Self-driving cars and drones are transforming the world we live in – and designers are harnessing these new technologies to make transportation safer, faster and more efficient. Carlo Ratti Associati teamed up with highway agency ANAS to design a new Smart Highway where drones deliver first aid and warn of hazardous road conditions up ahead. The Smart Highway program could be be implemented on more than 2,500 kilometers of roads and highways in Italy.


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The pioneering infrastructure system comprises a series of “flying poles” equipped with multiple sensors and Wi-Fi connections. On the top of each pole there is a recharging station from which drones can take off and start monitoring the road. Drones can serve several purposes–from maintenance to delivering first aid equipment, and detecting accidents, fires and floods.

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Data collected by the poles can inform drivers, in real time, of road conditions ahead. Direct, customized messages can be sent to each driver’s mobile phone or to each vehicle’s on-board navigation system, which in turn can give feedback back to the system.

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“With this project, we aim to superimpose a digital layer over the existing physical infrastructure of our road network, to gather better data about our highways,” said Carlo Ratti, founding partner at CRA and professor of the practice of urban technologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “The next step will be to pool this data with information already collected by individual cars, in an “Internet-of- Roads” scenario that will make us ready for the other revolutionary breakthrough that is likely to happen in the next decade: the arrival of self-driving vehicles,” he added.

+ Carlo Ratti Associati