Highway tunnels get "ears

In a Styrian tunnel on the S 35 Brucker Schnellstraße, ASFINAG and the Styrian research company Joanneum Research have tested a globally unique tunnel safety system and developed it to series production readiness. AKUT® (it stands for acoustic tunnel monitoring) is the name of the system consisting of "adaptive" software and special hardware, in particular special microphones, which leads to a strange-sounding result: The tunnel has "ears" as a result. With the conclusion of a framework agreement between ASFINAG and Joanneum Research, AKUT® is now being installed in 32 tunnels in Austria.

This is how acoustic accident detection works

In the 2.7-kilometer Kirchdorf Tunnel on the S 35 Brucker Schnellstraße, 49 microphones were installed directly next to the video cameras at a maximum distance of 125 meters. All sounds usually caused by traffic ended up in a special database. The learning analysis software behind it thus recognizes typical "normal" noises and reacts with an alarm to untypical noises, such as those caused by emergency braking, tire blowouts or the collision of two vehicles. The internationally unique system is integrated into ASFINAG's round-the-clock monitoring center in Bruck an der Mur. When an alarm is triggered, the right video camera is activated there immediately.

The advantages:

  • Accidents can be detected earlier with these "ears," so a faster response is possible. The acoustics detect events faster than a video system, by up to 2.5 minutes in test operation.
  • Acoustics are also effective in completely smoke-filled tunnels.
  • It is possible to localize people who are not visible on the video image (screams, etc.).

Top research from Austria for Austria

 "The experience of previous use has shown that accidents were always detected first by this acoustic tunnel monitoring, and the time advantage here has been between just under one and a little more than two minutes," explains ASFINAG board member Alois Schedl. And two minutes is a time span that can save lives in an emergency.

Wolfgang Pribyl, Managing Director of Joanneum Research: "For us, the AKUT® acoustic tunnel monitoring system is an excellent example of successful innovation management at Joanneum Research, which has fulfilled all the premises from development to product launch. I am very pleased that we can now present a product together with ASFINAG that ensures greater safety in traffic."

"I am very pleased that an innovation from one of the central players in the high-tech state of Styria will contribute to greater safety on the roads. I would like to thank ASFINAG for the innovation partnership and hope that in the coming years we will be able to provide Austria with the groundbreaking AKUT system without any gaps and that, in addition, we will be able to export technology from Styria," said Christopher Drexler, Styrian provincial councilor for science and research.

More safety in ASFINAG tunnel systems.

Another advantage is that in the event of a fire in a potentially smoky tunnel, contact can be maintained both with trapped persons and with the emergency services. In conjunction with the special loudspeakers, ASFINAG employees in the monitoring center or heads of operations from the police, rescue and fire departments can communicate with people or emergency forces in the tunnel. "The AKUT® system is another step for us toward even greater safety in the tunnel facilities," says ASFINAG Managing Director Rainer Kienreich. "Of course, it's especially great when we can develop such innovative systems in Austria together with Austrian research institutions like Joanneum Research, making us pioneers worldwide."

"So in addition to machine eyes - the cameras - the tunnel of the future will now also have machine ears in the form of microphones and computers," explains Heinz Mayer, head of Joanneum Research's DIGITAL institute. "This makes it possible under difficult environmental conditions to detect critical events in the tunnel in a reaction time of less than one second. It was only possible to develop this world first thanks to the innovative power of Joanneum Research and the forward-looking view of ASFINAG. Great that we live in a country where safety and innovation have this level of importance."

"The rocky road from the first idea of an acoustic tunnel monitoring system to the 2006 State Prize for Traffic Telematics and the first operational installation is complete," says AKUT® project manager Franz Graf of Joanneum Research, who is delighted. "Innovations were necessary not only in the sensor area, but especially in the algorithms. This enables the system to distinguish benign, acoustic signals such as rolling noises from critical events, such as an impact, with the necessary robustness. With the framework order for the AKUT® installations, we now have the opportunity to further expand our pioneering role in the field of acoustic tunnel monitoring."

ASFINAG retrofits the large tunnels

ASFINAG will now gradually equip more tunnels with this innovation. The basis for this is a framework agreement with Joanneum Research, which specifies the equipment of initially 32 tunnel systems. ASFINAG's investment for this amounts to almost 16 million euros.

AKUT® is already being installed in the Bosruck tunnel, the northern bypass in Klagenfurt (Ehrentalerberg, Falkenberg, Lendorf, Trettnig) and in the new tunnels on the S 10 Mühlviertler expressway as part of new construction or general renovation projects. Another 23 tunnels will follow by 2019, including the major Arlberg, Gleinalm and Karawanken tunnels. The framework agreement with Joanneum Research also provides for an optional extension from 2020. Another 25 tunnels can then also be equipped with AKUT®.

ASFINAG as a know-how provider in matters of tunnel safety

ASFINAG operates 149 tunnels on the Austrian highway network, some of which are over ten kilometers long. Since the start of the tunnel safety offensive in 2001, more than four billion euros have been invested in increasing tunnel safety, with a further 1.5 billion euros to be invested by 2019, primarily through the construction of second tunnel tubes (Bosruck, Gleinalm, Klaus tunnel chain). In addition, the technical equipment of the tunnels is a particular focus. And special know-how is now also being used outside tunnels, for example in the Karawanken Tunnel. A thermal portal was installed there in May 2012. All heavy vehicles over 7.5 tons are automatically guided through this portal, scanned by five scanners and two infrared cameras, and diverted out for cooling in the event of overheating (engine, brakes, turbocharger, tires). The total cost was 1.3 million euros.

ASFINAG's goal as a know-how provider and pioneer in Europe is to continuously develop the topic of tunnel safety.

Rainer Kienreich, Alois Schedl (both ASFINAG), Christopher Drexler, JOANNEUM RESEARCH Managing Director Wolfgang Pribyl and Franz Graf (JOANNEUM RESEARCH DIGITAL), f.l. Credit: JOANNEUM RESEARCH/Bergmann