Testing transport tech

The highway that enables transport engineers to try out new technologies
28 May 2019

Interview with 

Allie Kelly, The Ray


A road at sunset, with the lights from cars travelling up and down


Exciting new technologies are on the horizon that could make roads greener and safer. But how do these concepts actually make their way onto the busy roads they are intended to benefit? Using an 18 mile stretch of highway, The Ray is a non-profit foundation that does exactly this, with the eventual aim of making zero carbon, zero fatality roads in the future. Adam Murphy heard how from executive director Allie Kelly...

Allie - We want transportation to become more advanced technologically, because we need cleaner and safer transportation, particularly as it relates to carbon. Because in the United States the transportation sector is the number one contributor to airborne carbon now. So these are huge challenges that present huge opportunities in the transportation sector. We believe that the technologies already exist for transportation to be zero carbon, zero deaths and zero waste. And the goal of The Ray is to get those technologies into the interstate highway environment.

Adam - A zero carbon road seems like a huge thing to get. So what kind of technologies are you developing that would get us there?

Allie - Providing the infrastructure for electrified transportation and consumer vehicles and with fleet vehicles should be our number one priority. Our very first technology demonstration on The Ray in 2015 was solar powered EV charging station. We wanted to provide the cleanest power possible for the cleanest form of transportation that we have at our fingertips right now. The Ray also has a partnership with a group in the United States working on wireless dynamic EV charging while you're driving in a lane. I feel like this is a breakthrough technology that will help electrification particularly in the fleet environment.

Adam - How does the wireless charging when you're driving work?

Allie - You develop a magnetic field between the road and the electric vehicle underside and you can transfer alternating current through that magnetic field.

Adam - Another thing you mentioned was the zero fatality road. How would you go about getting to that point?

Allie - Well the technology advancement in the vehicles themselves are going to eliminate as many as 40 percent of all accidents and traffic related fatalities in the United States. That's a conservative estimate. These advanced mobility technologies are autonomous vehicle technologies and connected vehicle technologies. And we at The Ray believe that in order to leverage the most benefit from these advanced mobility technologies, we need to advance and modernise the road infrastructure too. 3M has designed striping that is visible for these new vision systems that are developed for autonomous vehicles. And then with Panasonic we are developing the software to manage the data streams from connected vehicles.

More and more vehicles in the United States and around the world are being developed with radio or cellular technology so that the cars and the trucks can talk to themselves. We're working with our Georgia DOT and with Panasonic to gather that information from the cars and the trucks, and to pull that into a special brain for connected vehicle data that will manage the data, that will help to make sense and meaning out of the big data, and over time the system can become predictive. And, a special brain for a connected vehicle data can allow you to incorporate machine learning so that your system can become predictive with that data set and with the machine learning capability. At the end of this year we'll have the software and the hardware in place on The Ray to allow for the testing of platooning freight vehicles and vehicles with no human driver traveling at speeds of 70 miles per hour or faster.

Adam - So is that like convoys of cars all working together following machine learning to get where they're going?

Allie - That's exactly right. Platooning our freight vehicles traveling very close to each other so that they could take advantage of the efficiency of drafting in each other's space. That reduces the wind resistance and it also is a much safer way for freight vehicles to move from one place to another because it eliminates the space in between the trucks that other drivers might use as they weave in and out of traffic.

Adam - Are we going to need to do anything to change the makeup of the roads themselves?

Allie - We don't need, but we should, because right now we have the technology to recycle old scrap tyres into asphalt roads. Every single human generates about one tyre into landfills every year. And so the fact that we now know how to up-cycle old tyres into a road pavement that performs so well; durable, crack resistant, quiet road. It's a win-win situation.

Adam - Of all these technologies, what do you think is going to make the biggest impact towards these goals of zero carbon and zero accidents?

Allie - There are technologies that we can utilise right now to solve simple, predictable and preventable problems on our roads. And one of those technologies we believe is important immediately today is called Wheelwright. And it examines tyres without any human interaction necessary. It's a drive through piece of equipment and it examines your tyres for tyre tread, tyre pressure and damage to your side walls. We know that tyre failure and tyre blowouts are the cause of fatalities on our roads, and tyre blow outs make accidents more dangerous and more likely to be fatal. So it's a safety improvement to have better maintenance of your tyres, but it's also an environmental improvement: when your tyres aren't properly inflated and you have a gas powered car you're wasting fuel and your emissions are increased at the tailpipe.


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