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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Technological advances are set to transform not only vehicles — as they take on more autonomy and connectivity — but also transportation infrastructure.

Why it matters: Developing technology for AVs to communicate with other vehicles as well as infrastructure like streets, traffic lights and road signs could both improve safety and decrease congestion.

Details: Several initiatives are already building prototypes of smart infrastructure components, some of which could potentially communicate with AVs directly.

  • Australian company Büro North has proposed traffic lights on the ground capable of lighting up in response to pedestrians.
  • Umbrellium in the UK has developed Starling Crossing, a pedestrian crossing that uses lights and signals to direct traffic. It relies on a neural-network framework that can anticipate people's movements and change the configuration of a crossing or buffer zone accordingly.
  • MIT's Senseable City Lab has developed slot-based intersections, modeled after air traffic control systems, that could double the rate at which vehicles move through intersections. A traffic-management system could control traffic signals and allow AVs and connected vehicles to request permission to pass through as they approach.
  • IFSTARR in France has developed dismountable urban pavement, which could be lifted and repositioned if roadways or underground systems need maintenance.
  • Building on IFSTARR's concept, Sidewalk Labs and Carlo Ratti Associati have designed a reconfigurable paving system so that streets can be converted for different uses. Light signals in the pavement and interchangeable poles and barriers could communicate whether the roadway is open to traffic on a weekday morning, or closed off and converted into a playground for families on weekends.

Yes, but: Upgrading existing infrastructure would be expensive and time-consuming, so municipalities may need to assess which technologies would have the most impact.

  • Additionally, a connected infrastructure system would collect enormous amounts of data on how, when, and where people travel. It would be crucial to protect that data and leverage it responsibly in order to build public trust and get public buy-in.

What’s next: If labs continue developing and refining prototypes and coordinate with AV companies, different elements of smart infrastructure could ultimately work together.

Carlo Ratti is an architect and engineer who leads the Carlo Ratti Associati design practice and the MIT Senseable City Lab.

Go deeper

Asia faces massive new COVID surge

Photo: Anuwar Hazarika/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Several Asian countries are facing new coronavirus waves, with some struggling to keep up with some of the worst outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic.

The big picture: While India accounted for half of the global infections this past week, per the World Health Organization, cases are surging in countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Cambodia, CNN reports.

Cyberattack forces shutdown of major U.S. fuel pipeline

A police officer stands guard inside the gate to the Colonial Pipeline Co. Pelham junction and tank farm in Pelham, Alabama, in 2016. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A major U.S. fuel pipeline running from Texas to New York has been taken offline by its operator because of an apparent cyberattack.

The big picture: Colonial Pipeline "carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies," the N.Y. Times reports.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
2 hours ago - Health

The end of quarantine

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Long quarantines were a necessary tool to slow the COVID-19 pandemic during its first phases, but better and faster tests — plus vaccines — mean they can be scaled back considerably.

Why it matters: Quick tests and regular surveillance methods that identify who is actually infectious can take the place of the two-week or longer isolation periods that have been common for travelers and people who might have been exposed to the virus, speeding the safe reopening of schools and workplaces.