The AI-Powered Road Safety Network (Whitepaper)

In this whitepaper, I present an innovative approach for using current Emerging technologies to build intelligent road safety networks and enable safer roads in New Zealand. I call it a “SmartSafe Network” technology. 

What is the case for a smart AI-powered safety network?

The potential of maturing AI and IoT technologies to enable rapid improvements in road safety has been largely overlooked. On one hand, spending remains focused on traditional physical infrastructure, while on the other, technologists are distracted by a space race to build autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous technology is complex. It will likely take 20-30 years to mature and substantially replace existing fleets. Unaddressed, this gap will result in unnecessary social harm on NZ roads.

What can we do in the meantime?

Fortunately, there is an opportunity to use existing tech, and AI in particular, to significantly reduce harm in the short term by retro-fitting the smart safety technology to road networks and existing
fleets. This challenge should be led by technologists and the government outside the vehicle manufacturing sector, and not the manufacturers. Manufacturers’ goal of maximising new vehicle sales aligns poorly with delivering social good from optimal road safety technology.

Why do we need to do something different?

Improved road safety has a direct impact on saving lives. In the NZ context (reflected in many OECD countries), the road toll has remained static despite many campaigns around driver behaviour. These are expensive and slow to shift the needle because the major underlying factor is human fallibility.

Anecdotally, just about everyone admits to having made a mistake that could have seriously hurt someone when driving. It’s not simply a “good” vs. “bad” driver issue. “Vision Zero” road safety strategies acknowledge human factors but strategy planning is very evolutionary in nature (the best practice is to “do more of the same”) and doesn’t really explore the potential for revolutionary new technologies to shortcut the process.

The social cost of this is huge. Estimated in NZ (with a population of 5 million) as $4.8
billion in 2017 across 378 fatalities and 3,000 serious injuries. Many OECD countries have extensive networks of high-risk roads and older vehicle fleets, making a strong case for a retrofitted AI-powered safety infrastructure when compared against the costs and time frames for replacing physical infrastructure or the entire vehicle fleets.

Graph showing a number of road accidents in New Zealand from 2010 to 2019
Road deaths in New Zealand, 2010-2019. Source: The Ministry of Transport

What is the current intelligent transport landscape?

Smart roads and safety systems fall under the umbrella of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). It encompasses Emerging tech as well as now common technologies such as automated speed cameras, road tolling, dynamic signage, and traffic management. AI is used for a variety of tasks such as managing traffic density, and monitoring intersections for “near misses”.

Several Connected Vehicle pilots are operational which draw on existing vehicle-to-everything (V2x) communication standards and have the potential to form the basis for complete safety-oriented communication protocols.

There is a broad range of active R&D projects and commercial products on offer, highlighting that the technological “building blocks” required to underpin an intelligent road safety network have moved out of the lab and are commercially mature in most cases.

Ebook with purple backround cover and title "The Ai-Powered Road Safety Network"

Whitepaper by

Adam Lyness

Co-founder, Business Development Manager @ Intranel

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