IMC Newsdesk

Traffic management key for smart cities, says Otonomo director

  • September 2, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

Effective traffic management is a cornerstone of the smart city, according to Debbie Cohen-Abravanel, director of marketing at Israeli automotive data platform Otonomo

“Traffic from automobiles and commercial vehicles is one of the most pressing problems on roads and highways across the globe,” she said in a blog post. “It’s the source of pollution, frustration and a significant number of accidents.”

According to Global Market Insights, traffic management systems represented a $20bn market in 2019, with an expected compound annual growth rate of 5% until 2026.

“It’s no surprise that municipalities across the globe are looking to deploy advanced traffic management systems or active traffic management systems, the latest evolution of intelligent transportation systems,” said Cohen-Abravanel.

While some transportation professionals use these two terms interchangeably, she distinguished between the two strategies and described how to enhance their key capabilities with data from the growing population of connected cars now on the road.

She said advanced traffic management systems focused on reducing congestion on highways and surface streets by bringing together traffic flow sensors, data analysis and communications technologies.

Capabilities include: centralised traffic monitoring, with information funnelled to a transportation management centre; manual or automated updates to variable message signs, also known as dynamic message signs or matrix signs; public transportation updates, including expected wait times for trains and buses; manual or automated updates to traffic signals; manual or automated updates to ramp metering systems; incident monitoring and emergency response; road weather information system monitoring; highway advisory radio; chain controls in snowy weather; and predictive traffic modelling, through which traffic engineers analyse the data collected by advanced traffic management systems to design improvements to road infrastructure.

Georgia NaviGAtor set an early standard for advanced traffic management systems in the USA. Originally launched in preparation for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, this system provides trip times, incident reporting, alerts and more through a web site and mobile app. It primarily uses video analytics from a network of approximately 1645 video detection system stations installed every 0.5km along most major interstates around Atlanta. Coverage outside Atlanta is more limited.

According to the US Federal Highway Administration, active traffic management (ATM) is the ability to manage recurrent and non-recurrent congestion dynamically based on prevailing and predicted traffic conditions. ATM approaches focus on influencing travel behaviour with respect to lane and facility choices and operations. In other words, it focuses on increasing peak capacity and smoothing traffic flows on busy highways by changing driver behaviour.

Active traffic management system capabilities include incident monitoring, traffic signal timing, automated ramp metering systems, variable message signs and other capabilities associated with advanced traffic management systems.

Additional techniques include: automated incident detection, including the ability to detect accidents, speeding and wrong-way drivers; dynamic junction control or dynamic lane access, through which lane access may be changed depending on traffic conditions; dynamic merge control to give drivers information about merges and smooth out the process; dynamic shoulder lanes, through which all vehicles or certain vehicles such as buses and taxis can use shoulders for travel during high-congestion periods; dynamic speed limits, which can change based on traffic or weather conditions; transit signal priority, through which traffic signals can detect buses and give them a green light faster than single-occupancy cars; and rerouting capabilities, which constantly recalculate routes based on current conditions.

Germany, Netherlands and the UK are among the countries that have proven the success of active traffic management systems. These systems reduce travel times as well as road accidents.

“Of course, all of the techniques employed for advanced and active traffic management systems require reliable, near real-time data on road and traffic conditions,” said Cohen-Abravanel. “Today, the vast majority of transportation agencies collect these data from video analytics and/or road sensors, which can be mounted at the edge of the road or embedded in pavement. RFID sensors such as toll tags can also be used. Video detection systems and road sensors require significant capital investments, and they must be periodically monitored, maintained and upgraded.”

Today, she said, there was a new data source available to traffic management systems: connected car data. By 2023, IDC predicts that 90% of new vehicles in the USA will be shipped with embedded connectivity and that worldwide shipments will reach 76.3 million units.

“Connected cars are constantly emitting a critical mass of data about what’s happening on roads and highways,” she said, adding that platforms such as her company’s own Otonomo Platform made it easier and practical for transportation agencies to ingest these data into their traffic management systems.

Connected car data can offer a number of advantages for traffic management systems such as lower capital expenditures and operating costs as there are no installation or maintenance costs for connected vehicles as, essentially, each vehicle operates as a low-cost sensor.

“Since there’s no new capital equipment to install, agencies can extend traffic management systems outside of the densest metropolitan areas,” she said. “Connected vehicles collect datasets that extend far beyond speed and location. With information like braking, door status, hazard signals, air bag deployment, ambient temperature, windshield wiper operation, road signs and headlight operation, agencies can hone in on incidents more quickly and make better predictions about the future.”

Data passing through an OEM’s data centres can be stripped of identifiable information, such as the VIN, to protect driver privacy.

“This can be difficult to do for video detection systems,” she said. “Unlike video monitoring, consumers can be educated about connected car data usage by their OEMs during the vehicle purchase process.”

Enhancing today’s traffic management systems with connected car data also positions transportation agencies for their future. The next wave of traffic management system innovation should make travel management more autonomous through infrastructure-to-vehicle (I2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. All these new traffic management models depend on connected car data.

In the USA, several state departments of transportation are the early stages of developing applications or tools that leverage I2V or V2I connectivity. According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, 17% of agencies report they are developing these types of applications, while 42% are considering doing so. The state of Wyoming is one of the farthest along; its connected vehicle pilot is using dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) technology to improve safety and mobility, specifically focusing on weather information.

Perhaps the most ambitious goals come from the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and ruler of Dubai, wants driverless transport to account for a quarter of journeys in the emirate by 2030.

The expected impact of driverless transport in Dubai includes a 44% reduction in overall transportation costs, or savings up to AED900m per year, a 12% reduction in environmental pollution, equating to AED1.5bn a year, and AED18bn in annual economic returns by increasing the efficiency of the transportation sector in Dubai.

“Fully connected traffic management systems may be years off, but the barriers to getting started with connected car data are incredibly low,” she said.