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Smart road infrastructure and the road building industry

With smart road technology, a safer and more sustainable future of transportation is right around the corner


April 14, 2021
By Jay Koblun

Topics
Smart Road TechnologySmart infrastructure, or smart road technology, is a combination of sensors that collect and transmit data. Photo: Volvo

With new transportation legislation being discussed more and more in the U.S., Smart Infrastructure companies are looking to broaden their reach into Canada. For the road building industry, it may be ideal to add this relatively new technology to roads while they are being constructed.

Derq, developer of an AI platform that integrates with existing traffic and sensor systems, has co-founders from Canada who see value in adding to the country’s current state of road safety infrastructure.

“We focus on two main areas at Derq. To eliminate road fatalities among vulnerable road users and to help avoid collisions between vulnerable road users and vehicles,” said Jamie Sullivan, Derq vice-president of sales. A vulnerable road user can be a pedestrian, scooter driver, cyclist or others that fall into that type of category.

Smart Road Jamie Sullivan

Jamie Sullivan, vice-president sales at Derq. Photo: Derq

What is Smart Infrastructure? 

Smart infrastructure, or smart road technology, is a combination of sensors that collect and transmit data. Smart road technology analyzes the information on-site to be implemented. An example of this is when and how often street lights change with the flow of traffic. Along with pedestrian signals changing.

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“Smart infrastructure involves attempting to predict the intent of someone stepping off of a curb or into a roadway. It determines whether they’re going to do that or not,” says Sullivan. “It can reduce the risk of collision by using a signal, warning, flash, or warning to tell somebody or something where an individual may step off into a specific roadway, adding a few seconds back into that overall equation.”

Smart road technology can track vehicles and adjust traffic lights when there are fewer or no cars approaching, helping prevent bumper-to-bumper traffic. This could help drivers and passengers save almost 10 hours each year in their vehicles, improved traffic and pedestrian safety, according to intel.com.

Smart Infrastructure and the Road Building Industry

Whether looking at it from an analytics perspective or an active safety perspective, smart infrastructure is important to the road building industry. It would also save a lot of time and money if the technology was implemented during road construction as opposed to retroactively fitting it in after the fact.

“Beyond asphalt and concrete, infusing the tech into the construction process is going to be critical going forward. Here in the U.S., there are a lot of major roads and highways that are federally funded and funding is pretty large; hundreds of millions of dollars for the infrastructure. In that sense, it’s an easier ask to put the tech in while your building. Easier than retroactively putting the tech in there,” said Sullivan.

“Roadways sometimes are being dug up after the fact to add the tech, instead of doing it the same time. If they can start to build the tech when they do the physical construction that’s going to make a lot more sense. For folks in the industry, it provides value. It expands the growth area for those building roads,” he added.

Sullivan added it is important to embrace tech more and to start building it into more designs. He said some challenges arise due to the way the release of funding works at times. “Sometimes the way funding works, contractors can only use the funding for concrete and asphalt, so they aren’t able to combine road building and tech into the same project.”

Economic and Environmental Benefits

Smart roads help keep vulnerable road users safe and can also benefit the economy while also indirectly affecting climate change.

“The tech can also analyze data like how many different types of trucks, cars, vans, or service vehicles come through an area. Are they high-end or low-end vehicles? It’s not directly related to the road building industry but it helps municipalities determine what a specific region needs, contributing to more road building projects down the road. IT helps determine growth in a city so we know where to be building.”

When it comes to benefitting the environment, improving tech in transportation spaces helps too.

“Keeping a steady flow of traffic contributes to less idling at intersections. And collects data that can be used to help promote an increase in consumers purchasing electric vehicles. There is definitely a focus there and this kind of tech,” said Sullivan.