“Why Software is eating the world”  is the title of an article by Marc Andreessen which appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2011. Andreessen is one of the founders of Netscape and author of Mosaic, the first web browser; today, he is one of the most successful venture capitalists in the world.
What Andreessen prophesied in the 2011 article is coming true not only in the industrial manufacturing sector, and with a surprising acceleration. We can also see it in transport, which is experiencing a true revolution based on three great innovations – connected vehicles, autonomous (or nearly autonomous) cars, and the new electric, hybrid or hydrogen drive systems. The basic concept is the digital twin, i.e. the virtual representation of a machine, system or process that speaks to its ‘brother’ in the physical world in real time through gateways, channels that feed both the virtual model with data acquired through sensors in the field and also command the physical system through actuators driven by the calculations of the virtual world.
The complex system arising from the interaction between the physical and virtual twins is called Cyber Physical System [2, 3] and, although important questions (on computation, control and secure connectivity in real time) arise from the technological point of view, functionally they make as yet unexplored scenarios possible. In the virtual world, machines and systems can easily exchange data and information and co-ordinate, integrating in ‘systems of systems’ to optimise the efficiency of operations, reduce risks and increase security but, above all, carry out new functions.
Cyber Physical Systems are the essential concept behind the fourth industrial revolution . They pose important technological challenges such as interaction at different levels of detail between models, i.e. representations of physical systems, one inside another, implemented on calculation architecture distributed between Edge, Fog and Cloud.
Edge calculation systems are embedded in machines and manage dynamic effects through control systems in real time. For example, the Electronic Control Unit of a car controls its stability, braking and drive and the electronics of a video camera process an image to detect a pedestrian.
Fog calculation systems are local servers that can manage safety critical information and so with communication protocols in real time. This is through channels like the Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) systems that can supply information, for instance, on an accident that has just occurred or that there is a vehicle moving in the opposite direction.
Communications in the Cloud concern the management, not necessarily in real time, of complex systems, possibly scattered throughout the area. For example, the management system of a dynamic tariff network (electric or road) to regulate its use effectively up one macro-level.
What will happen when road infrastructure can communicate securely with vehicles in real time? Will road signs be integrated with information taken from the virtual world, replaced with personalised indications appearing on the dashboard or even by commands gathered directly from driving assistance systems? Advanced systems for the control of traffic flow, such as dynamic lanes and ramp metering can be optimised and integrated with indications sent to individual vehicles. What data will vehicles exchange? What data will vehicles exchange with the road infrastructure? Inevitably, the control logics will have to be revised – and also the laws and the Highway Code.
The number and type of sensors in vehicles are increasing – ultrasound sensors, video cameras, radar, lidar, etc. These are technologies (like that indicated by Professor Monorchio in the article in Flows of 18 July 2018) which, due to fine films deposited on signs, facilitate the automatic reading by a car. These technologies will enable the detection of additional information supporting the decisions of the control and navigation systems and so increase the safety of our roads. Certainly, in a near future, the road infrastructure will also have its digital twin and become a true Cyber Physical System. A complex system that will interact more or less automatically with its stakeholders, from vehicles transiting it to the areas it crosses and managers of the infrastructure, etc. The dialogue between the physical infrastructure and its digital representation will be the source of revolutionary innovations that will change the world of transport.
The Smart Road is this combination of the road and its virtual representation, it is a cyber-physical infrastructure. The Smart Road will allow the optimisation of the flow of vehicles increasing safety, the Smart Road will enable new business models for the infrastructure managers and the parties interested in it. I think that, in a short time, we will consider archaic and primitive today’s world where, on average, we spend more than one month of every year of our lives driving a car while the same car, unused, takes up precious land for the other 11 months.
- Why Software is eating the world, Marc Andreessen, Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2011
- A survey of cyber-physical systems, Shi, J., Wan, J., Yan, H., Suo, H., Datong, C., Proceedings of the International Conference on Wireless Communications and Signal Processing (WCSP’11)
- Nel cuore dell’Industry 4.0: I Cyber Physical Systems, Filippo Boschi, Anna De Carolis, Marco Taisch, Industria Italiana, 12 Gennaio 2017. https://www.industriaitaliana.it/nel-cuore-dell-industry-4-0-i-cyber-physical-systems/