Tel Aviv highway tries out smart road studs to alert for hazards, traffic

Tel Aviv highway tries out smart road studs to alert for hazards, traffic

Cat’s eye-style sensors festoon a stretch of the Ayalon in road test of information-gathering and -transmitting technology developed by Israeli startup Valerann

On the Ayalon Highway, workers lay out smart studs developed by Israeli startup Valerann (Courtesy)
On the Ayalon Highway, workers lay out smart studs developed by Israeli startup Valerann (Courtesy)

Tel Aviv motorists likely won’t notice, but if they are whizzing down the Ayalon Highway toward the Rokach Boulevard exit, they will be watched by smart studs — sensors strategically placed on the sides of the road to alert for hazards or traffic hiccups.

The smart studs — which look like the traditional cat’s-eyes often used to demarcate roads — have been sired by Israeli startup Valerann, which is conducting its first pilot run on a real, traffic-jammed environment with the cooperation of highway operator Ayalon Highways Co.

Set up August 2016, the Tel Aviv-based firm has developed an end-to-end traffic control and road-monitoring system that uses wireless sensory chips installed on the road itself. Using these sensors, together with an algorithm and a communication system, the combined platform is able to provide real-time information to road operators and drivers about occurrences on the road — such as traffic levels, stranded cars on the roadside, and hazardous conditions such as “black ice.”

Valerann founders, left to right, Daniel Yakovich, Gabriel Jacobson, Shahar Bahiri and Michael Dan Vardi (Courtesy)

Valerann hopes that this pilot, along with two others in the US and the UK later this year, will help make its technologies part of the infrastructure of smart cities and autonomous cars.

“We want our technology to become a standard of how to manage traffic data,” said CEO Gabriel Jacobson.

Most roads today, especially intercity roads, have reflective road studs, or cat’s eyes, to help outline lanes, bumps and road crossings.

Valerann suggests replacing these studs — which get changed anyway by road operators every few years — with durable, smart road studs that transmit information about conditions to a centralized control center. The studs can also receive information from the center, providing bi-directional feedback to drivers; for example they may start to flicker if there is a hazard coming up.

Until recently, all the sensors that enable autonomous cars have been placed on the vehicles themselves, noted Jacobson. But infrastructure also has a part to play, he said.

“It is clear to everyone that it would not be right for the autonomous car to work alone,” he said. “It must work with an ecosystem of technologies and entities and be part of a basket of solutions.”

The sensors developed by Valerann meant to be strategically deployed on highways and roads as a “platform of information” over thousands of kilometers, he said.

A smart stud developed by Israeli startup Valerann deployed on the Ayalon Highway (Courtesy)

Some 200 meters of the Ayalon Highway are now hosting the sensors, which for now are just transmitting information. In a second stage the experiment will be extended to a kilometer and will test the system’s data processing capabilities.

The aim of the pilot is to enable the company to improve its product and develop it further before commercialization, Yossi Margalit, the chief technology officer of Ayalon Highways, said by phone.

The research center of Ayalon Highways strives to promote the most innovative smart transit technologies and those that “develop out of box thinking, to deal with the most pressing transportation problems in Israel,” Margalit said. “We help companies grow their products and shorten the development and proof of concept stages.”

Valerann will be piloting its technology later this year in Washington, DC, having its sensors laid out over a 500-meter stretch by a road operator that it said it could not yet name. In July they will be deployed on 200 meters of a UK highway operated by Highways England.

“Our system is fully functioning but the road trial is to accelerate the development of our algorithm to better understand the movement of vehicles,” said Shahar Bahiri, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Valerann, by phone. “Ayalon Highways is taking an active part in the development of the product.”

Valerann employs some 20 workers both in Israel and the UK.

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