A pilot project in Italy wants to use drones and poles to collect traffic information and share it with self-driving cars.
What does the future of highway travel look like? Navigation applications like Waze have provided a bit of a hint. The smartphone-driven device crowdsources travel information to help drivers avoid accidents and slowdowns. But how useful will an app such as Waze be once humans start sharing the road with self-driving cars? If one innovative infrastructure project comes to fruition in Italy, we might have found our answer, and it would come to us courtesy of drone technology.
Simply dubbed “Smart Highway,” it’s a pioneering project developed by Carlo Rotti Associati in partnership with Italian road management organization Anas. According to a company statement, the aim is to create “new ways of gathering and sharing data about mobility, with the objective of improving safety conditions and traffic management” over roughly ten percent of Italy’s total 16,155 miles of public roads and highways.
To do that, CRA and Anas aim to deploy a fleet of networked drones that can communicate information about road conditions with cars and each other via Wi-Fi. Beyond detecting accidents, CRA sees these drones performing safety and maintenance tasks like removing obstructions, delivering first-aid materials to drivers (in the case of an accident, for example), and even scan areas near the road for floods or fires.
In addition to the mobility that drones provide, the project will have a static element as well. A series of streetlight-like poles will act as a home base to recharge the drones. Loaded with sensors, they’ll also measure everything from air pollution to weather changes while doubling as Wi-Fi hotspots so drivers can stay connected on the go.
As CRA project lead Saverio Panata sees it, the initiative is an an attempt to make highways as intelligent as the vehicles that will soon travel down them. “For future developments in mobility, we do not necessarily need more infrastructure, but better infrastructure. Gathering data is crucial to achieving the objective of increased road efficiency,” he said in a statement.
At this point, autonomous vehicles are all but an inevitability, and keeping tomorrow’s roads safe will require transmitting information to them efficiently. Though the sophistication of such vehicles and the introduction of powerful 5G networks might make it easier to solve this challenge, CRA will at least have a head start on addressing the challenge of tomorrow’s travel.