One of the buzz phrases in the technology community is The Internet of Things or simply IoT. What is the IoT and what are the ramifications of it for the transportation community? Let’s start with its definition. The IoT is a network of physical devices, vehicles, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data. Each item can be identified through its inherent computing system but is able to interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure. Gartner and other IT experts estimate that the IoT will consist of about 30 billion connected objects by 2020.
So how can IoT devices be utilized by the transportation industry? There are several ways the IoT can provide huge benefits to transportation practitioners. The first area is infrastructure management. This encompasses the preservation and protection of components such as bridges and roads. Let’s look at the example of bridges. In 2009, the U.S. Society of Civil Engineers estimated that one in four U.S. bridges were either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Wireless sensors are now adhered to structures to monitor a bridge's structural integrity. These sensors can transmit minute-by-minute data on bridge deck behavior, which provides engineers with valuable information on the structural integrity of the bridge. By having this up-to-the-minute data, DOT’s and cities can avoid catastrophes such as the I-35 bridge collapse that claimed the lives of 11 people in 2007. Bridge sensors also can play an integral role in maintenance. Sensors can be used for scheduling repair and maintenance activities in an efficient manner by providing critical performance metrics to maintenance engineers.
IoT technology can also play a critical role in all operational aspects of a state or city’s highway system. IoT can help facilitate integration across various transportation systems. One of the primary business functions that IoT can benefit these agencies is traffic management. Typical traffic management goals are managing congestion, reducing accidents, and improving parking. IoT devices such as smart road signs are used to better inform drivers of deteriorating conditions and prevent congestion. This, in turn, helps decrease crashes along the roadway. Congestion management information is also more readily available to the traveling public. Smart maps data is updated almost immediately, and it is consumed by the traveling public on mobile devices through applications like Google Maps and Waze. Through IoT connectivity, this information is also used in the back office to make strategic decisions relating to congestion management. This subsequently improves mobility, livability, and safety on state and local roads.
In-road and over-road sensors are other IoT devices that provide great utility to a transportation agency. In-road sensors are embedded in the pavement or subgrade, or they are attached to the surface of the roadway. Over-roadway sensors are mounted above the roadway or alongside it. Both sensors provide direct feedback to pavement managers with information such as surface temperature. This allows state and city transportation agencies to make operation decisions about which roads should be cleared first in a snowstorm. This data can also be used for roadway rehabilitation purposes. The interconnectedness of IoT compatible devices enables transportation agencies to kill many birds with one stone.
Another IoT related area affecting the transportation community is autonomous interconnected vehicles. A few states have started projects that deploy these types of vehicles. Infrastructure improvements are required to accommodate the usage of these vehicles and the voluminous amount of data received from them. In a recent StateTech article, Wyoming DOT (WY DOT is featured for its use of connected vehicles. WY DOT has attached 75 dedicated short-range communication units at critical points along the interstate. They also installed Dedicated Short-Range Communications devices in 400 vehicles. These units will connect to user interfaces on Android tablets in state vehicles as well as to tablets or other mobile devices for volunteers. These devices will support vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications of safety-related information.
The domain of most transportation agencies is changing. IoT related technology will play a significant role in how information is collected, transmitted, and used within these agencies. The transportation community should prepare to leverage IoT in the future.
To learn more about new technologies in the transportation industry, register to attend the HxGN Local Transportation Summit in Nashville on February 13-15.
Bruce Aquila is a senior transportation consultant for Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure and has been with the company for 33 years. He currently works in the Transportation Business Development group where he is responsible for technical business development, consulting, industry conference presentations and product requirement collection. Aquila works exclusively with State DOTs, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, local governments, and transit agencies in the areas of linear referencing, network and data modelling, and surface transportation analysis applications.