A singular focus on the road ahead

IoT and AI technologies transform roadway maintenance
by Michelle Cloutier
7-minute read

It’s a beautiful Spring day in Italy, with azure blue skies and puffy white clouds; a perfect day for a drive to Florence on the Autostrada A1 motorway.

Mario is taking his family to see the famous Duomo cathedral and the Ponte Vecchio bridge in that city, hoping his children will enjoy the experience as much as he did when he was their age. As an engineer, Mario has always been especially fascinated by the bridge, which has spanned the river Arno in its present incarnation for almost 700 years.

As he drives over one of the more modern bridges that connect the rolling hills of Tuscany, Mario’s engineering mind is equally impressed at its construction. He marvels at the technology that went into the planning, building and ongoing management of the bridges along the roadway that takes him so conveniently to Florence.

Bridge over mountain pass

Centralized system monitors and manages data from

700,000

components

Helps improve the safety and extend the life of

4,000

bridges, viaducts and flyovers

We are working hard and passionately to implement a radical transformation at Autostrade per l’Italia that includes technological innovation, infrastructure digitalization, the enhancement of environmental sustainability and mobility services.
Roberto Tomasi
Chief Executive Officer, Autostrade per l’Italia.
Who manages the roads?

One person who is committed to bringing innovation to infrastructure management for Italy’s highways is Lorenzo Rossi, Chief Executive Officer at MOVYON. MOVYON, which evolved from Autostrade Tech, is a leader in the development and integration of intelligent transport system solutions and a center of excellence for research and innovation at Autostrade per l’Italia. Autostrade per l’Italia adopts MOVYON’s technology solutions to help manage and maintain its approximately 3,000 km of highways, keeping them safe for drivers such as Mario. Autostrade per l’Italia also manages more than 1,900 bridges and viaducts, nearly 1,800 overpasses and 574 tunnels throughout Italy.

The infrastructure maintenance process has evolved over time, passing from manual inspections to inspections carried out partly manually and partly supported by technological aid. For example, the large amount of data collected over the decades has been digitized, providing an important support for field reviews and inspections.

A drone taking images of  a bridge support
Construction crew at work on a bridge

Autostrade per l’Italia was determined to continue to improve how it monitors and maintains its vast array of assets by embracing technology and undergoing a complete digital transformation. It turned to Rossi and MOVYON to help it achieve two specific goals.

“First, Autostrade per l’Italia wanted to innovate how to manage its assets more effectively,” says Rossi. “The second goal was to support ASPI in their digital transformation.”

Rossi wanted to work with industry leaders to incorporate their technologies into a best-in-class digital asset management solution for Autostrade per l’Italia. “We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel by developing the technology from scratch, but we could use the wheel to build the car,” he says.

A new focus on bridges and roadway infrastructure

MOVYON set out to create a new digital asset management platform called Argo, after the mythical creature who always keeps half of its 100 eyes open to monitor its surroundings. It creates new tools for innovative asset management of bridges, viaducts, overpasses and tunnels, and a new inspection and maintenance process that replaces previously manual processes and disparate data management systems.

MOVYON turned to IBM® Global Business Services® not only to implement the IBM Maximo® Application Suite solution and its IBM Maximo for Civil Infrastructure extension, but also to help create a new type of infrastructure management solution that the two companies could offer to other roadway operators.

“We thought that IBM was the best partner to provide us with part of the technology that we needed to perform our job,” says Rossi. “And our role was to integrate these technologies and, together with IBM, create something that didn’t exist before.”

AD ASPI Tomazi outside the Autostrade building
Man looking at a bridge digital rendering on a tablet

The Global Business Services team worked with MOVYON to design a comprehensive solution based on the Maximo solutions and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, all enhanced by AI for a smarter approach to infrastructure management. Using the Maximo for Civil Infrastructure extension helps Autostrade per l’Italia monitor, manage and maintain infrastructure assets, predict failures and prioritize repairs. The Argo platform uses IBM Cloud Pak® for Integration and IBM Cloud Pak for Data to integrate the IoT infrastructure data for use by the Maximo solutions. A third company, Fincantineri NexTech SpaExternal Link, is helping install the IoT sensors and providing 3D digital modeling of the assets.

As a critical first step, the IBM and MOVYON teams addressed the improvement of data management and quality for Autostrade per l’Italia. They introduced a data governance framework, characterized by a control and monitoring system, to provide visibility and fast access to all asset-related information and the company’s entire document archive. A single dashboard now provides an integrated view of activities and data, providing access to a digital archive that technicians can access in real time in the field.

The Argo platform, based on the Maximo asset management and IBM Cloud Pak solutions, communicates in real time with IoT sensors. The solution also includes a simplified building information modeling (BIM) technology model of these bridges and viaducts generated from the data available in the Argo solution. The Maximo software provides the detailed information, based on real-time data collected from the IoT sensors, that Autostrade per l’Italia needs for its infrastructure management activities such as scheduling inspections.

The project also defined a new, digital inspection process for field operators. It enables multi-device access through a mobile app. The app lets technicians view a simplified 3D model of the bridge comparing it to the structure in front of them, ensuring that they inspect each part. New workflow processes streamline inspections, and operators select among specific parameters when evaluating the severity of problems, helping reduce vague or subjective reporting.

Additional enhancements to the system will combine the 3D models of the monitored infrastructure and images taken in the field by technicians and apply AI analytics to the images. This will allow the system to determine which sections may require maintenance and make real-time suggestions for additional checks and physical inspections, while the inspector is still onsite.

2 large viaduct roadways
A road safety solution for the future
3D model of a viaduct roadway

From the beginning of the Argo project in 2019, the goal of IBM and MOVYON was to create a new asset management solution for infrastructure management operators based on — and extending — the proven IBM Maximo technology. Thus, Autostrade per l’Italia was not only the client but also provided the testing ground for the Argo platform and its solutions.

“We were able to engineer this technology for one of the largest motorway operators in Europe,” says Rossi. “That gave us the opportunity to test it on a 3,000 km motorway lab to prove the technology and show the benefits. And then deploy it to the market.”

The road test has been successful. IBM and MOVYON put the Argo platform into production in just 18 months. In November 2020, MOVYON announced that the Argo platform now monitors and manages more than 700,000 individual components on the 4,000 bridges, viaducts and flyovers of the Autostrade per l’Italia network.

Curvy road junctions

Today, inspectors carry out examinations equipped with tablets connected to the database that collects all the information related to the history of each piece of infrastructure in the motorway network managed by Autostrade per l'Italia. The data can be updated in real time based on the results of the inspection and on the assessed amount of time required for any necessary interventions.

2021 brings the full deployment of digital twin models and further AI analytics. Autostrade per l’Italia is mapping its bridges and viaducts using Fincantieri NextTech 3D scanning equipment mounted on drones equipped with laser technology and high-definition cameras. Once completed, the digital twin technology will allow Autostrade per l’Italia to analyze structural and maintenance trends and develop new algorithms to improve the maintenance activities managed by the Maximo solutions.

“We can see the same image evolving over time,” says Rossi. “We take a picture and three months later, we take another at the same point. And then we can run AI algorithms to see how that spot is evolving.”

The Argo platform and its associated technologies are part of the ongoing digital transformation at Autostrade per l’Italia, making it one of the most technologically advanced mobility operators in Europe, if not the world. Autostrade per l’Italia is implementing other smart road technologies and new, intelligent service areas that will help make road trips for families like Mario’s faster and more pleasant. For example, alerting them to problems along their route and informing them about service area conditions to allow them to plan their stops more efficiently.

“We are working hard and passionately to implement a radical transformation at Autostrade per l’Italia that includes technological innovation, infrastructure digitalization, the enhancement of environmental sustainability and mobility services,” says Roberto Tomasi, Chief Executive Officer of Autostrade per l’Italia.

Although IBM and MOVYON worked together to address the specific needs of Autostrade per l’Italia, they designed the Argo platform as a repeatable, deployable go-to-market solution. It can be customized for other infrastructure operators and countries; it is not specific to the Italian market. Any tollway or roadway operator that needs to monitor physical assets such as bridges, tunnels or viaducts can use the solution — with its powerful Maximo asset management solutions, IoT and AI technologies — to better maintain those assets.

“As with the evolution of MOVYON, we will continue to invent, implement and integrate invisible technology for sustainable mobility,” concludes Rossi. “We will continue to innovate, imagining how new technologies will make mobility easier, in all its forms.”

Autostrade per l’Italia Spa logo

About Autostrade per l’Italia Spa

Autostrade per l’ItaliaExternal Link operates one of the largest toll roadways in Europe, managing approximately 3,000 km, or 50%, of the Italian tollway system. MOVYONExternal Link, previously Autostrade Tech, designs and implements innovative smart and sustainable mobility solutions for Autostrade per l’Italia and other mobility operators, including infrastructure, traffic and safety management, tolling and smart road technologies.

Solution components
Autostrade per l’Italia Spa logo

About Autostrade per l’Italia Spa

Autostrade per l’ItaliaExternal Link operates one of the largest toll roadways in Europe, managing approximately 3,000 km, or 50%, of the Italian tollway system. MOVYONExternal Link, previously Autostrade Tech, designs and implements innovative smart and sustainable mobility solutions for Autostrade per l’Italia and other mobility operators, including infrastructure, traffic and safety management, tolling and smart road technologies.

Solution components