Instead of teaching self-driving cars how to react to unpredictable situations, we can just eliminate the unexpected.
Many smart cars are being introduced nowadays; some modern vehicles can park autonomously, help change lanes, brake automatically in an emergency, or even drive entirely by themselves. Vehicle technology has never stopped evolving, The vehicles we drive today are more intelligent and futuristic than ever before, but the roads we drive on have remained the same since 1907.
Ask any prominent car manufacturer what is holding the autonomous vehicle back, and they will tell you that the biggest hurdle they face is trying to get the car to react to unpredictable situations. If people just drove their cars at the exact speed limit and obeyed every sign and every law, then autonomous cars could have been a reality more than a decade ago. But unfortunately, people are unpredictable; they make mistakes, cut corners, drive drunk, and are just chaotic. If we could get all cars to drive themselves, and if there were no people behind the wheel, there would be significantly fewer car accidents.
However, taking humans out of the equation does not eliminate car accidents completely; a wild animal might still run into the road, a branch could fall off a tree and block traffic, or a pedestrian might decide to cross the street without looking left and right. And while an autonomous car could react to these unpredictable situations quickly and efficiently, we CAN eliminate that unpredictability altogether - Using smart roads.
The term 'smart road' describes road infrastructure for autonomous or connected vehicles that are integrated with advanced network and communication technologies. Smart roads can make your commute faster, safer, and more efficient.
Think of it this way: You can teach a car to identify road signs using its advanced camera system and image recognition software. However, if the sign is crooked, obscured by a tree branch, or perhaps sprayed on by vandals, The car would have trouble identifying it, and an accident may occur. On the other hand, if the road sign could communicate directly with the autonomous vehicle, it could let it know what type of sign it is without the car having to physically see it.
A smart road can also monitor the road’s condition. For example, cameras could detect potholes or obstructions and maneuver cars around them while informing the local authorities to come and fix them. It can also detect when the road is wet due to rain, sprinklers, or any other reason and tell all the cars on the road to slow down or to engage ABS mode. Cameras on street lights can detect wild animals, pedestrians, or any other obstacle on the road and warn the oncoming cars before they even arrive at the scene.
But it’s not JUST about safety. Smart roads can significantly reduce congestion and traffic jams. Cameras mounted on traffic lights can detect the number of cars on the road and adjust automatically to allow optimal traffic flow. While street lights could light up only when cars are approaching and then turn off again when no cars are on the road to conserve energy.
And we haven't even addressed smart innovations like special lanes for charging electric vehicles; Magnetic fields produced by embedded cables inside the road allow electric vehicles to be charged while being driven. Inductive charging technology currently exists for stationary cars. However, in the future, wireless technology may allow batteries to be charged while moving, extending the range of electric vehicles that make longer trips.
There are also experiments being conducted with solar-powered roadways; Photovoltaic cells embedded in the road that contain LEDs to light up the roads or ice-melting heating devices to help cars avoid slippery situations.
But in order to achieve this utopic vision of the future, we need two forms of communication to work alongside one another - V2I and V2V - Vehicle to infrastructure and vehicle to vehicle. Cars must be able to communicate with each other instead of relying solely on their own sensors while also communicating directly with the road itself. Each car should announce its position, speed, and direction to every other car on the road and they should all work in tandem to keep the traffic flowing while avoiding collisions. At the same time, the cars should be in constant communication with every street lamp, stop sign, and traffic light in the vicinity to form a complete picture of the area that includes every car, pedestrian, dog, cat, and pothole.
Imagine a little kid playing with a ball near a busy street. The second the ball starts rolling toward traffic, three different cameras already calculated the trajectory of the ball and alerted all cars heading in that direction to slow down in case the little boy decides to run after the ball. The entire intersection might come to a complete halt before the boy even put one foot on the road.
Now THAT is what we call a smart road.
There are several companies currently working on smart road infrastructure, most of them are powered by the 5G cellular technology, which is currently being rolled out across the globe. 5G connectivity allows for ultra-fast, very low latency communication, which is absolutely essential for V2I and V2V protocols to function in a fast and reliable way.
So yes, smart cars are pretty awesome and they can do a lot for us, but there is no doubt that if we want to reduce car accidents and make traffic jams a thing of the past we must not only upgrade our cars, we must also upgrade our roads. And please, let’s start taking the human element out of the equation because we have proved time and time again, that we can not be trusted behind the wheel. Some things are better left for humans, but driving is definitely NOT one of them.