Smart Pavement and a Little More Temporary Safety

Recently a Nine-County Coalition participant posed the rhetorical question whether in the future Plan Bay Area might insist on monies to build “smart pavement.”  Our guess would be “indubitably.”  A perusal of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission website yields the following announcements, which look like groundwork for smart roads that could include smart pavement.

*  Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS):  Bay Area transportation is getting “smarter” — and MTC is leading the way.  We guide the ongoing development of the Bay Area ITS Architecture, a blueprint for integrating and coordinating various technologies collectively known as intelligent transportation systems, or ITS.   ITS is all about harnessing technology to make our streets, highways and transit systems smarter, safer and more efficient.

*  As part of the Freeway Performance Initiative, several freeway corridors are slated for a full range of smart roadway improvements.  These include:
   Interstate 880 between San Jose and Oakland
   Interstate 80 in Alameda and Contra Costa counties
   U.S. 101 in San Mateo County

As nothing in life is free, the response to the question whether Plan Bay Area might soon be looking for money to pay for smart pavement as part of the development of intelligent transportation systems is “yes.”

Why Smart Pavement, and What Is It?

The roads listed above are federal highways.  The Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) is working with states and private industry to develop and implement intelligent technologies that promise significantly to increase highway safety.  Immediate goals are the development of automated and connected vehicles, that can provide real-time data to government agencies (first responders in case of emergencies or highway maintenance for example), and to drivers themselves (alerts of road construction or entering a school zone for example).  Such connectivity can be achieved with cell-phones and with sensors.  

Smart pavement consists of blocks of concrete produced in factories that can contain whatever sensors are needed to support the functionality of automation and connectivity.  

Asphalt Magazine provides fascinating information on the subject:

Smart pavement is an exciting concept that could revolutionize the building, usage and funding of asphalt roads everywhere.   To be specific, smart pavement refers to roadways that have been specifically engineered and built to support a wide range of 21st century IT-enabled features; making them “smart” in the process.

The magazine article lists some IT-enabled features:

*  Radio-connected sensors embedded in a road to constantly monitor and report pavement conditions.
*  Two-say WiFi transmitters in the roadbed for enhanced broadband services.
*  Charging electric cars as they drive along.
*  Remotely control and coordinate all the WiFi enabled self-driving cars in a coverage area.
*  Reduce accidents and fatalities by coordinating traffic flow, reducing traffic slowdowns, and eliminating the stop-and-start behavior of individually-controlled vehicles.  

Has Anybody Started to Use Smart Pavement?

The state of Colorado Department of Transportation Road X Program serves as an example of projects that aim to transform traditional roads into smart roads.  The program has an attractive, fact-filled website that describes the program’s goals.

RoadX will use 21st century technology and ingenuity to solve our current infrastructure challenges. Bold thinking and bold actions drive progress. That means smarter roadways with more informed drivers and, eventually, self-driving cars that can communicate with the roads on which they travel.

A component of Road X technology will be smart pavements, and CDOT has partnered with Integrated Roadways to implement the smart pavement project.  A press release by Integrated Roadways provides insight into the possibilities of smart pavement:

Integrated Roadways is developing "smart pavement" technology that would not only help increase roadway safety but could also serve as the platform for Wi-Fi for cars and other future mobility services.

The road system uses high-resolution fiber-optic sensors and other technologies inside the pavement to detect vehicle position in real time, as well as roadway conditions. This technology would detect crashes as they occur, for instance, and automatically notify emergency responders to those crashes.

Integrated Roadway's smart pavement is about to be put to the test. The company announced this spring that the Colorado Department of Transportation has awarded a $2.75 million contract for a five-year smart pavement project on U.S. 285 near Fairplay, Colo., south of Breckenridge.

The Downside

Among Benjamin Franklin’s many words of warning is his admonition against purchasing “a little temporary safety.”  Purchased safety often proves to be temporary, as it tends to bring its own perils.  Here are perils inherent in intelligent transportation systems.

*  In March 2018 security professional association ISACA published its global survey on smart cities.  The survey identified this major security threat to smart infrastructure:  vulnerability to malware, ransomware, and denial of service attacks.

*  Critics of smart technology claim smart cities lack privacy safeguards.  Albert Gidari noted his concerns in an article published by The Center for Internet and Society (CIS):  1) In President Obama’s $160 million Smart Cities Initiative of 2015, there are over 4000 words of new grants, proposals and collaborations with local communities, but “the word ‘privacy’ was mentioned in the document exactly once in that hortatory preamble.  In short, it was an afterthought, not the predicate for the program.”  2) Cities are collecting a vast amount of data, but regulatory agencies are not addressing privacy implications in such collections.

*  Surely we are all aware about business as well as government’s thirst for data.  Businesses want information on you specifically for their targeted marketing, and government wants to keep you safe.  Smart appliances, smart devices, smart infrastructure, and smart cities yield an incredible amount of information of interest to businesses and to government.  Who owns all that information?  Who can monetize it?  

The website IoT Innovation (IoT stands for Internet of Things) says there are opportunities for intelligent technology service providers to monetize smart cities.

Because service providers are at the heart of all smart cities, these companies face a massive opportunity for growth and increased prominence in the industry – but only if they can figure out a sustainable way to monetize their offerings.

One of the ways IoT suggests monetization is to “Sell data, demographics data, and analytics generated by smart city projects.”

*  Increasingly, people have been favoring the “safety” – laced with convenience -- side of Ben Franklin’s equation.  Our busy schedules, as well as a complex world, prompt us willingly to opt for convenience and safety.  A NASDAQ article speaks of the potential for “decentralized data” to power smart cities.

These days cities are becoming increasingly open to the concept of sharing. Starting with Airbnb, now we share cars, rides, and bicycles, even basketballs and handbags can also be shared, at least in China.

The obvious next step is to share data, and all the better if you can monetize data in the same way that you can monetize your spare bedroom or the spare handbag.



Technology, as any other product or service, is as beneficial and effective as are their providers.  Will smart pavement sensors bring maintenance crews faster than does a call by an irate driver now?  Will data collected be used as intended? 

The frog in slowly boiling water realizes too late that he is doomed.  It is naïve to believe that the enormous amount of data collected by smart infrastructure such as smart pavement will remain Big Data devoid of lucrative personal information.  However, as the NASDAQ article points out, we the people increasingly chose to share data.  We willingly choose safety and convenience.