Finnish businesses and local government have a bold plan. They want to build the smartest road in the world.
It will use 5G technology and cover a 31km (19-mile) stretch of Route 51, between the towns of Siuntio and Karjaa in Inkoo municipality, 54km (34 miles) west of Helsinki on the south coast of Finland.
The municipality will be working in partnership with Karis Telefon and TammisaarenEnergia, with Nokia providing the 5G technology in the form of smart light poles.
Developed as part of its LuxTurrim5G project, each LED-light pole can be equipped with base stations and antennas that function together to create a 5G network. The proposed smart road will have a total of 620 such light poles, although they will only be connected to the network in stages.
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Robert Nyman, the mayor of Inkoo, is keen to stress that the project is still in its infancy, and they "don't yet have a concrete plan" for its implementation. This vagueness is partly because it is the state — rather than the municipality — that will make the final decision on the main road's future development.
It is also because there is no funding yet in place for the project, although Nyman estimates that the basic infrastructure would cost only €2m ($2.26m). One promising source of financial support is Business Finland, whose Smart Mobility fund for Finnish businesses transforming the transport sector totals €50m ($57m).
If the project gets the green light, the digitalized main road will allow for the testing of self-driving cars through the Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything platform (C-V2X) installed in the light poles.
This technology keeps automated vehicles updated on the road's traffic flows and driving conditions, while their communications system and sensors would be able to connect to those of other vehicles and infrastructure to ensure a safe passage along the smart road.
Much of the information and functionality of C-V2X will, of course, help human drivers travel more safely, too.
Improving safety is particularly important for Route 51. As one of the main arteries from Helsinki to the west, it falls into the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency's highest category for accident density.
The proposed smart road is also a hotspot for moose collisions. Between 2012 and 2015, there was an average of 17 collisions — and one fatality — a year. With the introduction of 5G technology, big-animal alerts would warn road users of the creatures' presence, thereby reducing moose-human incidents.
While Route 51 remains a future project, other smart-road tests in Finland are either ongoing or on the more-immediate horizon.
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Most closely connected to Route 51 is the LuxTurrim5G project's planned three-month trial of its smart light poles this summer. They will be used to support a self-driving bus service on the 1km route between Kera train station and Nokia's head office. This would be the first 5G smart road in Finland.
The light poles will have to be erected at 50-meter (164ft) intervals due to the high frequency and limited signal strength of the 5G small cells they contain.
Nokia reckons this method of network provision is the most viable solution for digital cities, since a fast-growing number of digital services would soon overload 5G mobile networks operating at frequencies lower than 6GHz.
Finland's first smart road was established back in November 2017, when a 10km stretch of Route 21 was equipped with sensors and designated the Aurora public test ecosystem.
This road is located in the very north of Finland, in Muonio, near the border with Norway. On the Norwegian side, there is a sister stretch of smart road, the Borealis to Finland's Aurora.
As with much cutting-edge technology, Finland is presented in this context as an uncommonly accommodating hostile environment.
The country's legislation already permits the presence of self-driving cars on public roads, but its climate also challenges their nascent technology with snow, ice and freezing temperatures.
Despite these adverse conditions, the smart road has witnessed some notable successes in the first year or so of its operation.
According to Reija Viinanen, director of Aurora Collaboration: "Sensible 4 and VTT Martti have tested snowtonomous-driving technology on the intelligent road. They have tackled freezing fog, freezing temperatures and extreme conditions, while car makers and technology companies are struggling with rain in California."
Following restructuring of Finland's traffic and transport organizations at the turn of the year, there is now discussion about Aurora becoming a private company, although Viinanen stresses that its testing operations are continuing unabated.
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