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Episode 16

How Do Roads Become Smarter?


Show Notes

Traffic jams and congested streets are an annoyance many people have to endure. Turns out, the same technology keeping us constantly connected—the Internet of Things—can also improve how we move people and things from place to place. But what are the considerations for technologists? Connectivity can’t be the only piece of the puzzle. Smart road technology can make travel safer, easier, and more efficient. But how can it make travel enjoyable?

We unravel the basic concepts behind smart roads, examine the ways smarter travel can become incentivized, and find out how newer technology meets legacy transportation infrastructure, making for a hybrid future.



00:01 - Kim Huang 

Angela, Brent, how do you two feel about road trips?

00:06 - Angela Andrews 

I love road trips. I love them.

00:11 - Brent Simoneaux 

I love road trips, but I hate driving.

00:14 - Angela Andrews 

I don't need to drive during a road trip. Do I?

00:18 - Kim Huang 

I'm asking because I came across some articles recently about smart roads. Does… do either of you know what those are?

00:27 - Angela Andrews 

No. Smart roads? No.

00:30 - Brent Simoneaux 

Yeah. I don't think I do either, but I have this hunch that IoT devices are involved, so like the Internet of Things. This feels like it's right there.

00:43 - Kim Huang 

You may be onto something.

00:45 - Angela Andrews 


00:46 - Kim Huang 

You may be onto something.

00:50 - Angela Andrews 

When you hear anything with the word smart in it, there's some technology somewhere lurking behind the scenes.

00:57 - Brent Simoneaux 


00:59 - Kim Huang 

Angela has a good point. Smart roads are kind of the answer, or the expansion, of smart vehicles. We have devices and vehicles that are self-driving or that have smart technology, respectively. Smart roads are what happens when you apply that thinking a bit more broadly. You're making the environment do that kind of work of processing data to make driving a better experience. I wanted to know more about what makes smart roads a possible reality and what goes into that kind of practical application of technology.

01:32 - Brent Simoneaux 

I think that's super interesting. I've heard of and thought about smart cars, autonomous vehicles, things like that. And it's actually never occurred to me that the thing that the car drives on or the thing that it drives through could also be smart.

01:51 - Kim Huang 

Me neither to be honest, but I'm ready to find out a little bit more about smart road technology.

01:56 - Brent Simoneaux 

Let's do it.

This is Compiler, an original podcast from Red Hat. We're your hosts...

02:06 - Angela Andrews 

I'm Angela Andrews.

02:07 - Brent Simoneaux 

And I'm Brent Simoneaux.

02:09 - Angela Andrews 

We're here to break down questions from the tech industry: big, small, and sometimes strange.

02:16 - Brent Simoneaux 

Each episode, we talk to Red Hatters and people they're connected to.

02:21 - Angela Andrews 

Today's question: How do roads become smarter? Producer Kim Huang is here with the story.

02:28 - Kim Huang 

So for the first part of our journey together, I wanted to go and find someone who could explain to me exactly what the technology is behind smart roads. So, I spoke with Harald Ruckriegel. He's the chief technologist at Red Hat for automotive and he's based in Germany. He talks a lot about the approach to smart roads and how it came to be, specifically a four-stage model.

02:54 - Angela Andrews 

The four-stage model. What is it?

02:56 - Kim Huang 

I'll let Harald explain it in a lot more detail, but just know that if you're talking about smart road technology, it's really hard to go from zero to 60 overnight.

03:06 - Angela Andrews 

I see what you did there.

03:09 - Brent Simoneaux 

That's good.

03:11 - Harald Ruckriegel 

We are starting with a traditional car approach. That is the first step. The cars we have traditionally. And then the second step would be to enrich the car with services. A kind of navi or an emergency service which is centered around the car itself to enrich the car to a smart car. The next stage would be that the car isn't anymore in the center of everything, it's mobility itself. Your mobility can be cars, can be bicycles, can be planes, whatever. And that would be mobility or smart mobility. And in the end, we have I would say, the highest stage with smart life and smart city. I think the smart road is getting into that direction. We are thinking about the connectivity together, not only the cars, but also the environment, meaning that you have points in the city, which act as IoT objects.

04:14 - Brent Simoneaux 

That's kind of a lot to hold my head. Help me out, Kim.

04:19 - Kim Huang 

Okay. So stage one, regular cars. Stage two, we have devices. Your smartphone, your travel apps, your GPS, your navi, as he likes to call it. Stage three is a more distributed system that has a centralized kind of point of data that then feeds information into other cars. And then the fourth one would be a complete smart city model. Does that make sense?

04:44 - Brent Simoneaux 

Yeah. Okay. Got it. Can I ask, why do roads need to be smart? Or why do we want roads to be smart?

04:52 - Kim Huang 

That's a good question. Let's focus on the ways we think about this now. So, GPS or travel apps. That's an example of decentralized data, user generated stuff where other people are traveling and they see things like an accident or a construction site, and they report that data up to the app and then other people see it. It sounds nice, but the desire for increased traffic safety and efficiency needs more than just individual devices. From Harald's perspective, data from an entire transit ecosystem could optimize travel in a big way.

05:29 - Harald Ruckriegel 

In the end, it's a city smart life concept where you get suggestions for an optimal route and an optimal journey through the city to achieve or something. For that piece, it's important to get the street information, the smart road, you mentioned with location, traffic, pollution, density, you get the information from the cars. We shouldn't focus only to cars. We should focus to the whole traffic system. Thinking about, to support public transportation and motivate for that.

06:09 - Angela Andrews 

This to me sounds like a lot of data. That's all I'm hearing. There is a lot of data being generated. We're talking the smartness, where's the smartness come from? All of the things involved with transportation, it sounds like.

06:25 - Kim Huang 

A lot of data that needs to be gathered and then centralized. Which is not necessarily easy to do. This is a move away from that kind of decentralized experience of data, making it more centralized and more standardized so that instead of just a few people being able to take advantage of it, everyone can kind of take advantage of that new, real time information and react accordingly.

06:53 - Brent Simoneaux 

And this would have a lot of benefits, right?

06:56 - Kim Huang 

There's definitely pros and cons to this and we'll talk about some of the cons later. Trust me, there's a few.

07:03 - Angela Andrews 

I can think of a few.

07:04 - Brent Simoneaux 

Yeah, I believe that.

07:06 - Kim Huang 

I do want to say that this technology is just highly, highly in testing phase. There are some countries in Asia and in Europe that are rolling out these really small scale experiments, ones that are on large, even international highways that are being rolled out. But I was curious to see how something like this would play out in real life. What would a technologist say if they were asked to give a real life example?

07:34 - Harald Ruckriegel 

The best scenario would be that you have more freedom and more flexibility in the whole traffic system, that you have a kind of possibility to use an app. I want to come from point A to point B in that time with these restrictions and you get there and suggestions for your whole journey, be it that one part is driving with a car, but then before driving into the traffic jam of a city, because it's in the middle of those traffic jams, you get a suggestion. "Okay, please park here." You get a ticket, you can drive per subway to that location and so on.

08:19 - Kim Huang 

This sounds great because this doesn't just benefit people who drive cars. It could be good for everyone who travels within the city, bikers, bus, riders, walkers, maybe people who are carpooling. All of these different changes and the way that we use this interconnectivity could have a positive impact on the way people travel. It could provide incentives for people to use, for example, more climate friendly modes of transportation. It could have a positive impact on the environment and on noise pollution and actual pollution. Here's Harald more time.

08:54 - Harald Ruckriegel 

With electrified cars, it's also important if you, to find the ride loading spots and perhaps use the time there during loading or changing, then also the traffic instrument. And I think for that, it would be good from a smart city concept to have the different aspects... I would say, not integrated in one platform, but a kind of interaction between the different platforms. Where also the city itself or city authorities can make suggestions to motivate people to not drive directly into the city and use more public transports and get some bonus points or whatever.

09:40 - Angela Andrews 

Oh, I like what I'm hearing. I like what I'm hearing. The gamification of travel? What? We can make travel fun?

09:47 - Kim Huang 

Yes. I really like it too.

09:49 - Brent Simoneaux 

Angela, help us understand some of the technology around this because I'm hearing him say something like, "It's not integrated one platform, but it's interaction between different platforms." And to me, that has a possibility to be really complex.

10:07 - Angela Andrews 

It can be, but if there's some sort of standardization, if everyone's kind of speaking the same language. Think about an API. You can access an API without having a whole lot of knowledge and know-how behind it. But that's what I'm hearing, some sort of standardization as to how we connect these disparate systems. It doesn't have to be, everything doesn't have to be ubiquitous. It doesn't have to be just one thing. But the ability to talk and communicate to disparate systems sounds like it's at the heart of building smart roads and in relation, smart cities. There has to be some sort of commonality as to how we're speaking.

10:53 - Kim Huang 

So we spent a lot of time talking about the pros. Let's talk about the cons.

10:59 - Angela Andrews 

That's what I was waiting for. *Cracks knuckle.*

11:03 - Kim Huang 

Here we go. We talked about IoT devices, smart vehicles. Those types of devices can introduce some concerns about security. Harald says that can complicate matters a little bit since smart roads are basically trying to do two things. They're trying to keep your information safe and it's also trying to keep you, the driver, safe as well.

11:29 - Harald Ruckriegel 

Thinking about security in a way of almost safety. It's both aspects and from a Red Hat side, we are taking these aspects as very important. Thinking about that our technologies have to fulfill both the security that, as an example, no one can hack into your car or your mobile and create something terrible or take your data and use it for another reason.

12:02 - Kim Huang 

Harald thinks the best way to avoid security issues lies in standardization. But in order to do that, smart road systems need to be able to talk to each other, to integrate. And there should be multiple systems, according to Harald. Not just one.

12:17 - Harald Ruckriegel 

I think it's very important that we don't think about creating a big system which optimizes everything, a central brain. I think it's very important to think about pragmatic approaches. That's also very important thinking about software technology, thinking about creative approaches, giving the possibility to create systems and to integrate them and not creating a whole big system, which is very cost intensive.

12:47 - Brent Simoneaux 

This is kind of what I was imagining listening to Harald talk earlier. I really was imagining this central brain, like a city or a state or a federal government with like sort of control. That seems a little scary to me.

13:03 - Angela Andrews 

We've seen those movies, right?

13:04 - Brent Simoneaux 

I know we've seen that movie.

13:07 - Angela Andrews 

This does have a big brother feel to it. Just the ethical implications about not everybody being an endpoint and not having any autonomy just to live our own lives, but be providing data constantly with every move that we make. That right there is pretty scary.

13:28 - Kim Huang 

It seems like this is not so much optimization of travel or transport, more than it is some kind of extra surveillance that is on top of all the surveillance that we see in our daily lives. So, I can see where people would be hesitant. The reality is it's going to be a little bit different and it's more of a distributed system than it is a system where all this data is going into this one central mother brain.

13:55 - Brent Simoneaux 

Listening to our guest, I can't help but think that the way that technology evolves, it's very rarely, if ever, perfectly implemented. You're never building something from scratch. So, I could see the way that this is actually kind of cobbling systems together and building on top of older systems. Does that make sense?

14:22 - Kim Huang 

Yeah, it does.

14:23 - Angela Andrews 

Listening to you talk, it makes me think about open source. How, the words you use "cobble together" multiple projects and come up with something that's actually, it's made of multiple projects, but the end result, the end product is what you're left with. And how great that product could possibly be, because one, it is decentralized. Different people are working on different parts of it and that's where the innovation happens. Nothing's happening in a vacuum.

14:59 - Brent Simoneaux 

Yeah, I'm thinking about like, there are different jurisdictions. It's not like the state or any government controls all of the roads. For example, in any given territory. I live in a city and some of the roads in our city are county roads and some of the roads in our city are city roads and they literally can intersect together depending on where they start and end. I think that's what I was thinking about when I was like, all these things are going to have to be cobbled together. It starts to sort of make my brain explode. It feels impossibly complicated to build.

15:43 - Kim Huang 

I agree. I'm definitely not envious of any transportation professional trying to figure this out. I did speak to someone with a bit of a pragmatic approach, which I think, in all honesty, is going to be needed.

I spoke with Heather Hussin, she's principal marketing manager for automotive at Red Hat and she's based in the United States. I was concerned about how people, individuals in the community would respond to smart vehicles and their smart roads and how there might be privacy concerns or concerns about security. Heather says that the responsibility, as far as security, is a shared one.

16:24 - Heather Hussin 

That's on top of my mind as well and I think it will take a combination of both the automakers, the technology developers who are doing smart city technology, as well as the government bodies to come together and make sure they are protecting the users and their data.

16:42 - Kim Huang 

And that's great, but then it introduces another piece of this very complicated puzzle. You have some people who have newer vehicles with smart technology already built in and then you have people who have older vehicles, like me and my incredibly old Nissan Versa.

17:07 - Brent Simoneaux 

What are we talking, 2006?

17:08 - Kim Huang 


17:10 - Brent Simoneaux 


17:12 - Kim Huang 

Yes. That's my baby. I call her the Gray Ghost.

17:15 - Brent Simoneaux 


17:17 - Angela Andrews 

So to your point, that's totally true. What do we do when most cars on the road, especially in my city, they're not brand new cars and that technology is not embedded into these vehicles. It sounds to me like this is a ways down the road. They're thinking about it now because that's where they should be thinking about it, but to get that advancement into cars, not today, not tomorrow, but in a couple years down the road, no pun intended. That's where the investment's going to have to go because right now, people are driving around in their Gray Ghosts at the moment. They can't contribute or don't have the technology in their vehicles to contribute at the time.

18:08 - Brent Simoneaux 

And it's not like Oprah is going to come to down and say, "Alright, everyone in Philadelphia gets a smart car!"

18:14 - Angela Andrews 

And we have to pay the taxes on it and that winds of sucking and all that. But you're right though. We have to consider not everyone's going to be able to take part in this right away.

18:26 - Kim Huang 

And that gets us a little bit further away from that ideal that Harald talked about in the opening. I want to hear from Heather about this, because she has some things to say.

18:35 - Heather Hussin 

Autonomy, it's not going to happen overnight. We're going to be in this mixed status for connected cars for quite some time and a lot of people are usually attached to their cars for 10 years or so. So, it's a lot of varying technologies, from no technology to the most advanced. When I think of smart cities, the first thing I think of is smart roads is a way of advancing all of that. It advances safety, not just for the people inside the car, but it advances safety for the pedestrians, the bicyclists.

19:06 - Kim Huang 

Something that both Heather and Harald mentioned, something really important, is cost. What is the cost of building smart roads? Because we all know it's all about the money. I wanted to know what are some creative approaches a government could maybe implement? Like a hybrid model where there's a smart road hybrid. Heather said that a hybrid approach may be viable.

19:34 - Heather Hussin 

What's the first small piece of the puzzle that we can look at, that we can afford and budget, that we think technology will have its most impact and most value for our city? And usually that comes in the form of some kind of visibility. Of course, with respect to the community members needs to be top of mind as well.

19:52 - Kim Huang 

So maybe it's not a stretch of highway, maybe it's an intersection or maybe it's not a complicated mess of county roads and city roads. Maybe it's a smaller space that surrounds a highly trafficked area, like a school. Even a small impact like that can have a greater effect on traffic patterns.

20:19 - Brent Simoneaux 

So, we've been talking about smart roads this whole time and as we've been doing that, I've been actually writing down a list of things that we can learn from this one example about new technologies. What are some really practical things that we should consider as technology practitioners?

20:43 - Angela Andrews 

Okay, so what should we consider? We should always consider privacy. That's always first and foremost. That's one thing. Security. How do we secure these endpoints? How do we secure the data? That is super important when you're dealing with something like vehicles and things that weigh tons and tons and they're moving X miles per hour. But also, we have to consider the technology itself. Is it a new burgeoning technology? Is it something on the cusp? Is it something that a lot of people are being interested in and they're spending time on? And you see it manifesting in other areas so it's not central to say one vertical, but a lot of people are, are implementing this type of technology. And you see it in different forms and you're like, this is something that could possibly be helpful with the smart city, smart road thing. There's a lot of things to consider, but those are the three that I'm thinking about. I could probably rattle off a few more but I'd like to hear what both Brent and Kim have to say about this.

21:56 - Kim Huang 

Brent, you go first. I want to hear what you have to say.

22:00 - Brent Simoneaux 

I feel like this is a bit of a cautionary tale of not getting overly-focused on the positive things, to the point where we're ignoring some of the perhaps negative implications of this. How is this going to play out in the real world? Things like you were talking about Angela, like privacy security, those types of things. Another thing that I was thinking about is kind of related, which is that I think so often we talk about theories and abstract ideas about how technology could, or should work. But implementing those theories in real life is often really, really, really messy, and really difficult. So, what you end up is with all of these sort of disparate platforms and all of these legal issues, and then all of these financial issues, because it's never just about the technology. The technology is kind of embedded in all of these different cultural systems and governmental systems and things like that.

And then the last thing, and this is something that Heather was saying that really is sticking with me… which is, that we often end up in these really long hybrid environments, where some things are new and some things are really old, for lack of a better word. Some of the things are dumb and some of the things are smart and those things have to coexist together for a really long time.

23:50 - Angela Andrews 

You know what, the hybrid approach is so prolific in technology. Think about people who we started, were hardware started. We run our hardware on prem, we're not moving to the cloud. And then some workloads can make it there. They're probably not show stoppers, test dev, whatever. But what we do is we have to make sure that they still work together. That innovation is happening, but people are still comfortable in their own space and they're not…. So they have to live in this hybrid world for a couple of years, forever. I mean, maybe hybrid is just the world that we have to live in because, for whatever reason. And we just have to make it work.

24:35 - Brent Simoneaux 

Angela, you just blew my mind. No, that's exactly it though. There's probably nothing but hybrid. Is that weird? Is that too far?

24:49 - Angela Andrews 

You're really spot on. Heather put it down when she said it. We have to figure out if we… Technology happens, it's on a continuum and it doesn't happen all at once. Things are advancing much slower or faster, depending on the technology. But we still have to work together. We have to sometimes live in this approach and it might be indefinite and that's okay because there's always going to be innovation. And there's always going to be things that are bringing up the rear, like Gray Ghost. And that's okay, they still have a place and we just have to work within those-

25:29 - Brent Simoneaux 

They still have a place.

25:32 - Angela Andrews 

... And we just have to work in those confines. So she hit the nail on the head with that.

25:36 - Brent Simoneaux 

Kim, what is on your list? Sorry, I got like-

25:36 - Angela Andrews 

We got to get to Kim's list.

25:42 - Brent Simoneaux 

I just, I don't know. That all just kind of blew my mind.

25:45 - Kim Huang 

Both of your points are spot on. We do have many different systems that have a mix of legacy infrastructure and newer technology, existing in the same space at the same time, trying to communicate or integrate with each other. But the most important thing, I think in all of this is, who are smart roads being built for? Ultimately we have to think about the people that are impacted by this type of technology. People who are trying to travel from point A to point B, from home to work or home to school. Whatever their needs are as a community, those things need to be at the forefront of the minds of any technologist, any business, any government organization. That's what it means to build roads smarter.

26:35 - Angela Andrews 

We can't forget the most important element in all that.

26:38 - Kim Huang 


26:38 - Angela Andrews 

It's the people.

26:42 - Brent Simoneaux 

It's the people. That's always it, right?

26:43 - Kim Huang 


26:44 - Angela Andrews 


And that does it for this episode of Compiler.

26:51 - Brent Simoneaux 

Today's episode was produced by Kim Huang and Caroline Creaghead. Victoria Lawton always keeps us on course and in third gear.

27:03 - Angela Andrews 

Our audio engineer is Christian Prohom. Special thanks to Shawn Cole. Our theme song was composed by Mary Ancheta.

27:11 - Brent Simoneaux 

Big thank you to our guests, Harald Ruckriegel and Heather Hussin, for sharing their time with us.

27:18 - Angela Andrews 

Our audio team includes Leigh Day, Laura Barnes, Stephanie Wonderlick, Mike Esser, Claire Allison, Nick Burns, Aaron Williamson, Karen King, Boo Boo Howse, Racher Ertell, Mike Compton, Ocean Matthews and Laura Walters.

27:36 - Brent Simoneaux 

If you like the show, please subscribe and leave us a review or talk to us on social using the hashtag, #CompilerPodcast.

27:47 - Angela Andrews 

We would love it if you would reach out to us and thank you all for listening. We'll see you soon.

27:52 - Brent Simoneaux 

All right.

27:54 - Kim Huang 

I am stopping my recording.

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Featured guests

Harald Ruckriegel

Heather Hussin

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