RoadCloud is way ahead of the curve in traffic safety
Finland’s RoadCloud has equipped several hundred commercial vehicles with cutting-edge technology for measuring road-tyre friction to provide localised information on road conditions and, as a result, improve traffic safety.
Finland has devoted considerable resources to developing novel ways to prevent accidents caused by icy, snowy and otherwise difficult road conditions. While the efforts have been far from fruitless, the components and sensors required for the potentially life-saving solutions have been too expensive to introduce to mass-produced vehicles.
This harsh reality was unacceptable to Ari Tuononen, a Finnish scientist with a background in academia and companies such as Goodyear.
“A technological innovation and a business model innovation were both needed,” he tells in his current capacity as CEO of RoadCloud.
“We came up with the idea of installing our sensors only to commercial vehicles that log loads of kilometres and streaming the data to a cloud to send warnings to all vehicles and road maintenance agencies.”
Data from millions of tyre revolutions a day
The Espoo-based company has not disclosed the number of vehicles equipped with its innovative technology, revealing only that its fleet of “several hundred” vehicles rack up nearly 100 000 kilometres a day in the Nordics. That is data from almost 60 million tyre revolutions a day, if the mean tyre size is approximated at 22.5 inches.
“We’ve got a great solution for measuring road-tyre friction, but we also collect a variety of other data from the vehicles,” says Tuononen.
Produced by the sizeable vehicle fleet and refined in the cloud by means of data fusion and machine learning in what is a fully automated process, the information is valuable for automotive manufacturers, road maintenance organisations and, first and foremost, motorists.
“Traffic safety is the big thing for our staff,” stresses Tuononen.
“We’re able to send location-specific warnings to motorists, like ‘there’s a high risk of hydroplaning 300 metres ahead of you’. We’re no longer talking about warning the entire province, as is the case today,” he adds. “By calculating the coefficient of friction between road and tyre, we’re able to warn about hydroplaning, black ice, and other road conditions, and estimate braking distances.”
Tuononen says RoadCloud also enables local governments and road maintenance agencies to monitor the condition of roads in real time, rather than through costly pavement inspections. The Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), for example, utilises its data to oversee the work of road maintenance contractors.
Its clientele also includes global automotive giants such as Porsche. “We’re working with automotive manufacturers and traffic information services on, for instance, issuing warnings to motorists and developing autonomous driving,” says Tuononen.
“Over 70 per cent of our revenue comes from data exports to Germany and Sweden,” he adds. “We’re able to price the data attractively because we can sell the same data a number of times.”
One step towards autonomous driving
The two customer segments – automotive makers and road maintenance organisations – differ in terms of what they demand from the data. While RoadCloud is capable of classifying road conditions as, for example, slushy, icy or snowy, such details are of little interest to automotive manufacturers.
“Road maintenance agencies are interested in why the road is slippery. Cars only need to know how slippery it is. We have the data for both,” affirms Tuononen.
He points out that gleaning data from vehicles on the same road is especially important for autonomous car manufacturers because, once the human element has been removed completely from the equation, the liability for possible accidents rests solely on the manufacturers.
It will be a good few years before that becomes a reality, he estimates. But meanwhile, the information enables automotive makers to reduce the number of times their vehicles give control back to the driver due to sub-optimal road conditions and, thereby, increase the automated driving time.
“Adaptive cruise control systems don’t keep enough of a safe distance in bad weather. Auto-emergency braking starts too late on an icy surface. It’ll start with fixing simple things like that,” envisions Tuononen.
Text: Aleksi Teivainen
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