The future of AI on the road

19 October 2018

Author: Allie Cooper


With the global road network currently spanning over 21 million kilometres, and estimated to increase by a further 4.7 million by 2050 – our roads present both a prime target and medium for a plethora of engineering innovations around the world. The application of artificial intelligence (AI) to roads, for instance, has the potential to create a ripple of effect — from how cars are designed, and traffic is managed, to how the roads themselves are built and work to protect the environment. As such, institutions around the world are working to engineer solutions to both improve the quality of the roads we build and retrofit them with new technologies down the line.

In the UK, Highways England and the National Infrastructure Commission have teamed up to create 'Roads for the Future', which offers £200,000 to competing teams creating ways to adapt existing roads to fit new technologies. Indeed, public and private organisations are harnessing the best talent in engineering to create more advanced cognitive systems that can analyse big data with machine learning (ML) technology. This could result in even more innovative and reliable roads in the future. In this regard, here are some of the latest innovations we’ve seen so far:

Environmentally-friendly roads

Not only does air pollution cause one in eight deaths globally, but it also costs the world an estimated £3-4 trillion (around $4-5 trillion USD) each year. It is in this light that companies like EarthSense Systems work to produce AI-powered air quality sensors that can help manage this declining air quality, particularly in urban areas. Using machine learning, these sensors provide real-time measurements of various air quality factors to help governments address specific air issues. These can be mounted on lamp posts, static areas, vehicles, or even backpacks.

Smarter infrastructure maintenance

In the US, many older roads (as well as other civil constructions) need maintenance and rebuilding. However, the problem hindering this repair doesn’t necessarily lie entirely with the cost of these projects, but also, with how best to perform this maintenance. Enter Roadbotics, which uses data collected and analysed by AI technology to identify road damage and report the road condition data to city authorities via overhead heat maps. This information is captured through a smartphone app, which faces the road in front of a vehicle and takes note of the location, size, and degree of road damage for analysis.

Efficient traffic management

Various mapping companies are renowned for the impact that their machine learning algorithms have on our daily commutes, but in the UK, developers like FiveAI are also looking to promote carpooling in driverless cars, arguing that this can cut motorists' costs and time spent on the road. Local authorities have permitted FiveAI to conduct a 10-month trial to study road layouts, traffic flow, and driver behaviour through data-gathering cars.

Smarter and safer vehicles

Countries around the world are rapidly making steps towards the widespread commercial use of driverless cars, with leaders eyeing the use of autonomous vehicles by 2021. Several large manufacturers like Volvo, Oxford, and Jaguar have already started test drives, and platooning trials – trials where a group of autonomous vehicles attempt to safely travel together closely at high speeds – are currently underway, with several test lorries running while connected to a Wi-Fi network. As Wired highlighted, these trials hope to prevent crashes caused by human error. The results, theoretically, will only continue to improve over time.

Today's trucking technology has come a long way in promoting safety and security among lorry fleets. A post by Verizon Connect on truck tracking solutions explains that they increase road safety by minimising cut-ins and accidents caused by bad judgment on the road. Advanced safety systems also allow for faster reaction times, which can help to prevent more 90% of road collisions. With innovations like these in place, it's only a matter of time before we reap the benefits of more advanced AI in lorries across the country.

While AI is notably new to motorists and businesses, it’s a technology that has repeatedly proven its value and is now fast becoming a part of many industries, thanks to the continuous efforts from engineers and designers across the globe. Faster construction methods and data-driven road designs and solutions might just be the key to lessening, if not entirely eliminating, a breadth of travel woes in the future.

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