The smart road that spies on you - but it doesn't really...

Humble solar catseye triggers speedcam panic

If it had been possible at the time, Pavlov could surely have achieved excellent results using British journalists and the words "speed camera," instead of dogs. The moment they hear them, off they go and any transport-related story you might have been intending to sell instead stands in some peril of perversion into a Big Brother nightmare.

The popular press seems perfectly cool about unimportant stuff like freedom and personal privacy, but just you try to enforce the speed limit, or even present them with some slight possibility that you might at some future date try to enforce the speed limit, and they become the Provisional wing of the National Rifle Association. Take this page, and the items thereon.

At time of writing the story, concerning the use of intelligent cat's eyes in a road management experiment on Scotland's M8, has a quote from the RAC stating the law on the use of speed cameras and suggesting that it sounds like "Big Brother stuff," links to stories entitled "Police target speeding motorists" and "Police purge on speeding", and one to a video clip where the BBC's John Morrision says "In the future they could be used to warn speeding drivers."

Well indeed, and in the future you could also put speed cameras in veggieburgers, but you probably won't. Radio 4's PM also went off on the speed camera one yesterday, but the truth of the matter is that there really isn't anything much that's directly to do with speed cameras and enforcement associated with the scheme.

NADICS, the National Driver Information and Control System, provides traffic management information on Scotland's road system, and you'll find that here. The M8 installation is part of a scheme part-funded by the European Union, STREETWISE (Seamless Travel Environment for Efficient Transport in the Western Isles of Europe - this covers the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and is intended to provide seamless travel information in these areas. According to the Scottish Executive's report on Streetwise, "Current available IRS [Intelligent Road Stud] functionalities included enhanced lane delineation... traffic monitoring (count/speed/classification) incident detection, weather monitoring, hazard warning and potentially journey time monitoring functionalities."

Yes indeed, the word "speed" has made its appearance. But here is what these things are, and what they actually do. The manufacturer is Astucia, and you can see one example of what you can do with the system here, and a few of the actual products here. They're jolly clever little chaps, solar powered with sensors included, so they can figure out what the weather's like and the intensity and nature of hazard warnings can be adjusted accordingly. They can also figure out how dense the traffic passing over them is, how fast it's going, all sorts of stuff. So if you add in network capabilities, which is what NADICs is doing, you've got the basis of a pretty neat monitoring, information and safety service.

And yes, you could probably rig a bunch of them to gang up on a particular vehicle and figure out what speed it's traveling at, but why would you want to? You'd need a mechanism for getting an ID on the car and for collecting the evidence of speeding, and under current UK law you'd also need to warn motorists where this mechanism was. We have these mechanisms already - we call them speed cameras.

Ultimately intelligent, networked road systems do have enforcement implications, but at the moment this one is really far more about getting people to work on time and stopping them killing themselves so often. So lay of the Intelligent Road Stud - it's nice really, and surprisingly clever for what it is. Go find a Gatso to torch instead. ®

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