Lapland needs sound road infrastructure for economic growth
The road infrastructure in Finnish Lapland is in a good shape. However, some planned major investments require improvements to certain...
With automated driving beginning to take hold of intelligent transportation, many people continue to grapple with the question of having self-driven cars in challenging and extreme weather conditions. Lapland is the home of the world’s first Arctic testing ecosystem, which offers a unique platform for testing in extreme conditions. In intelligent transportation, the road beneath the vehicle also matters. The asset management of traffic infrastructure is the RoadScanners’ area of expertise.
In an ideal situation, automated driving should not be a hindrance in unchallenging conditions; however, this is always not the case, as Reija Viinanen, director of Aurora collaboration at the Finnish Transport Agency, opines in a statement.
“To date, tests and trials are running in good conditions and on easy roads,” she said, adding that “autonomous driving won’t happen if automation cannot hit the roads in real-life [situations] across the globe.”
The world’s first Arctic testing ecosystem for intelligent transport systems (ITS) and automated driving known as Aurora Snowbox goes a long way to ensure testing in extreme weather conditions. Situated in Fell Lapland in the northwestern part of Finnish Lapland, the public test ecosystem offers what has been termed a “unique platform for public and private sector to cooperate, trial and pilot intelligent automation solutions and innovation.” The cornerstone of the Aurora Project is founded upon the realization that “automated driving will not become widespread without weather-proof technological solutions.”
Ensuring successful application of intelligent transportation system and automated driving also depends very much on the suitability of the infrastructure to fit a particular purpose, and the ability of that infrastructure to withstand challenging conditions. One of the leading companies setting the trends in asset management of traffic infrastructure is Roadscanners Oy, a Rovaniemi-based company established in 1998. Using modern technology, the company which has its client base in 57 countries across all the continents, including Antarctica, uses the latest technology to conduct better diagnostics of traffic infrastructure such as roads, railways, bridges, streets and airports.
“We are not surveying the symptoms but actually fixing the root causes of the problems. Often, when it comes to roads, for instance, you will find that it is the symptoms which are being fixed and this procedure being repeated over and over,” remarked Timo Saarenketo, the CEO and president of the company.
Roadscanners, which has been involved in the Aurora Project from the start, employs a proactive maintenance strategy which Saarenketo explains as a measure to anticipate potential problems beforehand. “In this case, you don’t allow roads, railways and bridges to break down,” said Saarenketo.
Digitization is the key to Roadscanners’ operations in traffic infrastructure asset management and defines the company’s future direction. The company uses modern technology to obtain information on the infrastructure surroundings, substructures and all survey data critical to the infrastructure. For instance, in the Antarctica, there are a lot of roads on ice glacier lines and potholes that could measure up to 200 metres deep.
To prevent vehicles from falling into any such pothole, the company has developed an efficient warning system. Similarly, ground penetrating radar technology has been used exclusively by the company to measure the moisture under the ground in countries like New Zealand. According to Saarenketo, many places are struggling with drainage problems due to heavy rains brought about by climate change.
The company also employs the use of electronic magnetic field to measure the signals.
“This entails sending electromagnetic waves to, for instance, a road or a bridge and then assessing the condition of that road or bridge from the measurements received,” explained Saarenketo.
Roadscanners’ flagship is the road doctor survey van which Saarenketo describes as a moving laboratory. Designed for data collection and analysis, the survey van measures and reports everything one needs to know about a road. A similar innovation also exists for the railway which has befittingly been referred to as the railway doctor.
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In relation to automated driving, Saarenketo explained that Roadscanners Oy is not in the business of developing autonomous driving per se but, instead, is interested in how vehicles can stay on roads during winter conditions.
“The big risk with autonomous vehicles is that they move exactly at the same wheel path. On the other hand, when humans are driving, they are loading differently and deviation is about 40cm from each other,” said Saarenketo, adding that such a situation means the road will face problems.
Ensuring that roads have been designed as by the stipulated guidelines is one area where intelligent transport systems in Lapland is making headway. Roadscanners Oy has developed asphalt quality control and quality assurance system both in instrumentation and software such as the asphalt paver homogeneity systems.
One of the ideas behind automated driving is reducing accidents caused by human errors. This argument, besides efficiency, environmental issues, comfort, inclusion, and accessibility, is well acknowledged in the Aurora Project.
According to Reija Viinanen, “automation is seen as one solution for better safety in traffic and transport.” Saarenketo uses as an example improved safety the case of emergency braking, whose impact has drastically reduced accidents in, for instance, Israel.
“Starting from next year, trucks weighing more than 3.5 tonnes have to be fit with automated braking system in Israel,” said Saarenketo. A similar measure is also planned be introduced in Finland.
When it comes to intelligent transport, the most important issue as Saarenketo explains to integrate intelligent transport and robotics to the road asset management systems which in turn will lead to safer roads and lower costs of service maintenance of roads.