Where has 5G been deployed to improve transport safety?

Overhead line (pantograph) damage costs the UK rail industry more than £100 million a year and causes delays, as well as safety issues. Within the West Midlands 5G (WM5G) programme, the HPOMS project aims to develop camera systems that provide visual footage of impacts and overhanging foliage, before utilising it to accurately measure pantograph height, wire stagger and carbon wear. This will enable potentially safety-impacting issues to be quickly identified and rectified.

WM5G is also exploring how technology can identify developing faults to tram tracks, a process that typically engineers would assess through manual surveys or deploying specialist machinery to scan the line. POLY TRACK uses 5G’s positional accuracy and real-time data transmission to detect rail imperfections on both tram and rail tracks through sensors installed on the Chassis (Bogie) of the vehicle. These sensors help operators identify and ensure maintenance is carried out to the track before imperfections deteriorate and will help optimise safety.

Plymouth Sound is partnering with Vodafone to deploy a private 5G network. Using this connectivity, they plan to implement 5G connected buoys that will be able to convey regular data about sea conditions. Connected buoys can already measure, observe and record a wide range of chemical and physical parameters—but 5G will greatly increase the data that can be collected, supporting safe shipping through and around the Inlet. The network, together with satellites, can also support safety out at sea. Orange has been working to deploy ultra reliable connectivity to ships on the Northern Sea, where speedy exchange of data in large volumes could reduce ship collisions and IoT sensors will help search and rescue missions.  

The full capabilities of Vehicle to Everything (V2X) communications can be unlocked with 5G networks. The technology enables the deployment of intelligent transport systems and plays a critical role in road safety, for both cars and vulnerable road users: connected vehicles could save 11k lives each year, leading to 260k fewer accidents and saving 280 million hours of driving. Wireless connectivity has been successfully deployed to reduce accidents and improve road safety. The Advanced Connected Vehicles Victoria trials in Australia tested capabilities such as emergency braking alerts and right turn assistance over 4G; they also provided a glimpse into how 5G could shape the future of the automotive industry—the Quality of Service link is a precursor to the network slicing that will allow 5G to make a huge impact in many industries. 

On the Sichuan Highway in Shanghai, 5G connected smart motorways have been introduced to identify accidents and hazards, enabling real-time responses. The Colorado Department of Transport is strategically deploying V2X capabilities on a 90 mile stretch of mountain highway, where sharp bends, steep gradients and extreme weather conditions have made it an accident hotspot. Closer to home, a high-tech ‘corridor’ was created on the A2/M2 in Kent to let specially-equipped vehicles interact with roadside infrastructure in a move that promises safer journeys. The project used a 5G wireless network to transmit information about road conditions, road works and time left for traffic lights to change to green, all designed to boost road safety. 

highways england

Highways England Head of Intelligent Transport Systems Group Jo White, added: “Connecting vehicles to each other and the road around can improve journeys, make them safer and give drivers reliable, real-time personalised information; it could also help us manage traffic and respond to incidents.”

5G-enabled V2X is also being used to improve the safety of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. In collaboration with Ericsson, Piaggio is exploring the safety services that could be enabled when scooters are connected with a 5G ecosystem. Today's scooters can provide manufacturers with real-time information and send alerts when they need servicing. However, to increase these capabilities, there needs to be a super-fast connection between the scooter and the cloud. With lower latency and higher bandwidth than 4G, 5G allows scooters to be connected with their environment like never before. 

The 5GCAR project is a European-funded initiative that is exploring the impact 5G can have on V2X across a number of use cases, including vulnerable road user protection—where motorists are alerted to nearby pedestrians when approaching a zebra crossing. Pedestrians will also receive alerts of potentially dangerous situations. Similar trials have been conducted by SEAT and Telefonica who have tested the ability to detect cyclists, thanks to ultra-wideband beacons placed along the road when turning right.

During a live demo event in Turin, the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) showcased ready-to-deploy use cases in the streets of the city and a sneak preview of what the future has in store. It concluded that the network protected vulnerable road users (for instance, by alerting drivers about a pedestrian at a crossing using LTE-connected infrastructure) and prevented incidents at dangerous intersections (as a result of V2X direct-short range communications between vehicles). 


5G is also being used to keep travellers safe amid the pandemic. Boingo’s secure wireless network supports Chicago O'Hare airport’s proprietary biometrics system to process touchless passenger boarding. Other measures could include digitalised security checkpoints; in-app ordering and delivery; digital cameras and sensors to monitor the distances between passengers and staff; cleaning and maintenance (by way of ionisation, UV light technology and disinfecting robotic cleaning scrubbers); health check screening (including temperature checks by infrared scanners), and passenger communications (virtual queuing and digital signage). In China, Healthcare Buses have been using 5G-powered facial recognition enabled by AI and infrared thermal imaging cameras to alert the driver when a person with fever boards.

5G networks will also enable analytics to identify potential incidents at rail crossings before they happen. Nokia is already doing this in collaboration with Odakyu Electric Railway in Japan, using Scene Analytics to target obstacles and enhance safety at rail crossings. The use-case applies machine-learning-based AI to available camera images, which allows it to identify potential issues in real-time. 

Nokia Japan

Network Rail has highlighted that 5G could be used to deploy drones to investigate potential obstructions or people on train tracks, to further support passenger and worker safety.