car driving on lonely road during winter

Connected cars pave the way for increased road safety

When icy weather strikes, it is a challenge to keep the entire road network accessible and to know where snow ploughing and salting are required. AFRY is collaborating with the Swedish Transport Administration and Volvo Cars to improve access and safety by using friction data from connected cars.

Road safety is the foundation for a well-functioning road network. A lack of sufficient safety measures limits access and can in the worst case cause road accidents. This is particularly important in winter when ice and snow create conditions that cause many cars to skid. Studded tyres can play a part in reducing the risk of accidents, but effective road-network maintenance is crucial for road safety.

“In Sweden there are about 800 road weather stations that calculate the risk of slippery conditions, but with 98,000 kilometres of roads it is virtually impossible for them to cover everything, which makes it more difficult to implement the right road de-icing measures,” says Hawzheen Karim, Programme Director at the Swedish Transport Administration.

To cover the maintenance of winter roads more effectively, attention is now being focused on something that is found everywhere on the roads: cars. Rapid technological development has led to modern vehicles being equipped with sensors and advanced technology that can provide valuable information about road surfaces.

To utilise that data, AFRY teamed up with Volvo Cars in the “Digital Winter”project to jointly test new solutions, in which data on slippery conditions from Volvo’s cars can be converted into valuable road surface information for the Transport Administration.

car driving among snowy trees
Driver data gives new insights into friction

Since 2016 all of Volvo’s cars have been equipped with ”Slippery Road Alert” technology, a function developed to warn, through the driver’s activation, other Volvo cars of slippery roadways. This is done through algorithms that analyse sensor data to estimate the friction between the tyres and the roadway.

When the friction can be measured with reasonably good certainty, the friction reading is sent to a cloud service together with the position where it was measured. There, the information is anonymised and compiled with reports from other vehicles to a limited stretch of road. AFRY has developed a technology platform that compiles and aggregates the anonymised data from Volvo Cars.

red volvo driving on snowy road
The platform provides valuable information to the Swedish Transport Administration about the road surface. Copywrite Volvo Car Corporation.

"We have developed a web-based interface based on the Swedish Transport Administration’s needs, with maps that instructively visualize the friction on different road segments. Instead of using few and expensive measuring vehicles, this solution enables more distributed collection of information about the road surface that creates greater continuity and a better overall picture,” says Lena Engstedt, Section Manager ITS at AFRY.

Over the course of the project the technical solution has produced very positive results. Data has been collected from about 13,000 cars each day that all contribute to the measurements. With the insights provided by the new platform, the Transport Administration is better able to monitor salting and snow clearance work and to target road maintenance efforts more effectively. This results in safer roads that save lives.

Privacy issue central in a connected road network

In the future, data from connected vehicles and other sources may play a larger part in creating a safer and more effective traffic system. Using vehicle data to develop both the operation of and regulations for roads means drivers can better adapt to disruptions and tailor their routes for a faster journey and less environmental impact. However, Stina Carlsson at Volvo Cars does issue a word of warning. “We always want to be transparent about how we handle our drivers’ data. We are positive about the development of new connected functions, but it is also important to ensure security and understand the issues surrounding consent and personal integrity before new services are developed based on driver data,” says Stina Carlsson, Project Manager at Volvo Cars.