Artificial Intelligence + fiber optics = increased road safety

Every year, the numbers of accidents and victims on the road continue to increase, despite the numerous measures taken to reduce them. While it should be borne in mind that the main cause of fatal accidents is still driver distraction, could technology help reduce these figures? 

Indra has developed an innovative system that has multiple applications, including its use on highways through the monitoring of the existing fiber optics on the road. It’s called DAS/DTS technology, a pioneering solution which, by means of a single device installed on the road, is capable of detecting any incident up to 80 kilometers away in real time, thus facilitating an almost immediate response. 

How does the DAS/DTS mechanism work?

In reality, this technology is based on devices that “listen” and “take the temperature” through the fiber optic network previously installed in infrastructures. If they’re equipped with artificial intelligence using different algorithms and patterns, they’re able to identify a wide range of events. We’re referring to detecting accidents, poor driving, changes in speed, gridlocks, rockslides, falling objects, fires, intrusions over barriers (by people or animals) and unauthorized stops, at the moment they occur and with a high degree of accuracy. Accurate measurements are thereby achieved, enabling the highway operators to provide a better and faster response to drivers and increase their safety.

More specifically, DAS (Distributed Acoustic Sensing) technology is capable of detecting incidents by means of the vibrations of the fiber optics. It’s based on Rayleigh visible or electromagnetic light scattering and it’s able to convert tens of kilometers of optical fiber into thousands of vibration sensors. In other words, it “listens” to the activity that occurs near the sensor cable and locates it with an accuracy of a few meters. Once the acoustic patterns have been analyzed by means of artificial intelligence, DAS “understands” and classifies the events, generating different types of alarms. 

The solution has already been tested on the Portuguese A28 Highway (Northern Coastline), where it was implemented as part of the Transforming Transport project led by Indra and voted the best European Big Data project in 2019.

As for DTS (Distributed Thermal Sensing), it uses the same optical fiber but, in this case, to detect temperature changes in critical highway infrastructures such as tunnels. It can convert tens of kilometers of optical fiber into thousands of thermometers, measuring the temperature near the sensor cable with impressive accuracy. By analyzing the thermal patterns it can generate alarms due to anomalous thresholds or gradients, enabling, for example, the highway operators to respond rapidly to fire alarms or alert drivers to icy surfaces when the fiber optic cable is deployed close to them. 

The DTS solution is in operation on the Madrid Metro system, where a pilot project is being carried out to generate a thermal map of the entire network, in order to study the potential use of this energy and to facilitate the detection of fires or overheating in high-risk areas.

Towards the triple zero target for emissions, congestion and accidents

The DAS/DTS solution employs the features provided by the optical fiber already installed for telecommunications, in other words, it doesn’t require additional fiber deployment on the road and instead re-utilizes the existing infrastructure while incorporating advanced Artificial Intelligence technology. 

Nor are many devices necessary, given that with just one, which is easily installed and calibrated in the infrastructure, it’s possible to monitor between 40 and 80 kilometers and simultaneously supervise different incidents. This far-reaching coverage, together with the large number of features that each device can perform, considerably reduces the amount of deployed equipment that would be necessary with other less cutting-edge systems.

DAS/DTS is therefore a sustainable solution that can contribute to safety, detect the presence of animals on the road and analyze road surface deterioration by using more environmentally-friendly systems. Moreover, its simple adaptation to the location, thanks to the use of the existing infrastructure, can reduce the impact that the additional deployment of other Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) on the roads would entail. 

Indra pledges to facilitate more sustainable, environmentally-friendly, efficient, sustainable and safer mobility through innovation and the use of artificial intelligence, big data, the cloud and systems to integrate connected vehicles.

DAS/DTS technology, developed by Indra together with its technological partner Aragón Photonics Labs, received a special mention (Highly Commended Finalist) when it came second in the 2021 UK Highways Awards in the “Industry Product of the Year” category. This category acknowledged the organization whose product or service had brought to the market a paradigm-shifting approach or technology and which had also had an impact on the road industry through its sustainability, efficiency or cost savings, among other benefits. 

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