Having a car connected to the Web is a fantastic way to keep the kids entertained by watching cartoons during long trips. For some time now, Bluetooth technology –as well as USB ports and, more recently, wireless connections to the internet– allow our intelligent telephones to communicate with our vehicles. But the future promises much more.

Just like electronic road toll systems, in which the driver only has to choose a lane and a short-range microwave system to avoid that bothersome payment with coins. Sooner rather than later, the applied technologies of the  internet of things will permit highways and cars to be connected. Because highways, like vehicles, will be more and more intelligent. And the reality is that the future of transportation can benefit enormously from the possibility that cars and highways can communicate.

That concept, the smart road, is another step forward in the internet of things. Through technology –like speed sensors, traffic cameras, weather forecast systems, digital signals and artificial intelligence– the highways of the future can increase their usefulness in almost every direction.

Your car will talk with the highway

Thanks to smartphones, wearables and Alexa, we’ve been connected for some time. Connected among ourselves and with what’s around us. And when transportation systems (vehicles and highways) take the next step in that direction, driving and trips will not only be safer but also simpler. Because car-roadway connectivity will considerably change the driving experience.

Traffic signs will become antiques of another era. The projects for intelligent signs don’t want these signs limited to the visual display of information. Just as GPS systems provide warnings about surroundings signs, in the future those very signs will be able to send messages that warn drivers about their content. Inside the car, the driver will receive an audible warning with the message from the sign, or it will appear on the screen of the vehicle. Not only will this increase safety, even when there is poor visibility, but it can also mean that autonomous vehicles will no longer need complex systems of sign recognition.

In addition, and even through this may mean more drivers will be fined, intelligent highways will simplify the process of detecting and notifying driving infractions. According to the Singularity Hub innovative think talk, the black boxes of cars can store a register of such infractions. The news of these infractions will be automatically sent to the authorities.

Through the interconnection between vehicles, highways and traffic management systems, there will be an increase in safety. With the extension of many of the systems already installed in the first autonomous cars, the vehicles and roads themselves can make decisions, such as stopping the car in a dangerous situation or reducing its speed in a certain area.

The asphalt as data analyst

With vehicles and infrastructures thus connected, the authorities and managers can collect a great deal of traffic data: about driving conditions, speeds and even the state of the road surfaces. And the greater the information, the greater the improvements that can be made.

For starters, increased data will permit improvements in urban planning systems. For example, information about traffic conditions will help adjust the frequency of stop lights depending on the traffic needs. At any given moment, an integrated digital system can access information about vehicles that are in the area, the speeds at which they are moving,  and the general state of the traffic and the road, thus permitting stop lights to open or close to avoid traffic jams.

Reducing congestion at urban hot points will also have a collateral effect. In optimizing traffic flow and minimizing the length of traffic jams, it will be possible to lower the levels of the  CO2 emissions caused by traffic.

At the same time, the information collected by intelligent highways will serve to identify problematic zones in which there have been many accidents or risky situations. Starting there, it will be possible to determine if the cause is a sign or a traffic light or cross traffic. Starting then, it will be possible to much more efficiently address a specific cause of the problems.

The connection of highways with each other, with the vehicles, and with a centralized system, will help to control all this in real time. And the repairs and changes can be carried out on the basis of data collected by the intelligent systems that monitor highways. This can also lead to prevention, with the saving and increased safety that this implies.

Roads that charge the car

Based on technologies like Smart Pavement from the American start-up Integrated Roadways, the pavement itself can serve as the main Wifi platform for cars and other connected vehicles. In addition, through a system of sensors and optic fiber, it will be used to automatically detect accidents and notify of emergencies.

In the future, with the massive use of electric vehicles, not only will they use the connectivity of highways to share data and plans, but they will also use them to charge vehicles that are moving. The application of wireless charging will allow electricity to be transmitted to vehicles from induction coils installed in the pavement. There are already planned pilot projects with this technology in the cities of Tel Aviv, Gotland and Karlsruhe and on the A35 highway in the region of Lombardy.

The roads of the future, besides serving as wireless re-chargers, can also generate electricity. Because in many cases the sources of energy are already present through the sunlight they receive, as well as from the vibrations that vehicles generate. The resulting energy can not only be used to to feed the electric installation of the highway (signs, streetlights, etc.), but will serve to recharge electric cars, and can even be transferred to the electric grid.

To sum up: the highways of the future will cease to be simple routes but instead will make our life easier. They can charge our car, free us from traffic jams and even, when necessary, decide what our best route is. Maybe the only remaining thing for them to do is to drive our car. But don’t worry, the autonomous cars will do that.

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