photo of futuristic infrastructure

To help civil engineers stay ahead of the technology curve, ASCE’s Transportation and Development Institute’s Technical Committee on Connected and Automated Vehicles Impacts has prepared a new book, Disruptive Emerging Transportation Technologies.

One of the book’s co-authors, Heng Wei, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, is a professor of transportation engineering at the University of Cincinnati, where he also is the founding director of the ART-EngineS Transportation Research Lab.

Wei recently talked with Civil Engineering Source about the book and how civil engineers can adopt and apply these emerging technologies.

Civil Engineering Source: Let’s start with defining 4IR technologies.

Heng Wei: Let’s first talk about where this technology comes from. The phrase “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was introduced by a team of scientists who were developing a high-tech strategy for the German government. The phrase was officially used in an article published by Foreign Affairs in 2015.

Basically, the 4IR refers to the trend towards automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and processes that include cyber-physical systems, Internet of Things, industrial IoT, edge and cloud computing, cognitive computing, and artificial intelligence.

The 4IR technologies, as referred to in our book, Disruptive Emerging Transportation Technologies, are the emerging technologies that can be applied to transportation system management and operations, such as the IoT, wireless communication technologies including 5G, AI, and robotics.

Source: What are some of the ways these technologies are reshaping transportation?

Wei: Improving safety is the top priority in applying the new technologies. Currently, there is no empirical data regarding the implications of connected and autonomous vehicles on the number and severity of crashes, because CAVs are not deployed widely yet on our road networks. But many simulation-based studies suggested that CAV technologies are expected to improve safety in great part by warning drivers of dangerous conditions and/or taking the control of vehicles, so that driving-related crashes could be dramatically reduced in the future. As a result, CAVs are changing the way transportation agencies traditionally think about safety and mobility from several perspectives.

From the systematic viewpoint, the key way of applying 4IR technologies in transportation will be reflected in reshaping the existing intelligent transportation systems into the cyber-physical systems in transportation, also known as T-CPS-T. The T-CPS is aimed at transforming interactive data and information between vehicles and transportation infrastructures and the way people interact with engineered transportation systems, such as control devices, shared vehicles or bikes, and other service facilities.

Looking at its process functions, the T-CPS integrates sensing, computation, control, and networking into physical objects and infrastructure. All those components are connected to the transportation internet and to each other. The CPS-T will pave the path toward making distributed or decentralized traffic management and operation possible. That is the way to help enable large-scale control and optimization of CAVs operations to radically enhance safety, improve energy efficiency, and decrease the environmental footprint.

Finally, I want to mention that new delivery methods and strategies, by using unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, robots, and self-driving trucks, will lead to automated last-mile delivery, resulting in a last-mile delivery workforce, while eliminating unnecessary delivery delays and associated costs.

Source: Is there a specific emerging technology that you think has the greatest potential to change the way we live?

Wei: As I mentioned earlier, CAV-enabled technologies have the greatest potential to reshape our transportation – particularly, shared smart microtransit/shuttles and shared smart micromobility with the electrification of the vehicles. They may greatly change the way we live, compared to the legacy fossil-fueled vehicles of today’s world.

Meanwhile, automated delivery and logistics technologies, through the use of connected and automated freight trucks as well as UAVs as a solution to last-mile delivery problems, will greatly improve the quality of our life, too.

Source: Is there a specific emerging technology that maybe scares you, one that you think we must work hard to deploy responsibly?

Wei: Yes, definitely. There are many uncertainties, especially associated with the use or deployment of the connected or autonomous vehicle. There are many challenges because of the uncertainties, but among those I wanted to list some that will be inevitable and in need of full vigilance when designing, deploying, and operating.

The first one I want to mention is the data-processing challenge. Future use of connected and automated vehicles will require timely processing of a huge volume of datasets from different sources. Even though the 5G can provide connectivity, better integration of real-time application programming interfaces (currently a highly fragmented ecosystem of protocols) is needed if transport megatrends are to happen.

For example, if a city like London will have about 2.6 million vehicles become driverless or autonomous vehicles, real-time infrastructure requirements just for running vehicles stand at 10.4 billion GB of data per day and 120,370 GB per second.

The second is the analytics challenge. Advanced analytics technologies are imperative to provide unprecedented visibility of useful information. For example, the geolocation of fleets and expected arrival times based on weather, traffic patterns, and other factors.

The last thing I want to mention is the cybersecurity challenge. It is critically needed to protect information from disclosure, theft, or damage; particularly, to protect from malicious cyberattacks or malfunctions under extreme weather or disaster conditions.

Source: How do you see civil engineers’ roles in the future of these transportation technologies?

Wei: The rapid evolution of disruptive technologies in transportation and their convergence with the developments in the field of transportation-related data analytics will profoundly affect many aspects of education and workforce development over the next five to 20 years.

Although such disruptive emerging transportation technologies may provide a windfall of research and development opportunities, it is imperative and high time to foster an advanced and proactive understanding of these new areas that can accelerate innovations through a mixture of synthetic research and education.

Paul Mason, director of emerging and enabling technologies for Innovate UK, said the most adaptable education of disruptive technologies will help people develop new survival skills to augment foundational learning, which necessarily will look very different from most educational offerings we are seeing today.

This new and exciting area has no guiding text or repository of experience. Jobs are always there but may exist in different ways, in need of different skills. So we need to continually improve ourselves.

Learn more about the book.