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Exploring and Practicing Smart Expressway Construction

By Fei Jixiang, Senior Solution Architect, Global Transportation Department, Huawei's Enterprise Business Group

Driven by new development concepts and technological innovation, China has launched strategies in recent years to enable industry upgrade and build integrated infrastructure systems. This is necessary to meet the demand for high-quality development, and this is why the transportation industry needs smart expressways. During the process of building those expressways, it's critical to coordinate people, vehicles, roads, and environments, in order to build high-quality highways. A backbone expressway network has taken shape in China, and the focus of China's expressway industry has shifted from construction and management to construction, management, and Operations and Maintenance (O&M). With the annual compound growth rate of automobiles in use reaching 12% in China, people are pursuing faster journeys, which puts greater demands on roads to be more efficient.

Despite fast technological progress, highways remain inefficient at toll collection. More alarmingly, traffic congestion and serious traffic accidents persist at highway toll stations during holidays. Meanwhile, traffic accidents caused by dangerous goods transport vehicles can seriously damage roads.

All of these factors indicate that further intelligence is required to build smart highways. To address these challenges, the industry must coordinate people, vehicles, roads, and environments; accelerate the construction of smart highways; improve the management and service capabilities; and achieve the development objectives of integrated, smart, green, and safe transportation.

Evolution and Challenges of Smart Expressways

• Evolutionary Roadmap

Highways have entered the digital era, and they will become increasingly intelligent in the future. In this process, Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) is just the start, just one example of digitalization, which is the foundation of smart expressways. Digitalization will focus on empowering highway networks with perceptive and cognitive capabilities, which smart highways can then be built on top of — to achieve coordination between people, vehicles, and roads.

Highway evolutionary roadmap

• Construction Objectives

Guided by overall construction objectives of achieving all-road awareness, all-round service, all-weather access, full-process management and control, and digital operations, China is continuously improving the safety, efficiency, service, and management level of highways through digital transformation.

Safe: China will build a complete highway safety assurance system. In the long run, all-weather expressway safety with zero major traffic accidents will be possible, based on infrastructure digitalization, integrated road transport Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure System (CVIS), integrated BeiDou (China's satellite navigation system) high-precision positioning applications, big data-based, unified road network management, integrated Internet+ road network services, and new-generation traffic control networks.

Fast: ETC will be deployed at all expressways in China, and a big data-driven intelligent cloud control platform will be created, which will employ intelligent systems and vehicle management and control measures to improve the traffic efficiency and to increase the average vehicle speeds on expressways by 20% to 30%.

Green: Build converged and efficient smart transportation infrastructure. Encourage the deployment of photovoltacis (PV) power generation facilities along expressway rest areas and slopes, and connect them to the mains electricity for power supply. In the 14th and 15th Five-Year Plans, China will strengthen the development of wind power and solar power. In 2021, the PV industry will see explosive growth.

Intelligent: New technologies will be used to build a comprehensive sensing system for people-vehicle-road synergy and a comprehensive road network operation monitoring and warning system to implement Open Road Tolling (ORT). In the future, an Internet of Vehicle (IoV) system will also be built, to support autonomous driving.

• Current Challenges

In the next decade, smart expressway construction in China will face challenges in terms of new technologies, new models, and new business models:

Insufficient sensing facilities and low level of intelligence:

Transformation toward the smart expressway will be impossible without data. The coverage of sensing facilities is insufficient, detection methods aren't intelligent enough, and data sensing needs to be improved.

Insufficient data sharing and weak analysis capability:

Expressway data analysis depends on data collected by vehicle detectors and cameras. There's a lack of structured data collected in other modes and there's no integration with other data such as toll collection data. The capability of analyzing and processing real-time data is insufficient.

Services aren't associated with each other, lacking collaboration:

There is no linkage between services of different road sections and between corresponding maintenance services. Cross-section and cross-road network collaboration is insufficient, leading to weak joint dispatching and command capabilities.

The prediction capability can barely support decision-making:

Because of the lack of data support, the prediction capability of the system is poor and can't provide effective assistance for manual decision-making. As a result, decision-making relies purely on the experience of managers.

Lack of perception methods and slow response:

The lack of comprehensive sensing methods and low level of intelligence make it impossible to learn the onsite situation efficiently and quickly generate emergency instructions after an incident occurs, leading to slow response.

Poor problem source tracing and weak management and control:

Because of the lack of comprehensive perception data, the root cause of an incident can't be traced through simulation or other methods. As a result, precision management and control can't be achieved.

Lack of a comprehensive management and control network:

Highway facilities and systems are still operated, maintained, and managed in a passive mode. A comprehensive management and control network and an O&M platform are urgently needed for unified, efficient, and automatic management and service.

There are other prominent problems such as network security and information silos. Meanwhile, standards and specifications need to be strengthened, and public service quality needs to be enhanced.

Architecture and Features of Smart Expressways

Smart expressways can only be developed through comprehensive transformation of technologies, development models, and services. It requires an integrated system with digital perception, ubiquitous connectivity, digital platforms, and smart applications. To this end, multiple parties need to work together to innovate and achieve optimal outcomes.

Smart expressway pilot projects

• Characteristics of Smart Expressways

The characteristics of smart expressways include comprehensive sensing, intelligent analysis, collaborative operations, autonomous decision-making, instantaneous response, and accurate management and control.

Comprehensive sensing: Provide comprehensive, intelligent, real-time, and accurate perception of facilities, vehicles, and environments along highways, proactively detect exceptions, and provide data support for subsequent autonomous decision-making, instant response, and precise management and control.

Intelligent analysis: Multi-source information obtained through various sensing methods, such as group and individual information, historical information, and real-time information, can be intelligently analyzed in typical scenarios to help identify exceptions and support autonomous decision-making.

Collaborative operations: Implement interconnection and collaborative linkage between different services in the same expressway section, between different expressway sections, between expressways and common roads, between expressways and transportation tools, and between expressways and traffic participants, in order to improve management efficiency and service quality.

Autonomous decision-making: Machine learning can be used for autonomous learning of expressway exceptions, perform real-time calculation of these exceptions, accurately predict the exception development track and results, and quickly provide the best solution to comprehensively improve the intelligence level of decision-making.

Instantaneous response: Detect expressway emergencies in real time, quickly determine the severity of emergencies, instantly generate detailed emergency plans, and quickly schedule resources to handle emergencies.

Accurate management and control: Has comprehensive expressway sensing capability and the capability of identifying expressway exceptions. Implement proactive and accurate management and control of road sections, lanes, and special vehicles — improving the expressway management and control level and ensuring safe, orderly, and smooth transportation.

• Smart Expressway Solution Architecture

Huawei's smart expressway solution connects all transportation elements based on digital, networked, and intelligent roads. With the digital platform as the core, a multi-service scenario solution is constructed, including a set of all-element sensing systems, an Intelligent Operation Center (IOC), and N smart applications. With this solution, we can build smart expressways that are visualized, controllable and serviceable — improving transportation safety, efficiency, and experience.

Architecture of Huawei's Smart Expressway Solution

All-element sensing: The sensing of the road network depends on many data collection devices — such as video cameras, sensors, and traffic flow detectors — of which video is the most important data format. There have been three defining phases of video perception: transformation from common cameras to smart cameras, transformation from single-point intelligence to network-wide intelligence, and transformation from single-mode video collection to multi-source video collection. As physical and digital worlds become more connected, data, software, and AI algorithms can flow freely on the cloud, edge, and devices, allowing for all-round perception of transportation infrastructure and real-time information exchange.

Intelligent connection: 5G and other technologies are used to deliver ultra-broadband, seamless, and lossless network coverage featuring low-latency and high-reliability.

All-weather access: Edge computing and edge intelligence technologies must be based on AI capabilities and applications to shorten the end-to-end latency. This way, when an accident occurs, the solution can ensure quick emergency handling and traffic restoration and avoid the need to take more extreme measures such as closing the road. In Huawei's smart expressway solution, the computing power and AI capabilities are deployed at the edge to shorten the service-processing latency. Also, useless data is removed at the edge before being backhauled, reducing the pressure on bandwidth.

IOC: The IOC is at the heart of smart expressways, and it's the engine that supports full-service scenarios and propels full-lifecycle industry upgrade. As key parts of the IOC, smart applications must be able to streamline siloed systems and perform centralized data aggregation and governance. By mining data value and revitalizing digital assets, smart applications can help build a unified map for smart expressways.

Full-process management and control: Through collaborative innovation with customers and partners, Huawei is able to help customers from the transport sector improve safety, efficiency, and experience. Meanwhile, end-to-end precision management and control can be achieved for construction, management, maintenance, transportation, and services. As a result, Huawei's solution can reduce traffic accidents and congestion, improve transportation capacity and cut operational costs.

Smart Expressway Construction

Smart expressway construction must meet the following requirements to become digitalized, informatized, and intelligent:

Digital infrastructure: Digitally display the running status of the road infrastructures so that objects can "speak" (3-D high-precision map, sensing the running status of the road, bridge, tunnel, and slope), enabling advanced risk warning and response.

Network-based: Digital facilities are connected through the network to enable data interaction and communication between objects (dynamic management and control of facilities on the road and customized information services for different vehicles).

Intelligent: Intelligent response and control based on network transmission can be implemented (vehicle-infrastructure interaction and big data-based road network coordination and control). With the help of the Internet of Everything (IoE), ubiquitous road network perception and full-process vehicle control are made possible.

5G devices can be used to provide low-latency and high-bandwidth wireless connections, and all-optical Fifth-Generation Fixed Network (F5G) networks are used to build a comprehensive sensing system for people-vehicle-road synergy. Based on high-precision maps and the BeiDou navigation satellite system, autonomous driving can be supported in the future.

Huawei helped Beijing Capital Highway Development Company build the first high-tech, smart expressway in China — Beijing-Chongli Expressway (Beijing section). With this expressway, 5G-empowered, scenario-based solutions are used to support autonomous driving with vehicle-road synergy. In 2019, TuSimple — a self-driving truck company — and its partner, Huawei, used advanced technologies such as Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) and high-precision maps to perform millisecond-level L4 autonomous driving and fleet formation full-scenario tests on multiple types of large and small vehicles on the Beijing-Chongli Expressway.

In Hunan province, Huawei worked with the Hunan Expressway Group to implement online vehicle charging audit. Multi-dimensional data about charging, vehicle license plates, and vehicle features is converged and online training with Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms is performed, achieving second-level diagnosis and analysis and online automatic warning response.

To become a transportation powerhouse, China must invest more in smart expressway construction, which will drive the nation's ICT industry development. Smart expressways will evolve to support LTE-V and self-driving vehicles — achieving intelligent synergy between people, vehicles, roads and environments. Driven by both technological development and market demands, smart expressways face a period of challenges and opportunities. With that period approaching, Huawei is ready to cooperate with all industry partners to jointly build better smart expressways.

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