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How will connected vehicle technology revolutionize roadway lighting?

Are you ready for the future? Over the next 15 years, roadway infrastructure will dramatically evolve, and lighting technology will play a rolete

From improved driver awareness to superior traffic flow, connected vehicle technology and roadway lighting will significantly impact the quality of vehicle transportation as well as the safety of drivers and pedestrians. We spoke with Jay Sachetti, senior marketing manager of connected communities at Eaton’s lighting division, about the current and future state of connected vehicles as well as the role roadway lighting plays.

What is connected vehicle technology? 

Connected vehicle technology enables networked wireless communications that are safe and interoperable among vehicles, system infrastructure and passengers’ personal communications devices. Some of the most advanced crash avoidance technologies in vehicles today include a host of on-board sensors, cameras and radar applications. These technologies may warn drivers of impending danger so that the driver can take corrective action, or the system may even be able to intervene on the driver’s behalf. 

How does it work?

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications represent an additional step in helping to warn drivers about impending danger. V2V communications use on-board, dedicated, short-range radio communication devices to transmit messages with information such as a vehicle’s speed, heading and brake status, and to receive similar information. Range and line-of-sight capabilities exceed current and near-term systems and, in some cases, have nearly twice the range. This longer detection distance and ability to see around corners or through other vehicles help V2V-equipped vehicles perceive some threats sooner than sensors, cameras or radar, and warn drivers accordingly. Connected vehicle technology also enables vehicles to exchange information with infrastructure, such as traffic signals or roadway lighting, through vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications. V2I communications help to extend the benefits of connected vehicles beyond safety, to include mobility and the environment. This standardization of vehicular data will be used in the future to drive truly adaptive control systems for both roadway lighting and traffic signalization.

Federal and local government officials are currently experimenting with implementing connectivity in their infrastructure. Michigan’s Department of Transportation (DOT) is testing one of the nation’s first connected work zones on a stretch of I-75 just south of Detroit. The Michigan DOT hopes to alert drivers to information including whether workers are present, what type of work is happening, and when it will occur (MDOT). The U.S. Department of Transportation is also testing this technology in three other sites: New York City, Tampa, Florida, and Wyoming (IEEE Connected Vehicles). 

How will connected lighting technology continue to change our roadways?

Traffic lights, street signs and even the cones at construction sites will soon be part of a connected ecosystem, giving and receiving information to make for smoother driving. 

All traffic lights are timed differently. Drivers don’t always know whether they can make it through a yellow light before traffic clears, or when the turn signal will activate. But when traffic lights communicate with cars, drivers can make safer decisions. 

“V2I will really come into play for lighting with sensing technology,” Sachetti said. “Roadway lights are consistently spaced from 100 to 300 feet apart, and the mounting height is typically 20 to 40 feet. This provides a vantage point from every direction, from intersections to hilly terrain, thus creating a system for constant V2I communication.” 

Vehicle data points including speed, location, ambient light level and road friction, as well as many other inputs like humidity, temperature and road reflectivity, will be used as inputs to an electrical lighting and management system (ELMS). The ELMS will then dynamically adjust or adaptively control the light levels applied to the road (Smart Cities: V2I and Adaptive Roadway Lighting). “These data points can enable pedestrian and driver safety with dynamically timed roadway lights, alerts of cars running red lights or even animals crossing the street,” Sachetti said. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that safety applications enabled by V2V and V2I could eliminate or mitigate the severity of up to 80 percent of non-impaired crashes, including crashes at intersections or while changing lanes (NHTSA). Connected lighting technology will play a major role in the future, in this and many other instances.