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The Gallery | The smart roads of the future

An Italian smart highway programme is pioneering the use of drones and sensors to improve safety and traffic management. 

Architects Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) and Italian road operator ANAS have developed the infrastructure that will be implemented on more than 2,500km of roads. It consists of a series of poles that have multiple sensors and wi-fi connection services which can collect and send useful information to drivers. On top of each pole is a charging station from which drones can take off and monitor the road.

Last month ANAS launched a €30M (£26M) call for proposals from contractors to build the smart road infrastructure according to CRA’s specifications. 

CRA project leader Saverio Panata said: “For future developments in mobility, we do not necessarily need more infrastructure, but better infrastructure. Gathering data is crucial to achieving the objective of increased road efficiency.”

The ‘flying poles’ will be placed at regular intervals and have sensors to detect environmental variables such as air pollution, wind speed, humidity and weather changes. The built-in wi-fi will allow cars to stay connected to the internet on the move.

The drones are designed to monitor tunnels and viaducts, deliver first-aid equipment to drivers and detect accidents, fires or floods happening close to a road.

CRA founding partner Carlo Ratti said: “We are living in a time of momentous changes in the field of mobility. The internet has radically transformed the way we get around, and how we design our roads. With this project, we aim to superimpose a digital layer over the existing physical infrastructure of our road network, to gather better data about our highways.

“The next step will be to pool this data with information already collected by individual cars, in an “internet of roads” scenario that will make us ready for the other revolutionary breakthrough that is likely to happen in the next decade: the arrival of self-driving vehicles”.

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