Smart Motorways: Paving the way for the future of intelligent mobility

July 19, 2018

UK motorways carry a third of all traffic and two-thirds of all freight every day. This means the population is hugely reliant on them for effective mobility – including commuting to work and delivering goods and services – and are therefore crucial to the economic prosperity of the UK. With constant increases in congestion as population and number of road vehicles continues to grow, the UK government are focussing on technology to improve trip reliability and journey time, whilst minimising the impact of exceptional disruption.

In 2006 work started on the first smart motorway trial; the M42 east of Birmingham. The aim of this pilot was to study smart technology to manage and enhance traffic flow efficiency and examine the costs and benefits of the new system. The positive results ascertained from the new road structure (including a 22% improvement on journey reliability, a halving of the number of accidents and significant reduction in incident severity), led to a rollout across large sections of the UK motorway network. The key benefit to the smart motorway system was to ease congestion and provide more reliability to journey times, renewing confidence in the fact that an individual will arrive at a destination at the original expected time.

Smart motorways could also help to further improve traffic conditions as mobility evolves, by integrating its technology with Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). With the deployment of advanced communications across the road network, CAVs will be able to respond to variations in traffic flow, including upcoming lane closures and changes in the speed limit unlike human controlled vehicles. With this knowledge, the vehicle will be able to plan its journey far in advance of any congestion and plan the most efficient route to take. Further to this, intelligent vehicles will communicate with one another to ease congestion across the network.

The simulation platform developed by Immense can further improve traffic conditions on smart motorways. Using existing data sets in conjunction with an AI (Artificial Intelligence) platform enables us to predict future travel conditions on the road network and communicate efficient route planning to CAVs. This will help to reduce travel times for CAVs as they quickly respond to upcoming traffic conditions, and also help ease the flow of traffic for other vehicles on the network. In a world where Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications work perfectly, transport authorities will be able to utilize real time network understanding to make informed decisions on traffic signal operations and suggest best travel options for vehicles on the network. V2I control will use understanding of future global road conditions to play a coordination role by semi automatically enforcing CAV speed, acceleration, vehicle headways, and routing patterns to optimise traffic, air quality, emissions and fuel consumption.

Our transport future will be shaped by both smart vehicles and smart road systems, but how they interact with one another could shape the direction of intelligent mobility moving forward. It is crucial for autonomous vehicle manufacturers and governments to collaborate in order to unlock the maximum value of a fully intelligent transport system and deliver a more integrated mobility environment for the population relying on them.