going to the site. So if the parking area is already full, they can change your sign from “Parking $5” to “No slots available” right in the comfort of their office or even when they are half way around the world.
The Internet of Things is helping cities and traffic departments get all the data they need to make informed decisions about traffic situations and management, while also making it easier to detect any issues and help address them. What’s more, the Internet of Things is helping make everything easier, automatic even. Transportation systems will truly become intelligent with the Internet of Things.