Every year, the arrival of good weather drives many Catalans to leave the big cities and move to the coast. Some do not forgive their annual getaway to Priorat, with wine tastings and disconnection between vineyards. Others dare to take the first dips of the season on the beaches south of Barcelona and on the Costa Daurada. This weekend frenzy puts the management of the major highways to the test. Cristina García, responsible for the C-32 Road Operations and Safety Center and headquarters of the Abertis Future Road Lab, knows this well, the epicenter from which everything that happens in its 50 kilometers is coordinated minute by minute.

So that drivers only have to worry about enjoying their trip, the Operations Center has the technical and human resources to detect and respond to any situation on the highway 365 days a year and at any time.

“Everything that happens on the highway is recorded and included under the name of ‘incidents’. In 2023, 8,512 incidents were recorded in Aucat. They include everything from planned maintenance and conservation work to all types of traffic situations or other cases that may occur in the concessions managed by Autopistas in Spain,” explains García. 

Contrary to what one might think, accidents represented only 2.40% of incidents. The scheduled interventions and the general situation of each section of road are visualized with Pharos, a very intuitive application based on icons and colors that shows incidents in real time.

Breakdowns, sudden illness of a driver or other incidents happen. The important thing – they point out from the C-32 Operations Center – is to detect it quickly in order to coordinate an adequate and agile response. “We have almost 200 cameras, a large number of them inside the tunnels. We also have traffic sensors and, soon, video analysis cameras, which will enrich the information that reaches us at the Operations Center,” says García. These resources allow the average response time of the own personnel to the point of incident to be around 15 minutes, although the action on the systems from the Operations Center is seconds.

Throughout the interview there are two words that are repeated: anticipation and road safety. This is what allows, for example, drivers to be notified of an accident or of the existence of traffic jams when they are still several kilometers away. This information is crucial to manage traffic at key points, such as tunnels, those segments of the road network demonized by Hollywood and where, however, drivers can circulate calmly and protected by an extensive monitoring and alert system. “We have incident detection cameras, SOS posts, public address systems, FM radio, gas detectors (CO, NOx…), opacity detectors, signage, tunnel closure barriers, evacuation galleries…”, explains the person in charge of the Operations Center of C-32.

The not-so-distant future of highway traffic seems straight out of a science fiction movie. But it is now reality. The C-32 Operations Center houses the headquarters of the Future Road Lab. This facility, equipped with the latest artificial intelligence technologies applied to traffic management and road safety, is Abertis’ testing laboratory for applying predictive management. of the road. “Among the initiatives being worked on, cameras with video analysis focused on traffic management and animal detection are being installed,” explains the head of the Operations Center.

This pioneering system is called Video Analytics and has been developed within the framework of the EUMOB project, a pioneering comprehensive feasibility study for the digitalization of roads at the European level. The images from these cameras are processed with algorithms and artificial intelligence to predict possible dangerous situations and warn drivers in time. An easy case to visualize is the detection of an animal near the road. This data will be crossed with other inputs, such as the number of vehicles that pass through that section per minute, the speed of passage or other meteorological conditions that may hinder visibility or condition the braking distance. The next step, still in the testing phase, would be to warn drivers of the possible danger and offer alternatives. This information will arrive in the form of a voice warning to connected vehicles through the free AWAI app.

It is just one of the many possibilities of future smart highways that will soon accompany drivers to make traffic safer and more fluid and, in the process, reduce pollution levels associated with the dreaded traffic jams. Oblivious to all this display, every weekend hundreds of Catalans will continue to take their vehicles to enjoy the good weather and arrive calmly and safely at their destinations. Because the best management is the one that is felt, but not seen.