Colorado’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) is taking high tech on the state’s roads to an unprecedented level. Work on what is called the Internet of Roadways is underway. A $20-million grant from the federal government ramps up an already aggressive plan.
Other states are dabbling with this technology; Colorado is going all in on a digital interstate system. “When you start connecting cars like this, it has the potential of reducing our crashes by up to 80%,” said CDOT Chief of Advanced Mobility, Amy Ford. The main goal of the plan is improved safety.
Other predicted benefits include increased capacity on existing roads, reduced fuel consumption, and reduced auto emissions. The data gathered is a major resource for improving efficiency on roads.
The first phase puts in 500 miles of fiber optic line along roads like I-70 and I-25. It connects to roadside units that gather and send data to vehicles. “We put those in about one every mile,” said Ford. A key element of the system is a central digital brain of sorts. Once complete it will analyze and react to an immense of amount of data. “We’re talking about data on a scale you’ve never seen before,” said Ford, “about 2-billion data points an hour.”
The system does require “connected cars.” Multiple automakers will have them on the market in just a few years. Connected cars can share data with other connected cars. If for example an air bag deploys, other nearby connected cars get a warning of a likely accident ahead. Or data going to the “brain” center can dispatch emergency responders. Cars can also send data like windshield wipers activated or tires sensing a loss of traction on slick roads. “Let’s say we have 50 cars that all go through the same area and all of their tires are slipping, we know that’s instantly telling us there’s ice on that road.” Road maintenance crews can then be rapidly deployed.
Colorado will be testing stretches of the system in around a year. The number of connected cars will grow year to year, with a full transition likely taking several decades.