This holiday season we ask: How can artificial intelligence and other new technologies help make our roads safer?
While you ponder that question, let me ask you another: Have you ever wondered if the chicken manages to cross the road safely?
Every year, especially during festive seasons, hundreds of thousands of people across the world pack their bags and families, and journey back to their home towns where joyous celebrations and loved ones await. I’m looking forward to visiting my family in Spain in a couple of weeks. And, if like me, you’ve taken one of these grueling journeys by car, coach, or bus, it conjures up memories of long-distance drives, sitting in endless traffic, and family members repeatedly asking “are we there yet?”
Coming from a country that has been fighting for years to mitigate traffic accidents, my thoughts often turn toward road safety. We had more than 1,180 deaths due to road accidents in Spain in 2018. That worries me because it impacts families and children’s lives. Road safety is a serious issue. Technology has improved other areas, like healthcare and education. So, can it also help make our roads safer?
Before that, it’s important to understand that this isn’t just an issue in Spain, it’s something many countries in Asia Pacific face as well.
During the days leading up to the New Year on January 1, 3,892 injuries were reported in Thailand due to road accidents, and the death toll for the same rose by 9.5 percent from 2018.
Further, New Zealand saw alarming numbers throughout 2016, with the Ministry of Transport reporting 12,456 people injured by road accidents and 286 fatal road crashes.
In Vietnam, a total of 18,490 road accidents and 8,079 deaths occurred throughout last year. These were due to the rise of vehicles plying the roads, poor infrastructure, and bad awareness of traffic participants, just to name a few reasons.
If you think about it, these are all popular travel destinations during holiday periods, and the number of road accidents that occur is quite troubling, especially if you prefer traveling by road.
On a global level, the numbers are overwhelming. According to the World Health Organization, the number of road traffic deaths has now reached 1.35 million per year. Even scarier is the fact that if current trends continue, it’s likely road traffic injuries will end up as the number three contributor to the global burden of disease and injury by 2020.
Reckless driving or even distracted and tired drivers can increase the likelihood of accidents happening. Today, automotive companies are looking to adopt better technologies, making use of ubiquitous connectivity, and increasing data collection and analysis capabilities to make a positive difference in road safety.
How technology and AI is helping to bolster road safety
To start, smarter infrastructure can play a crucial role in helping bolster road safety. Take for example, a smart road with sensors, which can communicate information about road conditions, or even contact emergency services in the event of an accident. A company called Integrated Roadways is currently trialing in Denver, Colorado, a section of smart pavement which can detect the speed, weight, and direction of a vehicle. The data collected can then be used to alert the authorities if an incident occurs, or to let officials know when to reconfigure traffic lanes to reduce congestion.
Closer to home, PTT Global Chemical Public Company Limited, partnered with FRONTIS and Microsoft to roll out the AI for Road Safety project in Thailand. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to perform real-time video and big data analytics to track drowsy drivers and monitor driver behavior, as well as to improve the efficiency of transport management systems.
In New Zealand, a company is looking to help tackle truck driver fatigue using AI. An AI-powered device installed in the cab of the truck scans the driver’s eyes to detect signs of fatigue and distraction. If the driver’s eyelids close for one and a half seconds, an alarm sounds off and the driver’s seat will vibrate. I find this use of AI absolutely fascinating – don’t you?
I’m also greatly encouraged by the innovation coming from our younger generations. A group of computer science students from Duy Tan University, Da Nang, Vietnam, came together to develop a Smart Car Box, combining data analytics and machine learning to detect potential automotive issues before they happen. Even more impressive, these young individuals also won the “People’s Choice Award” as team BeeTech at the finals of last year’s Microsoft Imagine Cup Asia Pacific tournament.
Our colleagues at Microsoft Research in India have also been working on using visual AI to better teach driving students. AI is used to capture footage and analytics during each training session, which is then used to provide critical feedback to students. This is incredibly low-cost, using nothing more than a smartphone. Maybe this could be something that parents among us can use to monitor our teenagers as they drive!
As we look forward to the coming holiday festivities across the region including the Lunar New Year, Tết, and Chinese New Year, let’s remind ourselves – friends and family, too! – that getting home safe and sound is more important than shaving a couple more minutes off travel time. As in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Wishing you and your loved ones (and not forgetting the chicken!) a safe journey both on and across the roads this coming holiday.