Asphalt for 5G
The melody has come, it is not known since when, from 2030 or from tomorrow, and it leaves a message inscribed in the air: at a given moment it will be circulated on musical (and intelligent) highways. This is not science fiction or technological exhibitionism, but road safety. To use connectivity to put the road on the driver’s side. “We must change the infrastructure to support the new communication systems that come with the development of the connected vehicle. And understand that nothing works without connectivity”, says Enrique Belda Esplugues, deputy director general of Information and Communications Systems for the Center’s Security Technological Security of the Ministry of the Interior.
So, in this field, there is talk, for example, that vehicles will generate energy to turn on the streetlights on the hard shoulders; that electric cars will be charged on the go; of intelligent crossings —which will warn pedestrians of the proximity of a vehicle—, that the traffic signals and own roads will warn the drivers of the committed infractions. That there will always be a lane reserved for 5G networks and the road network will be filled with sensors.
This diverse landscape is drawn, among others, by the authors of a joint study by the University of Zaragoza, the Defense University Center, the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the National Tsing Hua University (THU) of Taiwan. Disseminated by the Aragonese university last October, the research includes several projects that certify a trend: “Roads are no longer a simple physical infrastructure, but an information superhighway.”
The words are from Professor Chai K. Toh, a co-author of a text in which the “melody roads” are really just the most picturesque example of what is to come. Through resonance strips in the asphalt, roads such as the Dinglin Road in Taiwan or Route 66 as it passes through New Mexico (USA) emit certain musical compositions when vehicles travel at an appropriate speed. For a decade, the installation of piezoelectric crystals under the asphalt has also been investigated, whose deformation –produced by the passing of vehicles– generates electricity. Up to 400 kilowatts of power per kilometer, according to the Israeli company Innowattech. Extensiometers have been installed on other roads (some in the US, Canada and Taiwan) that allow, using HS-WIM technology, to control the weight of vehicles at the moment.
But the key to future paths does not lie in the music and not even in the sensors, but in their intelligent use. In the possible development, according to the aforementioned study, of wireless traffic signals (without physical existence) that detect a vehicle and inform it – by voice or on the instrument panel – of a speed limit or approach to a junction no preference.
“It is necessary to push the road so that it supports the vehicle and the user connected”, explained Belda at the opening of the first Spanish Congress of Smart Roads (intelligent roads), promoted in December 2020 by the Spanish Road Association ( AEC). Effective communication between the vehicle and the infrastructure such as that offered by 5G technology. Its low latency (response time) allows, for example, to launch a warning “so that a car does not get into a tunnel if an incident is detected”, Juan Beltrán, director of Business Development of the company, illustrated at the same congress. SICE technology, which develops intelligent traffic control systems.
5G connectivity requires the installation of elements on the road and in the vehicles themselves, which are already moving along that path. The National Association of Vehicle Sellers (Ganvam) estimates that by 2025 in Spain there will be more than nine million connected passenger cars (35% of the automobile fleet). In the Ganvam Conecta information day, in December 2020, the director of the Mobility Strategy Office of the Ministry of Transport, Ángeles Marín, pointed out that within a decade all vehicles with less than five years old will have an Internet connection.
“The real question here is what it means to digitize a road”, Xavier Flores, general director of Mobility Infrastructures of the Generalitat of Catalonia, wondered at the Smart Roads forum. It is about “creating a digital superstructure, a platform where all real information has its reference point, and where synergies and links are created that allow us to really take advantage of” the data.
To minimize the number of accidents, injuries and deaths, the Spanish Road Association considers it essential to bring to the road network “adequate horizontal and vertical signage, quality weather information, effective incident warning systems, traffic monitoring and 5G coverage “. Achieving the investment is the next step: the cost of adapting a high-capacity road to autonomous mobility is 230,000 euros per kilometer.
Meanwhile, in the opinion of the Director of Strategy and Network Development of Telefónica Spain, Javier Gutierrez, “the short-term enabler to promote mobility connected to existing networks is the smartphone, which is carried by drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. “The current networks already allow the information to be squeezed out” without waiting for the full development of 5G, “Ganvam Conecta explained at the conference. auditory services developed by the Servei Catalá de Trànsit (with warnings of lanes cut by works, warnings of accidents or breakdowns, need to use chains …) or Indra’s intelligent tolls. Using artificial vision, the gantries are able to identify the type of vehicle, its weight, the number of occupants and the kilometers traveled, and then send the data to the cloud to calculate the rate accurately and charge it to the user’s card.
Technologies like this would allow, for example, to precisely develop a pay-per-use system. Behind the economic question, however, another question appears: data protection. “Anonymity is the basis for generating trust and encouraging all users to be part of connected mobility,” says the CEO of DGT, Pere Navarro, also present at the Ganvam Conecta conference.
Spain has participated since 2017 in C-Roads, the most ambitious European project for the development of cooperative intelligent transport systems, based on the exchange of data between vehicles and between vehicles and infrastructures. Under the C-Roads protection, Traffic is developing the DGT 3.0 platform on some 12,000 kilometers of the road network, which will allow the transmission of information in real time on unforeseen events (stopped vehicles, accidents, adverse weather conditions …), planned works, lanes cut, data provided by the sensors of the vehicles and phases of traffic lights. The V-16 hazard lights – which will replace the traffic lights – will also be connected to the platform.