Digital transformation has become a necessity for modern transportation and involves the incorporation of innovative digital transport solutions being introduced in the transportation sector. This is followed by the development and operation of an intelligent transportation system. Thus, with the rapid development of new technologies and evolving construction techniques, there have been major changes in the construction of roads, expressways and highways across the Southeast Asian (SEA) region.
Artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality, drones, site robots, and other smart construction techniques and concepts are now being applied at almost all construction sites. Building information modelling (BIM) is a set of technologies and processes that are used to create a three-dimensional virtual model of a project. The virtual model contains all project information. As the BIM model is being developed with voluntary and non-binding industry foundation classes data schema and exchange file format, the bridge design and construction industry is recognising the benefits of digital bridge project delivery.
Industry foundation classes are a particular data format that allows the inter-exchange of an information model without loss or distortion of data. The model, thus, provides a graphical and functional representation of a bridge and its design, which improves design quality, constructibility and collaboration. Laser scanning methods are also being adopted and they provide sustainable solutions. With the use of laser scanning and BIM data management tools, a 3D model can be made. This 3D model captures the components of a built asset such as prefab panels, rebars, load-bearing structures, and truss. The appropriate reusable materials can then be assessed by a trained professional, which would cut down the cost and increase the green footprint. Such 3D models can also be used to develop a digital twin infused with construction data, including information about materials and components. Moreover, the digital twin model enhances collaboration among all stakeholders across a project life cycle.
Besides, the BIM model has introduced a certain amount of parametric modelling into mainstream building design. With parametric modelling, parameters are set by the engineer and then used to develop a design that will meet the specified needs of a design. Changes to the design are also less time-consuming, as a parameter can be modified and the software will calculate how the change will affect the entire model, updating the model while ensuring that all the parameters are still met. Further, there is no need to rework the entire model, saving valuable time. These digital technologies (BIM, AI, big data, blockchain, cloud, etc.) along with geospatial technologies (light detection and ranging, global navigation satellite systems, [GNSS], etc.) are being used to prepare roadways for future infrastructure projects.
Implementations so far
Cambodia has a low-grade road network and efforts are being made to improve the country’s road infrastructure. The Government of Cambodia has formally opened one of the most ambitious new road programmes undertaken by the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation. The project includes over 100 km of new roads and nearly 250 km of rainwater drainage systems, parks, and other physical infrastructure. The total cost of the highly advanced infrastructure project is over $150 million.
In another development, a Canadian road maintenance company is assisting Cambodia with technical assistance to reduce maintenance and construction costs, save natural resources and keep its unpaved roads smoother for longer. The company has developed its road stabiliser, which is a superior soil stabilisation product that once applied allows roads to last a few years with minor to zero maintenance.
NEC Indonesia has developed a portfolio of solutions that can help governments control traffic congestion, using technologies such as AI and internet of things (IoT), recognising the need for safe, secure, and smooth smart transportation systems. From bus fleet management systems to ticket clearing systems that allow passengers to only tap in and out once on the same route even if they change modes of transportation, facial recognition technology as a replacement for physical tickets that is integrated with an account-based ticketing system, and AI technology that can analyse driver behaviour while driving, the possibilities are endless.
Indonesia is set to make the transition to gate-less electronic toll collection with the introduction of a multi-lane free-flow (MLFF) system, which will replace the traditional toll gate payment system in use.The MLFF system uses GNSS technology and performs transactions through an application on smartphones. The global positioning system will determine the vehicle’s location via satellite tracking and the map-matching process will run in the central system.When the vehicle exits the toll road and the map-matching process ends, the system will calculate the fare.
The plan is for the MLFF payment system to be introduced on toll roads and implemented by the end of 2022 or 2023 at the latest. The target is to implement the MLFF system in Java and Bali by the end of 2022. The system for Indonesia – which will allow vehicle pass-throughs at speeds of 40 to 50 km per hour – is being provided by a Hungarian company, Roatex, through a local Indonesian firm, PT Roatex Indonesia Toll System. The new system is expected to bring an end to queues at toll gates, shorten travel time and improve efficiency.
The Government of Johor has launched an initiative for road maintenance projects to upgrade regional roads and provide employment to local contractors. This initiative was launched under the Work Partnership Programme implemented by the Johor Centre for Construction Development (JCCD). The entire cost of the programme is projected to be around RM 44.4 million, with 396 packages to be allotted for road maintenance and upgradation work around Johor. Work packages will be distributed to JCCD-registered contractors in Johor by a ballot. The programme is divided into four phases.
The Work Partnership Programme is an effort to provide opportunities to Johor contractors to participate in road maintenance and building projects in the state. In December 2021, the Smart Highway Sandbox programme was launched as a medium for innovation in the integration of technology into the country’s highway network. The programme is an initiative to speed up innovative approaches in implementing road maintenance work on highways using technology.
Smart highways are a medium of innovation as they enable the integration of technology with road networks such as a combination of various IoT devices to improve transport efficiency, the safety of drivers and pedestrians, and the use of clean energy to promote sustainability. The programme is a Plus Malaysia Bhd initiative together with the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre. In another development, using digital and geospatial solutions helped save cost to the tune of $38.5 million while upgrading the Pan Borneo highway, a highway project spanning 1,060 km, from a two-lane to a four-lane highway. The project partners used BIM, a geographic information system, laser scanning, and drones while creating a digital twin of the entire stretch. The contractor was able to deliver a real-time dashboard of the maintenance management system, road information system, bridge management system, and pavement management system to carry out the project efficiently.
The Public Utility Vehicle Modernisation Program of the Philippines aims to transform the public transportation system through the introduction of safer and climate-friendly vehicles, improved regulation, and industry consolidation. The programme also aims to improve the quality of urban life, reduce economic losses due to time lost in travel, reduce health costs and premature deaths, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the economic situation of the operators and industry by improving service quality levels.
The Land Transportation Office (LTO) recently launched a new central command centre (C3) as well as an incident reporting mobile app, CitiSend. The C3 will help in surveillance monitoring, coordination, and alarm monitoring while the mobile application will offer citizens an immediate channel of contact with the LTO. The C3 will also serve as the central system for the agency’s operations and law enforcement service. Further, the system will aid surveillance and supervision in accordance with the agency’s mandate under the land transportation and traffic code.
The electronic road pricing (ERP) system has remained successful in keeping roads free-flowing at all times.. It is a technological upgrade from the earlier area licensing scheme under which a flat fee was levied on vehicles entering the central business district. ERP gantries erected at roads prone to congestion use radio frequency identification technology to automatically collect a fee from any vehicle passing under them during operating hours.
ERP rates are differentiated based on traffic conditions and adjusted to keep traffic moving at an optimal speed range of 20-30 km per hour on arterial roads and 45-65 km per hour on expressways. Going forward, there are plans to develop a more effective and responsive traffic management system that is less costly to build and maintain, more space efficient and requires a shorter lead time to implement compared to the current gantry-based system.The next-generation ERP system will use GNSS technology, which will be able to collect aggregated traffic data better, to help improve traffic management and transport planning.
Motorists will also enjoy more value-added services, such as advance alerts on charging locations, real-time traffic information and road safety advisories. The modern GNSS machine control systems envisage the capabilities of intelligent machines trained to collect data while transmitting it to a control centre for quick response. However, in many projects, these devices are currently supervised mostly by users, which might be envisioned as a futuristic process of totally automated systems worldwide. For instance, the Trimble GCS900 is used on excavators, motor graders, compactors, dozers and scrapers. It is a cutting-edge earthmoving grade control system. It uses total station and laser technology to position the blade or bucket precisely in real time, significantly reducing material overloads and significantly improving the efficiency and profitability of the contractor.
Several smart construction materials are emerging and one of the most innovative construction materials considered today for road and bridge design is self-healing concrete. Smart materials are engineered to respond to cracks, excessive stress, or environmental effects such as temperature, pressure, and the presence of oxygen. The development of smart and new construction materials has also led to the development of standard precast, prestressed concrete beams that are normally designed to act compositely with a cast-in-place reinforced concrete deck slab.
Concrete is prone to cracking because of varying loads on roads. However, new concrete mixtures that include limestone-producing bacteria, which fill the cracks as they form, are being developed. The new types of concretes developed include self-compacting concrete, high performance concrete, fibre reinforced concrete, and ultra-high-performance concrete. This is a high strength, high stiffness, self-consolidating, ductile material, formulated by combining portland cement, silica fume, quartz flour, fine silica sand, high range water reducer, water, and steel or organic fibres. Each of these materials have their own advantages and can be used judiciously by utilising their advantages.
Smart concrete is still being tested in laboratories to determine how long the bacteria sustain themselves. This new innovative material can prevent costly damages that can occur if cracks in concrete are not filled or repaired. Fly ash can be used as prime material in many cement-based products such as poured concrete, concrete blocks and bricks. Being a generally cohesion-less material, fly ash gets consolidated at a faster rate and primary consolidation is completed quickly. Hence, it has low compressibility and shows negligible post-construction settlements. When used in concrete mixes, fly ash improves the strength and segregation of the concrete and makes it easier to pump. Since fly ash can displace cement to a certain extent, it has the potential to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
Construction of modern road infrastructures are quite complicated. Thus, there is a need for skilled and trained engineers and experts to plan construction of these structures using best methods and equipment. In addition, periodic monitoring of roads, highways and bridges remains important for safety purposes. Going forward, construction materials will be engineered to be smarter, stronger, self-sustaining and easier on the environment.
The way forward
Going forward, smart road infrastructure will be developed through a comprehensive transformation of technologies, development models, and services. It requires an integrated system with digital perception, ubiquitous connectivity, digital platforms, and smart applications. To this end, various stakeholders need to work together to innovate and achieve optimal outcomes. Moreover, expressways and highways have entered the digital era, and they will become increasingly more intelligent in the near future. Digitalisation will focus on empowering highway networks with perceptive and cognitive capabilities. This will help achieve coordination between commuters, vehicles and roads.