The Potential of “Smart Roads:” Integrated Roadways Reimagines Infrastructure
Combining technology with pavement, Integrated Roadways dreams of a future where roads are intelligent. Learn more through AAC's interview with its CEO, Tim Sylvester.
As the world strives towards electrification and adding intelligence to just about everything, much of our world today is electronically interconnected. Despite that, one field that has notably lagged behind is our infrastructure.
Integrated Roadways hopes to change that narrative by bringing smarts to a place that it's never been before: the road.
High-level examples of "smart road" technologies. Image used courtesy of Toh et al
All About Circuits recently had the chance to talk to Tim Sylvester, the CEO of Integrated Roadways, to hear about the company's technology, vision for the future, and how smart roads could improve infrastructure forever.
Integrated Roadways’ Technology
Integrated Roadway's technology appears to be both novel and straightforward. Their modular platform [video], similar to a Lego block, hinges on two major components: their smart pavement [video] and a control unit.
Within the smart pavement system lives the fiber sensor layer, the part of the pavement that does the sensing, and the expansion port.
The fiber sensor layer, embedded in precast concrete pavement, leverages etched optical fibers and the distortion of incident light to interpret data about what's happening on the road above it.
Integrated Roadways' Smart Pavement System. Image [modified] used courtesy of Integrated Roadways
As Sylvester explains:
"Our fiber is just a normal optical fiber, just like you have in a transmission or distribution network, but it's etched. And the etching means that if you bend the fiber, it creates a rainbow, and then you can basically measure that rainbow to figure out where it was bent and how much it was bent. That's simplified, but basically, when the weight of a vehicle creates a tiny little bend in the roadway, the fiber can actually see that bend, and we get to translate it into a huge amount of data."
This data then gets sent to a dedicated control unit located on the side of the road. The system is essentially a utility cabinet consisting of two server racks in an environmental control unit.
The equipment in the control center interprets the data and then uploads it to AWS hosting, where it can be logged, viewed, and interpreted.
What Smart Roads Can Tell Us
While this system seems extremely simple, it could provide an extraordinary amount of high detail data about the road above.
From the optical fibers alone, Integrated Roadways' system can obtain data, including a road's traffic count, vehicle weight, and vehicle speed.
However, it doesn't stop there. Integrated Roadways claims it could even tell the exact year, make, and vehicle model directly from their data.
Sylvester tells us:
"We can tell you the make and the model and the production year of every single vehicle just from the road sensors. We don't need a camera. We don't need to communicate with the vehicle. We get it directly from the sensors alone."
The ability to gather this data without using cameras is also an extremely valuable proposition, as it allows for data collection without taking personal information.
"We don't collect license plates. We don't collect Vin numbers. We don't collect faces or pictures of the car. Yes, we know what kind of car it is, but that's as far as we go. We don't know anything about the person driving it. We're collecting data, but we're doing so in a way that's completely anonymous without intruding on people's privacy."
Why Make Roads Smart?
By making roads intelligent through sensors and cloud connectivity, Integrated Roadways believes there is a huge benefit to society.
Sylvester makes the case that the "physical economy depends on traffic, but we don't have any information. Municipalities and public agencies need this data. Engineering firms and contractors need it. Real estate developers need it."
Example markets for an intelligent road. Image used courtesy of Integrated Roadways
Even though smart roads cost twice as much as standard roads, Sylvester further explains the value proposition of smart roads, telling us:
"Right now, you build the road, it costs a lot of money, and then it just kind of sits there and falls apart when people drive on it.
With this system, we're collecting the traffic data. We're delivering wireless services, networking services, and potentially even electric vehicle charging. So the road is paying for its own existence.
And as long as the road is making more money than it costs in the financial markets and that way the road pays for its own existence, the public doesn't have to worry about it."
A "Smarter" Future
So far, Integrated Roadways has piloted its technology on a strip of road in Denver.
Sylvester tells us that, in the future, the company's goal is to improve 10% to 20% of America's roadways by focusing on the highest traffic areas.
All in all, as the world moves towards being smarter and more connected, it's no surprise that roadways are one area being investigated. It will be interesting to see how this technology develops and potentially integrates into more areas.
Featured image used courtesy of Integrated Roadways [video]
Making a road :smart” as described will certainly cost a very lot, way more than claimed. And the profit that can be made is way over-stated, I am certain. It is not reasonable to think that al of those listed will be willing to pay for that variety of information.
And the claims about being able to identify cars make no sense at all if we consider that many cars carry other than just people.
Besides that, a current technology video camera can provide al of that information, except for vehicle weight. and that camera is much less expensive, both to own and to install. And the processing is much simpler and can be had today, from multiple vendors, as can the cameras.
So this is a product frantically seeking a problem.