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Intelligent Infrastructure in Transport & Mobility: Paving the way for a smarter and safer future

smart city
(Image credit: Image Credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock)

There is a mounting need from city planners and road users to evolve current ground-based infrastructure, especially across transportation networks. As social and environmental priorities have evolved, demand for safer, cleaner travel within cities and suburban areas has grown. Limited physical infrastructures and transport networks must be updated to support increased safety measures that can be provided by new technology. This requires an extended network of technologies to work in unison to create a safe and efficient solution.

The situation is both complicated and enabled by a series of emerging technologies and new developments within the transport sector – in particular, the move towards autonomous vehicles. Since the success of autonomous vehicles is largely dependent on the infrastructure around it, the need to implement these technologies becomes apparent so that we can see a whole host of additional benefits including improved connectivity and safety. But the rate of adoption depends highly on the progress of AI and potential offered by the rollout of 5G networks.

As 5G and AI are more widely adopted, there is potential to rapidly scale developments across infrastructure as faster communications networks bring these technologies together. For the automotive industry this means vehicle to infrastructure (V2X) and vehicle connectivity (V2C) becoming a reality and improving the overall safety and efficiency of our roadways.

Updating infrastructure now

While infrastructure developments happen over years, cities and suburban areas are reaching a critical point where improvements need to meet new mobility expectations. These need to be greener, more pedestrian, and cycle-friendly, easier for emergency services to get around, and have the capabilities to reduce road accidents which are only increasing year-on-year.

Key technologies for achieving these goals are rapidly growing in sophistication. Here the likes of AI and 5G can assist by speeding up and improving the efficiency and safety of our transport networks, but this requires the connectivity of physical infrastructure to operational technology that generates data. Only once this has been sourced can it be used to derive real-time insights and further aid in the development of these systems.

London is one of many cities addressing this through the decision to open its customer data to private software developers, facilitating the development of more user-friendly mobility apps, traffic sensors and autonomous systems. This shows that governments, as well as city planners are beginning to wake up to the added benefits that investing in smart infrastructure can bring.

Infrastructure enabled through 5G and AI

Having operational technologies in place can only take infrastructure so far. In order for transport infrastructure to become intelligent, digital technologies like AI and machine learning must have computing power at the edge and be combined with today’s data collection and analysis tools. 

We will also see that the roll-out of 5G brings a further connectivity component to making transport infrastructure truly intelligent.  5G can enable rapid inter-device communication and facilitate and process the data which has been shared. 5G will also have a Cellular Vehicle to Everything (CV2X) component, entailing that greater bandwidth can allow information to be transferred directly through the cloud to another vehicle. While CV2X, using current bandwidth, isn’t yet fast enough to be safety-critical – with possibly 1-2 seconds of delay – it can communicate and share data so vehicles can learn where there are delays or accidents.

As more data is collected, AI traffic systems will continue to learn and provide more accurate insights and responses to vehicles, increasing the overall safety and reliability of the network. The smarter these systems get, the more likely they will be able to recognize hazards at a higher accuracy than is humanly possible.

By strengthening communication and learning through use, the benefits 5G and AI bring will be the final pieces of the jigsaw that shall shape a new era of safety: enabling vehicles to behave as intelligent social groups rather than inert, individual units.

Implementing sensors to see what we can’t

Using the vast increase in bandwidth of 5G, advanced traffic sensors can now be placed within city and urban infrastructure to collect real-time data of their environment and, with AI, convert this into decisions that help vehicles communicate with their surroundings.

Vehicles alone may not be able to sense an approaching object but can rely on the technology embedded in the surrounding foundations to provide a better view of people crossing, cyclists approaching or potential red-light runners, picked up clearly through thermal sensors and communicated to the vehicle. This advanced warning allows time for the vehicle to change lane, slow down or change course depending on the hazard at play.

Thermal sensors in particular can take this a step further to detect people, cyclists, and objects in any weather condition or at any time of day. For example, there will always be situations where vehicles themselves are unable to see what is ahead – due to heavy rain, snowfall, sun glare, fog or darkness - or what is behind a corner/hidden by another vehicle. However, thermal technology enables vehicles and infrastructures to have another pair of ‘eyes’, and when paired with AI, allows for the thermal data to be analyzed and applied in real-time – seeing, and now anticipating, what humans cannot.

As AI gets smarter and 5G brings better connectivity, the steps we make today will pave the way for a smarter future. With the ongoing expansion of cities and suburban areas, planners, industry and governments alike need to re-think transport networks to focus on providing greener and safer options for its citizens: the time for investment in this technology is now.

Michael Deruytter, Director Product Management, Solutions Business, FLIR Systems