Providing Safer Roads through IoT

Christina Szoke, Co-Founder

Drivers are navigating 4 million miles of roads throughout the country. And, the majority of these drivers aren’t hitting the road for recreation or pleasure. They’re driving for a living; logging countless hours behind the wheel of a fleet vehicle. At times, road conditions change quickly and drivers are faced with difficult and dangerous conditions.

For example, a truck driver may be driving their daily route and everything appears normal until traffic comes to a screeching halt. The vehicle ahead is in trouble; they’ve hit black ice. Faced with a potentially dangerous situation, the driver must react, think and maneuver quickly.

smartcityThe dispatcher would have rerouted drivers, but they simply didn’t know about the weather. They were using a mainstream weather forecast, which is handy but not always useful. These types of forecasts are unable to predict weather at the road-level and account for variations in microclimates. Without accurate weather data, drivers may be facing serious and even deadly road conditions.

In fact, there are approximately 5.7 million vehicle crashes each year in the United States. Out of these crashes, 1.2 million are weather-related, resulting in approximately 6,000 deaths and 445,000 injuries.

Innovative technology, such as weather-driven IoT, is challenging the status quo and keeping roads safer. But how?

Weather Forecasts: Past, Present and Future
Weather started out simple. A person stepped outside, took a look around and recorded what they saw, heard and felt. But as the centuries progressed, so did the tools of weather forecasting. The forecasting toolbox evolved to include thermometers, weather balloons, satellite images and Doppler radar. People understand weather today in ways that forecasters of the past wouldn’t have imagined possible.

Technology has advanced, but were finding that it doesn’t provide enough intelligence at the micro level. A forecast may cover a general area, but what about the precise street that you’re driving on? Conditions on that street may look much different than the forecast, and in some cases, not knowing those exact weather conditions can result in accidents, injury and property damage.

Most weather technology stops at about 50 feet above the ground where most people are affected by weather. This leaves a critical gap in weather intelligence, yet developments in IoT are drastically changing this model. Its delivering data and intelligence at the precise moment when it can make the greatest impact. But how does it work?

How IoT is Reshaping Weather Responses
Weather doesn’t wait for the next forecast it changes quickly. A vehicle may be headed straight for a serious patch of ice, but several blocks away, road conditions are wet and less treacherous. IoT can be leveraged to identify and communicate these trouble spots.

This technology uses strategically placed sensors on vehicles and along the road to collect valuable data on the roads. The data is then wirelessly streamed and delivered in real time. Valuable information is harnessed, including:

  • Road temperature. Is the road temperature dropping below freezing? If so, what is the threat of snow or other hazardous conditions? This data can be pushed out to fleet vehicles so they can avoid trouble spots.
  • Air temperature. Is the air temperature dropping? If so, what is the rate of decline, and could that be a risk for roads? Data lets drivers know so they can alter routes or get off the road.
  • Humidity. How humid is the air near the road? As the air near the road gets close to 100 percent humidity, the slick conditions from road frost and black ice becomes a threat even though no rain or snow is falling.
  • Visibility. Are drivers experiencing fog while driving specific stretches of road? Sensors capture powerful data about visibility and light. Alerts are issued so people know what action is needed.
  • Flooding. Are drivers facing large amounts of water on roadways that could make conditions difficult? This information helps reroute drivers to avoid these potentially dangerous areas.
  • Slippery conditions. Are drivers navigating through slippery road conditions? If so, road sensors are reporting and pushing out alerts so vehicles can change course in real time.

All this data helps people and businesses make decisions, prevents serious accidents and even saves lives. One company that is harnessing road weather data and creating a solution is WeatherCloud. The company pushes out real-time weather data to a variety of industries, such as trucking fleets, departments of transportation and even insurance companies. They can use this information to react quickly to changing weather conditions.

In addition to high-density roadside stations, on-vehicle sensors provide more data and coverage. Accurate weather details and alerts are provided about roads that are relevant to the user. The low-cost of the mobile WeatherCloud sensors allows for the mass-deployment of road weather stations over large swaths of our most heavily-traveled roadways.

The Future of Weather IoT
Driving is dangerous enough before factoring weather into the equation. IoT is giving people and businesses the tools they require to make roads safer. Weather may change its path quickly, but with the right tools, vehicles can react and adjust in real time. Government agencies can start plowing and de-icing roads faster. Drivers can understand which areas are critical to avoid and modify their paths out of danger zones. Even insurance companies could be positively impacted, as they get a better understanding of weather events and what went wrong.

People spend hours driving each week, and they want safer roads. Weather-driven IoT delivers resources for providing this safety and helping people stay out of harms way.

About Christina Szoke
Christina Szoke is co-founder at Fathym. She is passionate about technology that empowers more users to innovate. She was editor in chief of KidzEra, a “by kids, for kids” magazine and blog. She is a skilled digital designer, front-end developer and writer. A former journalist, her work has appeared in The Daily Camera and Dirt (now the Colorado Daily). She serves on the board of the nonprofit One School at a Time (1schoolatatime.org), working with Ugandan communities to expand access to quality education. She also serves on the leadership committee of She Says (shesaysboulder.com) to promote female leadership in tech.

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