How Connected Vehicles Make Work Zones Safer

The Michigan DOT is partnering with 3M to make the nation’s first connected work zone on I-75

3 M Visible Infared Signs Barrel 5965234ba6065

Since you have to put orange barrels out along your work zone anyway, why wouldn’t you want them to do more than just sit there? What if they even kept you safer inside your work zone? That’s the thought behind 10 orange barrels that are lined up along three miles of a work zone down I-75 in Oakland County, Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is partnering with 3M to utilize connected vehicle technologies along the current I-75 modernization project and technologically enhanced orange barrels are just a small part of that. The hope is that this project will improve safety for drivers and workers along the work zone, while testing advanced vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies on the connected and autonomous vehicles of the future.

The I-75 modernization project, which breaks 17 miles of roadwork into eight segments, will position Michigan to be among one of the first states to test connected vehicle infrastructure at this level of scale. As vehicles become increasingly automated and connected, existing road infrastructure must be updated to ensure safety and reliability of this emerging technology. Signs, pavement markings, temporary traffic controls and vehicle identification systems need to be designed and implemented to pave the way for the data-driven environment of the cars and roadways of tomorrow.

“Oakland County, where segment one of the eight segment project is located, is home to a lot of the Tier One suppliers and automotive researchers and developers making it a great project to test this technology on within close proximity to their headquarters,” Rob Morosi, communications specialist with MDOT says. “Plus with it being an interstate freeway, they are able to test at a lot of variables like ramps, traffic shifts, high speeds and more on a project of this caliber.”

Technology Improves Safety

The work zone, which on a normal day can carry over 170,000 vehicles, was set up just like any other highway project, with barrels and signs set out at normal spacing, ten of those orange barrels however were special.

“3M provided us with ten orange barrels with an embedded 2D barcode inside it,” Morosi says. “The barcodes are tools that infrared devices in the vehicles can read and communicate to both the vehicle and the driver. Manufacturers are testing the messaging the vehicles receive from the barrels and how the vehicles are interpreting it.

“It’s been one thing for a vehicle to connect with another vehicle, but the big step with these barrels is allowing the vehicles to communicate with the surrounding infrastructure and vice versa.”

The hidden benefit of this vehicle to infrastructure communication is a safer work zone for construction workers.

“This project is making the work zone safer for everyone; contractors that are out there, drivers using the work zone, etc.,”  engineer with MDOT says. “This is an opportunity for us to build infrastructure that actually communicates to drivers about the dynamic work zone ahead of them, crew members on site and any shifts that may be happening. All in hopes of creating an all-around safer environment.”

For example, drivers today see a sign indicating a lane is closed ahead. They read the sign, interpret it and change lanes when they choose. With this new technology, the vehicle will also receive a lane closure notification from the connected infrastructure around it and notify the driver to react appropriately, in hopes of improving safety.

In addition to the barrels, 3M provided MDOT with advanced all-weather lane markings, retroreflective signs with smart sign technology and ten permanent dedicated short-range communication devices for vehicle-to-infrastructure communications once the barrels are removed. The updated, modern materials will allow for redundancy and greater machine vision, as well as improved driver safety on the roadways. Additionally, 3M will provide work crews American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-compliant apparel with 3M Scotchlite reflective material to ensure proper worker safety throughout the project.

"We are always looking for ways to collaborate and innovate as the industry continues to evolve,” John Riccardi, vice president and general manager, 3M Traffic Safety and Security Division says. “The future of mobility requires an open ecosystem in which industry leaders connect and collaborate to create new technologies that improve our roadways. The state of Michigan is leading the charge when it comes to the future of mobility and we are looking forward to seeing where this partnership goes."

In addition to rebuilding the I-75 interstate, MDOT will realign interchanges and upgrade geometrics to improve safety and travel time reliability. Installation of permanent roadside units (RSUs) are included to further support connected and automated vehicles. With Michigan being the home of the auto industry, it makes sense they’re leading another automotive revolution.