Repairing Autobahn roads and overpasses costs German tax payers several million euros each year. But the Internet of Things (IoT) is helping spot damage as soon as it occurs.
“Congestion on the A3 Cologne towards Frankfurt caused by construction work.” Such radio reports are all too familiar to drivers in Germany’s Rhineland and the Rhine-Main region. The A3 Autobahn is the country’s most congested motorway with 220 kilometers of traffic jams per Autobahn kilometer, according to a 2018 study by the German motorist group ADAC. The research also makes clear that road works are often a cause of accidents, as drivers fail to cope with sudden braking and narrower lanes. However, construction costs not just motorist nerves but also lots of money all across Germany: The eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, for example, spent around €70 billion for the repair and upkeep of major motorways. And the renovations for the Emmerich Rhine Bridge near the Dutch border alone will cost an estimated €30 billion and take four years to complete.
GLOBALLY UNIQUE TESTING AREA
Lowering costs, reducing congestion, speeding up construction and making traffic on German roads both modern and sustainable: Those are the goals of a unique testing area set up by Germany’s Federal Highway Research Institute (bast). Working on the traffic of tomorrow has taken place on the A3 Köln-Ost Autobahn interchange since October 2017. The 25,000-square-kilometer site provides a miniature version of current road conditions with overpasses, a tunnel entrance, noise barriers and several lanes. New technologies can be tested here under real conditions and Deutsche Telekom is participating with some 50 sensors installed on a digital overpass.
Networked sensors operate like an early warning system: Mounted in concrete, they regularly transmit data about the condition of both the concrete and steel inside. Water, moisture and salt can cause damage over time, but small flaws are hard to see from the outside. The sensors inside the overpass recognize and report minimal damage early on. The information is passed on to researchers from bast via the narrowband machine and sensor network NarrowBand IoT. This allows the road experts to analyze the data remotely without interfering with traffic. That saves costs for both inspections and repairs.
“We want to use IoT to minimize risks and create optimal processes,” says Ulf Moorfeld, IoT expert at Deutsche Telekom. “IoT creates an optimal early warning system and effectively reduces damage.”
INTELLIGENT OVERPASSES AT DÜSSELDORF AIRPORT
The networked overpass model has proven itself since August 2018 in real-world conditions: The bridge to the kerosene depot at the Düsseldorf Airport – the only access to this strategically important point – has integrated IoT technology. “We have a bottleneck getting to the central fueling facility. This digital solution aims to prevent unforeseen damage to the entrance and the disruption to fueling that would cause,” Michael Hohenecker, Director of Data Management and Structural Inspections for Düsseldorf Airport.
In the future, the smart sensors will also be embedded in the asphalt – making it easier to recognize road damage as soon as it occurs. Regardless if it’s concrete or asphalt: The intelligent sensors can be retrofitted anywhere and operate up to 70 years long.
IoT Marketing Communication Manager
Pamela Buchwald has been part of the Telekom cosmos since 2016 and is very familiar with the Internet of Things. From general IoT trends to industry know-how and connected mobility, the blog highlights exciting topics related to connected things.