The infrastructure and transport sector has a fundamental role in a country’s growth. The increase in world population has resulted in the growing use of infrastructures, with an impact on road safety, public health and climate. Around 1.3 million deaths are recorder on the roads annually, whereas 20-50 million people are involved in non-fatal accidents (WHO data from 2020). Additionally, transport is still one of the main sources of pollution due to fine particles and CO2 emissions. Just two years ago, in 2018, the World Economic Forum estimated global productivity losses of US$ 1.4 trillion caused by congested traffic. Signs of change begin to emerge in this scenario, attributable to three disruptive macro-trends - electric vehicles, connected autonomous vehicles and shared/interconnected mobility models (MaaS) - which testify to the drive towards “greener” and safety-focused choices, such as multimodal transport solutions that reduce the number of vehicles in circulation. Infrastructures and their digital transformation cannot avoid being an integral part of this path towards the future.
The digital transformation process of transport infrastructures is still not as advanced as it is in other sectors, but it is now an indisputable fact that road networks and Control Centers must evolve in order to become an integral part of a new and connected sys- tem. Control Centers will have to interact in real time with infra- structures and vehicles to manage the new flows and offer high added-value services. Road will essentially inform, suggest alternative routes and “organize themselves” based on actual and ex- pected traffic. They will be interconnected structural elements that will proactively maintain their operational status and communicate with service providers in order to guarantee simpler and safer travel experiences, while reducing congestion and pollution. Smart infrastructure will become a service platform that will redesign the approach to mobility, no longer only concentrating on the individual, but on the movement (and needs) of the community.
This is a vision that embraces the sustainability principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Horizon 2020 European Green Deal programme. Smart mobility will also be a priority subject in terms of the Recovery Fund projects in Italy which will see a portion of resources allocated to transport digitization the 2020 the Annual Economic and Financial Report from the Italian Ministry of the Economy and Finance calls for a 637 million investment in smart road initiatives. The digitization will involve a significant number of projects in both urban and extra-urban settings. It will impact existing roads, bridges and viaducts and will be an integral part of new constructions. The networks of the future must be able to manage connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) while going through intermediate phases. In this sense, the road operators sector is working to define a classification system for the various degrees of infrastructure digitization to be implemented based on vehicle SAE automation level. ISAD (Infrastructure Support for Automated Driving) is the first structured example of a guideline.
Infrastructure can therefore evolve and become intelligent, capable of interacting with users and vehicles and managing transport capacity and traffic flows dynamically, while ultimately guaranteeing its availability and safety. Intelligent transport systems (ITS) will thus become cooperative (C-ITS) according to a new paradigm in which operators, infrastructure, vehicles and users will contribute to the creation of a more efficient and safer event-driven ecosystem. The digitization process must be developed by considering changes in technology as well as in regulations. For all the actors involved, the capacity for shared management over this disruptive passage and over the transi- tion stages where old and new scenarios will coexist will be fundamental. Smart roads will therefore be the result of a transfor- mation of the ecosystem, driven by innovative digitization projects such as the Anas “Smart Road”, one of the European reference initiatives in this respect. Backed by over twenty years of experience in technology for the motorway sector, SINELEC is one of the players involved in the realization of this project. In the future, an additional step towards the creation of an intelli- gent network of transport infrastructures will take place by inte- grating Smart Roads and Smart Cities: a widened “smart eco- system” including urban and extra-urban areas.
The Smart Road
For SINELEC, the Smart Road is a new road management approach that envisions a multi-level technological and operational transformation, to be applied gradually to the entire infrastructure system. In line with the Italian Ministerial Decree 70/2018, the intelligent road includes multiple areas, such as connectivity, cyber- security, real-time traffic and infrastructures status monitoring, with the the short/medium-term objective of enabling more sus- tainable and safe mobility, and the long-term goal of introducing connected autonomous vehicles. This “transformation journey” must be based on three pillars. Firstly, it is necessary to enable interconnection, the capacity for the bi-directional exchange of information between the parts of the ecosystem: people, vehicles and infrastructure. In fact, successfully capturing and distributing relevant information in an accurate and timely manner is crucial in order to manage traffic efficiently and safely, thus enabling the C-ITSs. The second requirement is the dynamic management of capacity, based on real-time predictive analysis of traffic conditions that allow for proactive rather than reactive interventions.
The third pillar is the digitization of assets, understood as the opportunity to systematically gather precise information from infrastructures about their state of health and availability, to guarantee an opti- mized management of operations, oriented towards adequate targeted maintenance choices and investment plans. To set up a winning evolution towards the Smart Road, it is necessary for these three areas (connection, traffic management and asset) to progress consistently and in alignment. Likewise, it will be essential to see to gradual and feasible digitalization, the complexity of which will continue to increase with the introduction of new types of vehicles. Old and new approaches will coexist, and they must be regulated until all vehicles are CAVs: the finishing line for the Smart Road.
Although the timing of the introduction of CAVs is difficult to define, connected vehicles are already a reality. SINELEC intends to help road operators in approaching the mobility of the future by offering support tools for their road-map towards digital roads. With the introduction of the V2X platform, SINELEC enables the intercon- nection between infrastructure and new generation vehicles. By communicating with Control Centers, the solution allows for the immediate and bi-directional exchange of information regardless of the protocol adopted (4G / 5G or DSRC / ITS-G5). Installable both on-premise and on-cloud and based on a micro-services software architecture, the platform is widely scalable and ready to manage the expected exponential increase in connected ve- hicles. The V2X platform can conduct all the use cases identified by the European Commission in the implementation of Directive 2010/40 and defined in the C-ROADS project – known as Day 1 Services. The technology developed by SINELEC also make it possible to go beyond the aforesaid use cases by providing ser- vices with high added value that will significantly increase safe- ty, manage transport capacity and traffic flows dynamically, and improve maintenance thanks to the information collected from ve- hicles, which will become “new sensors” on the road.
SINELEC is also committed to tackling the digitization of assets, understood as the possibility to provide operators with useful tools for an in-depth knowledge of the state of health of the infrastruc- tures and the impacts generated on them by traffic. In this sense, Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) and Weight-In-Motion (WIM) systems are two key topics. Today, operators consider the verifi- cation the real status of transportation infrastructures as a priority, to restore safe conditions, where necessary. The current limit- ed possibility of building new projects must also be considered, meaning that the preservation and optimization of existing assets are crucial activities.
Using the Digital Twin approach, it is now possible to create a digital model of the infrastructure that replicates its structural and en- vironmental conditions through real-time monitoring systems that are widespread, continuous and permanent. For SHM, SINELEC and its distinguished partners are designing a modular platform which provides for a field system formed of sensing devices and an information acquisition, processing and transmission module. Centrally, the applications necessary for data collection and analysis based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), as well as a summary dashboard on the trend in the analyzed pa- rameters, are envisioned. These data will form reports to support strategic decisions. As part of the Anas Smart project, the sensor system of the platform has already been implemented on an initial selection of bridges and viaducts on the GRA A90 and the A91 Roma-Fiumicino and will be followed by the installation of central analysis modules.
The real-time and continuous monitoring of circulating loads using WIM technology is also of key importance for managing assets. In addition to providing information necessary for the statistical analysis of heavy vehicles, the WIM stations are offered as suitable tools to develop decision support systems for planning maintenance and repairs.In addition, by promptly iden- tifying overweight vehicles, they allow for the implementation of control and enforcement activities. The SINELEC for WIM solution, LIBRA/S, integrates best-in-class field elements, such as Kistler quartz sensors and dataloggers, and a multi-site central control system to remotely monitor operations and weighing stations’ diagnostics status.
The centralized console guarantees advanced management of stations and collected information: data are stored in a database for reporting, analytics and to create data-driven models. In order to maximize the value of the two solutions, SINELEC has prepared for native integration between LIBRA/S and the SHM system by correlating heavy traffic with the behavior of the infrastructures.