The Importance of Lane Lines

It’s easy to take lane lines for granted these days, considering they’ve been with us for over a century. They may feel like they’re old-fashioned, or something that’s painted and forgotten until they need to be replaced, but that’s hardly the case. Lane lines are key to road safety, and they are very much a part of navigating the modern world. Without lane lines, safety becomes questionable at best, especially in this era of growing autonomy. As cars begin to assist drivers or even drive on their own, the need for clear and accurate lane lines grows even more.

Lane lines are a technology unto themselves, directing traffic from their stationary place on the road. Their role is indispensable in informing drivers of what they need to do. These days, the vehicles themselves are using the markings too, arrays of sensors reading the paint in a visual manner. 

What’s Next?

Digitization is the next logical step in the evolution of lane lines and other road markings. That means taking the lines and their precise locations as they exist in the real world and transforming them into digital assets. This would make them immediately machine-readable, eliminating a dependency upon clear weather conditions and the other various factors that affect the effectiveness of sensors. 

There are some projects out there currently trying to do this, and many of them rely on scanning the roads to digitize the markings. This works, in theory, but for how long? Many roads need to be repainted seasonally, and with recent large-scale investments in infrastructure improvements, there are many roads that are undergoing changes to bring them up to date with their local area’s needs. Timing is crucial in this effort, and time can be easily wasted driving in search of changes. Yet, what value is there if a stretch of road begins updates the day after it was checked for changes? That’s why it’s important to be aware of when road work begins, what work is done, and when it is finished.

HD Maps: The Struggle

It’s important to keep road maps up-to-date, especially when those maps are used for active navigation. But, if physically driving along the road is required to create an update for the map, that creates a whole slew of problems. The timing needs to be perfect. Arriving before the work is finished is far too early to create a reliable update of the map. Likewise, every hour and every day after the completion of the road work is a window during which the safety of the road is compromised. That road work itself presents a problem of its own, with the safest path through it often uncertain to autonomous navigation systems. When autonomous vehicles discover new road work, it can be challenging to navigate safely through it the first time. This could put lives at risk, not only those of passengers but the lives of work crews and other drivers as well.

The better approach is to let the lane lines update themselves. When lane lines change, recording that change in real-time is the perfect solution: logging changes as they happen and pushing them to the cloud. The same can be done with the temporary road markings present in work zones, which would allow for generating the safest route through. Autonomous vehicles would then know how to navigate that work zone before ever getting there.

Road Data

Once digitized, lane lines become something more than just paint. They become metadata, a wealth of information to guide the road of the future. This road data allows technology to unfold around this century-old concept. Rather than becoming an obsolete relic of a bygone age, lane lines are poised to step into the next generation of road technology. 

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