Opinion: The Internet of Things can improve traffic in Southern California. Here’s how.

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Guio is IBM’s executive leader for IBM employees across California. She lives in the Bay Area.

As the first signs of a return to normal multiply with the country’s vaccinations, there is one thing no one is eager to see return: the stifling traffic jams that are such an iconic part of the city’s urban experience. California.

The volume of traffic fell last year, but the number of cars on the highways is increasing and is expected to return to where it once was as the economy recovers. From Los Angeles to San Diego, traffic jams are an infuriating reality, but there is a lot we can do with cutting edge technology to alleviate the overwhelming freeway congestion that robs us of time and energy.

One thing is central to these processes: the rapid collection and processing of data. Assumptions based on historical precedents can be supplemented with decisions based on real-time data that are better for our citizens and the environment.

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Several powerful yet inexpensive technological tools are essential. The first is the Internet of Things, low-cost devices with sensors and software that exchange data with other systems. 5G networks quickly bring this information to a place where, through the intelligent use of artificial intelligence (AI) -based analytics, we can gather information and responses in real time. Small road cameras can use AI to recognize car crashes and then update us with location coordinates and workarounds. Or if a concert at Pechanga Arena ends at 10:30 p.m., the duration of traffic lights in nearby neighborhoods could be altered to help move the rush of cars out of the area more quickly.

One of the biggest issues here in California is the volume of traffic, day and night. Regular road maintenance can cause significant disruption. AI-based analytics might be able to determine the best time to perform maintenance effectively to avoid delays or reroutings. Over time, these machine learning algorithms can spot patterns in the vast ocean of traffic data they process, which can be used by city engineers to reinvent traffic flows, signals and signage to ” make preventive improvements.

Such improvements also improve safety. Many of our roads and bridges are well beyond the age for which they were designed. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, 42% of the 617,000 bridges in the United States have exceeded the average lifespan of 50 years. Over 46,000 of these bridges are considered structurally deficient.

Modernizing these aging structures with IoT devices helps us actively monitor their dilapidated condition and quickly diagnose potential issues, thereby avoiding the cost and inconvenience of unscheduled repairs while detecting problems before they become. dangerous.

On a larger social scale, intelligent street lighting systems compatible with the Internet of Things can promote urban and economic development by automatically dimming or turning on the lighting of parking lots, driveways and public places, depending on whether they are busy or not. For such technology-based traffic improvements to be successful, it will take a thoughtful coalition of project developers, government agencies, city planners, industry experts and citizen feedback. Companies must follow fundamental principles based on commitments of trust and transparency that guide the handling of information formed by data. The goal of AI is to increase human intelligence, not to spoof it, and these systems need to be explainable and trustworthy.

We have seen the shortcomings if this entry does not occur early. The Smart Streetlights project in San Diego began as a cost-cutting effort for the city to replace high-energy streetlights with more efficient LED lights. It also involved the deployment of 3,200 smart sensors. The nodes would collect data that could direct drivers to open parking spaces, assist first responders in emergencies, track carbon emissions, and identify intersections that can be improved for pedestrians and cyclists. But community members have raised understandable fears of potential surveillance, abuse of civil rights and over-surveillance in communities of color. In September, then-mayor Kevin Faulconer ordered the cameras to be turned off until the city drew up an ordinance governing the surveillance technology.

For centuries our roads have been designed and built in much the same way. They were the product of industrial processes, functionally inert and insensitive to changes in the environment. This approach no longer works. We need to see our highways as dynamic systems that are more than asphalt and steel. Our roads must become living objects, attentive to the environment and the needs of those who use them. Ultimately, we need to move beyond this static vision to create smarter cities that better meet our daily needs. Our roads must become living objects, listening to the environment and the needs of those who travel them on a daily basis.


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