Article ReviewSuper highway: A14 to become Britain's first internet-connected road
This paper reviews and analyzes an article that deals with a current transportation issue in the UK. The subject article was published in the Guardian newspaper on 2 October 2013 and was entitled: “Super highway: A14 to become Britain's first internet-connected road”, by Juliette Garside.
The article opens by reporting that a 50-mile section of the soon to be upgraded A14 trunk road connecting the important east coast container port of Felixstowe with the Midlands city of Birmingham, is set to be the first road in Britain to be equipped with sensors that – via the Internet – will wirelessly send signals to/from mobile telephones in the vehicles moving along the road, which will effectively monitor the traffic flow. The white spaces between TV channels will be the transmission medium, instead of using mobile phone networks. The article suggests that the technology will not only facilitate the imposition and collection of the toll charges that will be imposed on the new road, but could lead to remote control of vehicle speeds and even “self-driving cars.”
Garside also quotes telecoms watchdog Ofcom, who forecast that in the traffic systems of the future, “Sensors in cars and on the roads monitor the build-up of congestions and wirelessly send this information to a central traffic control system, which automatically imposes variable speed limits that smooth the flow of traffic.” Ofcom also suggests that this technology makes it possible to divert cars away from congestion whilst controlling speed and braking, using onboard computer systems that would effectively override driver inputs.
The director of Neul, a Cambridge technology company involved in the project, forecasts that the extension of this technology could within a few years be used to provide monitoring data that will facilitate a wide range of improved services such as detecting full garbage bins or available city parking spaces, and even tracking and locating missing pets.
An advantage of the proposed system is that there will be no need for expensive mobile telephone masts; the system requires just very small base stations that can be attached to suitable existing infrastructure. The “white space” technology also offers technical advantages in rural areas, because the signals travel further and are less affected by obstacles such as trees. Garside also reports that in a wider context, companies including Google are involved in researching this use of white space, connecting to the Internet without using mobile connections, facilitating the ability to satisfy expected increased demand.
The article provides a good insight into the overall plans for this soon to be upgraded important road in the UK. Many might see it as a “big brother” project – an invasion of privacy(?). The article regrettably does not say whether the road users will be able to grant (or refuse!) permission for this monitoring of their driving, though it does give a good enough basic description of the technology to understand the principles involved. No doubt if this limited (50 miles) project proves to be a success, in that it brings down the cost to the authorities of collecting tolls from road users (and perhaps facilitates easy prosecution of drivers for speeding?), the technology will be extended to many other UK roads in the future. Viewed in that context, the article could be considered as a warning to motorists of a much more controlled driving future if the ideas prove to be viable and improve traffic control.
Whilst the technology is exciting (especially the wider non-traffic applications mentioned in the article), it is to be hoped that what is promised to be a relatively low-cost system to install does not provide the highway authorities with the temptation to install such systems on a widespread basis, merely as an opportunity to establish a cheap method of collecting tolls and traffic fines from motorists struggling to meet high fuel and other costs. Reducing traffic congestion is good. Taxing the motorist in a new way is definitely not!
Garside, Juliette. (2 October 2013). “Super highway: A14 to become Britain's first internet-connected road.” The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/oct/02/super-highway-a14-internet-connected-road