While much of the focus for the way motoring is changing is on our cars, road technology will play an increasingly important part in our lives. Cars might be getting ever cleverer but the roads are beginning to catch up.
The safety-conscious Scandinavians are at the forefront of advances and here we explore two common sense bits of road technology. Bluetooth traffic monitoring may already be on a road near you, depending on where you live in the UK. And intelligent streets lights with a low power resting mode that become brighter when cars approach could be coming sooner than you think.
Why monitor Bluetooth?
Virtually every car owner has a mobile phone. And the vast majority of these will have their Bluetooth function switched on so they can be paired with the car or a headset. What if you could monitor all those Bluetooth signals? You could then track individual cars, enabling you to build up an accurate picture of traffic movements.
Where is Bluetooth monitoring happening?
The south coast city of Portsmouth is the first UK urban area to try Bluetooth tracking. Sensors mounted at the side of the road pick up Bluetooth signals and follow them. It enables journey times and traffic patterns to be measured on 12 cross-city routes. Elsewhere in the world this road technology is being trialled in Thailand’s Bangkok and the Swiss city of Zurich.
Isn’t tracking people a bit scary?
For a start, it’s only the Bluetooth signal that’s being tracked; individual cars are just blips on a screen. And after London, Portsmouth is the UK’s most densely populated city so there are an awful lot of those blips! What’s more, there’s no way of identifying individual cars.
What are the benefits?
Journey times and traffic patterns in the city can be measured. This enables traffic planners to see the effect of roadworks. They can also tell if residential rat runs are being used excessively. The traffic planners can react to any problems like this by changing the phasing of traffic lights to benefit major routes and make residential roads less attractive to drivers.
In Denmark, where Bluetooth tracking was developed, they’re using historical data to see how current journey times might vary from the norm. This enables planners to react accordingly. They can even spot accident blackspots more quickly than waiting to analyse police accident reports.
Why auto dimming street lights?
Some councils in the UK are already switching to more energy-efficient LED street lights. But in Norway, they’ve gone one step further. A five-mile stretch of motorway near Hole features street lights that automatically dim when there are no cars on it. The quiet stretch of road, an hour away from the capital Oslo, has been fitted with 220 sensors to detect when a car, cyclist or walker approaches. Street lights are then powered up from 20 per cent to 100 per cent. When the road user has passed, the lights dim to 20 per cent brightness.
What are the benefits?
From a road safety perspective, auto dimming street lights mean roads are more likely to be lit when users need them. They will save councils money by using less electricity when they’re not needed. And they will save the planet by reducing the amount of energy used to light our streets. The lights are estimated to save 2100kWH per week. According to uSwitch.com, that’s roughly equivalent to a year’s usage by one or two people in a small home.
Why focus on street lighting?
Street lighting is one resource that costs local authorities millions every year. In an effort to save money in the face of budget cuts, councils up and down the country have been turning street lights off since the 2008/09 financial crisis. In 2014, the Labour party claimed 106 of the country’s 150 councils were either switching off or dimming street lights. The charity Living Streets found insufficient street lighting was a problem for more than a quarter of people.