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    Intelligent transport relies on connected lighting

    Connected LED lighting is a crucial enabling technology for ITS



    Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are coming to change the way we move, and the way we move things, around the world.


    What exactly is an ITS? Precisely what the name implies. It’s a system for getting around—whether it’s a local urban transit system, a regional train network, a national highway system, or something else. But it’s also a system that uses the latest innovations in data analysis, the Internet of Things (IoT), connected LED lighting, and other technologies to become far more sustainable, functional, safe, and efficient than conventional transportation systems.


    ITS is perhaps most closely identified with city transit systems. Cities all over the world are now served by gleaming light rail or metro systems that incorporate automation and IoT solutions, including connected LED lighting. The way these technologies are transforming highway systems—and are transforming them already—is a less familiar story.


    Yet highways are central to the thinking of tech-savvy planners, and for good reason: they power the economy. Globally, highways carry approximately half of all freight transport, and as much as 76% of freight transport in Europe. A quarter of all kilometers driven in a year are driven on highways. Making them as efficient as possible, therefore, benefits everyone.

    Highways are crucial, but at a price


    Yet there’s another side to the story: for all their benefits, highways traditionally incur enormous costs.


    Consider that daily reality of too many metro-area inhabitants: vehicular congestion. Every hour stuck in traffic is an hour squandered, to the point where the United States lost an estimated $190 billion in productivity to congestion in 2019 alone. Globally, the cost of congestion is estimated at an annual $760 billion, or roughly the GDP of Turkey.


    Because it forces vehicles to idle and to drive at an inefficient stop-and-go pace, congestion is also bad for the environment. Highway congestion generates an estimated 170 million tons of CO2 emissions each year, which is approximately the same amount as the total of all human activity in the Netherlands.


    Meanwhile, highways are not as safe as they should be. In 2019, there were 1,350,000 traffic deaths and 50,000,000 traffic injuries worldwide. Developing countries, with their often underlit and badly paved, road systems, account for 90% of the world’s traffic deaths, even though they host only 60% of the world’s vehicles. (The ratio of traffic deaths to vehicles in the United States, incidentally, isn’t much better.) Road accidents are the eighth leading cause of death for the overall global population, and the number one cause of death for children and young adults.

    A key role for connected lighting 


    While such statistics seem dire, solutions to significantly increase the safety and efficiency of roadways already exist. IoT solutions based on sensor networks have an important role to play, as does better lighting.


    In fact, improving roadway lighting may be the single most effective action that transportation systems can make. According to the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Crash Estimation Compendium of 2018, improved lighting can reduce night crash rates wherever it is used—up to 35% on dual carriageway (divided) highways, and as much as 80% at intersections and mid-block locations in urban areas.


    The case for managed LED lighting is especially strong. A study published in the March 2013 issue of IATSS Research, the official Journal of the International Association of Traffic and Safety Sciences, found a 19% decrease in night crashes for every incremental increase in average luminance (the reflected light from the pavement surface visible to drivers’ eyes). The study recommends developing new illumination guidelines that minimize night crash risks by determining when and where to raise lighting levels using adaptive LED technology.


    As startling as these findings are, better roadway illumination is only one of the many benefits that connected LED lighting can bring to an ITS.


    In terms of sustainability, sensors integrated into a smart roadway lighting system can trigger that system to turn itself off on stretches of roadway when there are no vehicles in sight, then switch itself on again when a vehicle happens by. Such off-peak and adaptive dimming solutions can cut energy costs by up to 80%. The impact here is significant, as lighting represents the biggest operational expense for some road operators.


    Smart lighting can further enhance safety by adapting to weather and environmental conditions via integration with weather and light sensors. For example, the system might react to rainy or moonless conditions by raising roadway illumination to a level determined by research to minimize the accident rate.


    From an operations standpoint, a connected lighting system can continuously monitor and report energy consumption data, letting system managers know where efficiency measures might be most effective.


    Connected lighting systems are particularly well suited to serve as an operational platform for all of the connected solutions that contribute to an ITS. Lighting is typically located everywhere throughout a highway system, and it’s electrified, so the lighting infrastructure is a convenient means of integrating and physically distributing connected solutions of all kinds. In addition, the positioning of luminaires high above roadways make them perfect locations in which to embed communications equipment and sensors that monitor motion, weather conditions, air quality, and more.

    New roles for automation and prediction


    Other aspects of ITS have been in use for some time—for example, open-road automated toll-collection and real-time enforcement notification. By eliminating the toll plaza, this automated approach has lowered operational costs, reduced fuel-intensive and pollutant idling, and made driving safer, since the areas around toll plazas tend to generate accidents.


    New solutions are coming on line all the time. Connected lighting-based sensor networks enable sophisticated condition-monitoring capabilities, giving highway managers a better sense of how to deploy resources. Sensors that monitor noise or air quality conditions, for instance, indicate where they can take steps to cut down on two types of pollution. Sensors that monitor weather indicate where snowplow or road-salt crews should be deployed. Digital signage offers real-time information on current driving conditions.


    The continued growth of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications is another transformative development for ITS. As vehicles communicate with each other more accurately and automatically, they can maneuver in response to the information that their sensors detect, making driving safer. Fewer accidents will cause fewer bottlenecks, and fewer bottlenecks will generate less pollution.


    Then there’s predictive maintenance, which takes place in advance of a breakdown rather than in response to it. On the basis of the information that sensors send to cloud-based analytical applications, managers are able to predict when a roadway light needs to be serviced or replaced, when a stretch of highway is likely to pothole, or when a bridge’s girders will need shoring up. Proactively performing maintenance based on such insights minimizes outages and disruptions, and allows managers to plan operational activities in the most cost-effective and efficient manner.

    The future of ITS


    With early successes such as open-road tolling, policymakers should be inspired to do more. ITS have an important role to play in addressing urbanization, climate change, and supply chain difficulties.


    Happily, there are signs that this is indeed the case. The U.S. Department of Transportation has created an ITS Joint Program Office, and the Infrastructure Improvement and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed by Congress in 2021 contains funds earmarked for ITS initiatives. The European Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy offers some guidelines on how to use ITS to deal effectively with Europe’s dense road networks, strict environmental regulations, and dependance on freight trucking. Singapore, too, is an ITS standout.


    The next steps? As the flow of investment into ITS speeds up, the agenda calls for integrating highway systems across national borders in the interests of efficiency, making highways fully compatible with connected and automated vehicles, and cutting energy use and emissions even more. Connected LED lighting and the sensor and communications networks that connected systems can host will continue to be a crucial enabling technology as intelligent transportation systems become increasingly intelligent.

    About the author

    Mehmet Aras, Global Segment Leader, Transportation and Smart Mobility, Signify
    Mehmet Aras is Global Segment Leader for Transportation and Smart Mobility at Signify.

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