Published on November 16, 2023, 5:16 pm

Adding a 5G network to an Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure can bring significant benefits to transportation authorities, even with limited IoT resources. Across roadways, highways, railways, and airports, government transit agencies are implementing new digital infrastructure to enhance safety and improve transportation efficiency.

The deployment of IoT devices, smart cameras, lidar systems, and other sensors aims to increase awareness of traffic conditions and surface conditions. This enables officials to quickly identify and address issues. However, the vast amount of data collected by these systems requires a robust network infrastructure for efficient and secure data capture.

To meet the growing need for improved safety and service, government agencies are working on modernizing their infrastructure. In the meantime, they can utilize IoT technology that enables near-real-time communication of information. The benefits include enhancing safety and emergency response times for first responders, minimizing traffic congestion, and improving travel experiences.

Transportation agencies have installed various types of IoT devices on roadways, such as smart cameras and video sensors. By combining a reliable 5G network with mobile edge computing (MEC), agencies can process data from these sensors at the collection points instead of routing it through their main offices. This allows them to deliver critical information about traffic accidents, debris on roads, fallen tree limbs, and other hazards directly to first responders in near-real time.

Furthermore, 5G connectivity empowers agencies to deploy new services like software-directed networking. This ensures that crucial information receives the fastest and most reliable transmission available.

Another step that transportation agencies can take is adopting a network-as-a-service (NaaS) model. NaaS simplifies network and service management while also allowing advanced security controls throughout their communication systems. This helps ensure the security of data and workloads from the edge to the cloud.

IoT traffic monitoring has great potential for improving safety; however, many departments lack sufficient funds for widespread distribution. As demonstrated by a successful pilot program at the Arizona Department of Transportation, agencies can address this challenge by combining MEC, vehicle-to-everything technology (V2X), and virtual roadside units (RSUs). This enables alerts to be delivered over a larger area to both emergency responders and drivers without the need for expensive physical infrastructure.

Emerging IoT technology can also assist authorities in better monitoring road conditions. For instance, researchers at Purdue University have developed a sensor system that measures the strength of roadway concrete. Sharing this information with agencies could aid in better planning maintenance projects and gaining insights into materials’ performance.

Railways likewise utilize IoT devices to monitor their infrastructure, with many expanding their adoption of technology to enhance freight and passenger services. Sensors along the track can scan railcars, checking wheel condition, bearing condition, and axle alignment. Various companies have developed systems that employ lasers, sensors, cameras, and ultrasound to detect track defects. This helps transit officials identify areas that require repairs to avoid accidents and derailments.

Similar to road monitoring, the success of these systems lies in efficiently transmitting relevant information to the right individuals. Agencies often face difficulties in this crucial step due to data overload or uncertainty about sharing protocols. Timely awareness of potential hazards is vital as railway technicians are scarce and must travel long distances to address problems.

By incorporating a reliable 5G network and mobile edge computing into their IoT infrastructure, transportation leaders can ensure timely and secure communication of road and rail hazards to emergency responders, technicians, and citizens around the clock. The setup process for such networks is quick, enabling existing sensor systems to generate immediate benefits.

To support modernization efforts in transportation infrastructure, the federal government is encouraging state and local agencies to submit proposals for funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Application deadlines are approaching rapidly. Interested agencies can find further information about funding opportunities and examples of use cases on the “Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation” (SMART) web page of the US Department of Transportation.

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