Nodes of Opportunity

Nodes of Opportunity

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Hey everyone,   in this edition of ITS Now, we'll be looking at  how the connected and distributed nature of ITS   infrastructure could lead to a really interesting  future. I'm Alistair, and this is ITS Now. Over the years, traffic systems have evolved to  become increasingly sophisticated in response   to the increase in the volume of traffic  and as technological advances have resulted   in the ability to implement enhanced  capabilities. However, the advent of   emerging technologies promises a step change  in capabilities, but poses issues for how these   can be integrated effectively with existing ITS  systems to provide the most benefits to users. There is widespread recognition that technology  on our highways is developing at pace and although   the benefits which are envisaged are significant,  the challenges these pose are also substantial.   So how did our roads get wired? Earlier traffic  signal installations operated in isolation,   although it was quickly realized that  synchronising the operation of adjacent   sites provided superior levels of performance.  To start with this was achieved by using sets   of traffic plans pre-programmed into each traffic  signal controller, this provided a good level of   service, but relied on the accuracy of the  real-time clocks in each cabinet. However,  

to update the plans, it was still necessary  for an engineer to physically attend the site   and the scope to adjust plans in response  to unexpected traffic patterns was limited. It was therefore realised, that by  running the plans from a centralised   Urban Traffic Control (or UTC) location, it would  overcome these deficiencies. To achieve this,   each site had to have a communications link to the  control room. These were usually implemented using   leased lines, which provided a permanent telephone  connection between the central control room   and each equipped signal installation. Due  to the technology available at the time,   the data interface consisted of a limited number  of bits, which could each typically request   a traffic stage to run or confirm back to the  control room which stage was currently running. A system called SCOOT was introduced to provide  a synchronized method of control here in the UK,   and this is also vehicle activated. This could  use communications infrastructure to also provide  

data to the control centre, about the volume  of traffic leaving each signal installation,   allowing SCOOT to dynamically adjust traffic  plans so that the operation of subsequent signal   sites could be optimised for the traffic  which would arrive at them imminently. This type of topography where a control centre  is linked to the majority of the signal sites   on the road network has therefore  become commonplace around the UK.   Over time, the range of equipment installed on  the highway network increased, including Variable   Message Signs, CCTV and parking guidance systems.  With these deployments came a need to improve   the supporting communications infrastructure,  luckily over recent years the ability to install   higher speed and larger bandwidth communications  into roadside locations has become much easier.

In addition, the uptake of newer technologies  has in part been driven by the withdrawal of   older communications technologies,  such as leased lines here in the UK.   However, with the ubiquity of the  newer types of communications,   including IP and broadband, along with  wireless technologies, there's usually a   solution available which can be implemented  appropriate to the required functionality. Because of this, most cities these days have  comprehensive communications infrastructure spread   across their highway network, connecting the  plethora of equipment used to manage and monitor   its traffic. It is probable that these traffic  installations will soon become data nodes for a   variety of emerging highway-based technologies.  Over the coming years, due to their connected   status and distributed nature across the road  network, using the principles of the Internet of   Things, the collection of data from the physical  world is possible using simple sensors which are   permanently connected, producing data streams in  real time and use cloud-based services to allow   additional sensors to be easily added without  coding and archive data for later analysis.   This provides the ability to amass an  insight to a huge range of parameters   which would have been difficult, or prohibitively  expensive, to collect even just a few years ago.

The hardware used for Internet of Things  sensors is often thought to be inferior   to 'proper' equipment, and although there  is a huge variety of less accurate devices   which are inferior, there are now many  companies producing well-engineered   accurately calibrated sensors, which offer  much better value than traditional systems.   In part, this is because of their ease of  deployment and low operational overhead.   Many of the technologies obviate the requirement  for any civils construction to be undertaken to   install them. The equipment is often characterised  by being small, so that it can be mounted onto   existing infrastructure, such as lighting  columns, signposts or traffic signal poles.   In addition, they are normally low-powered,  so can operate from an internal battery,   these might be recharged by a small solar PV  panel, but it's typically quoted to have a 5-year,   or greater, life-expectancy; or maybe wired into  an electrical supply from the host infrastructure   it is mounted on. Remote sensors also  frequently use wireless communications,   although again, those mounted on  infrastructure such as traffic signals,   may make use of the existing  communications facilities available.

In the US, the city of Chicago pioneered  the Array of Things, consisting of diverse   sensors mounted together in compact pole mounted  housings, typically located at traffic signals.   These use the existing communications  infrastructure to distribute hyper-local   information back to the city authorities   and to interested citizens, with detailed  information across a wide range of parameters,   currently including traffic, weather, pollution,  flooding, noise and lighting conditions. The data produced by these kinds of technologies  can benefit the operation of the city in many   ways. It may be used immediately to trigger  a response if an event is registered or if a   threshold has been passed. These may include  re-routing traffic, if a localised flood is   detected, or changing traffic plans if congestion  is forming. In addition, the ability to use  

historic data to undertake trend analysis,  or review the effectiveness of interventions,   can provide a valuable tool for making informed  decisions for infrastructure investment.   However, a key issue is the fact that the  infrastructure should not be used by just one   agency, but can benefit the whole community.  In this way, additional sensors could be added   to the system which might not obviously belong  within the traffic system. An example of this   could be level sensors installed in litter bins  to optimise waste management collection rounds.   In addition, the system should be capable of  conveying information not only from different   city authorities, but also a diverse range of  stakeholders, including private entities who may   wish to contribute and share in the benefits of  this data exchange. The benefits of an open-data   model may include encouraging a more diverse range  of stakeholders to share in the associated costs,   which would have traditionally been an overhead to  a couple of different local authority departments.

Another benefit of the low-cost overheads  generally associated with Internet of Things type   sensors, is the ability to increase the density of  sensors, by increasing the numbers of data nodes   across an area. The improved granularity of the  information generated provides capabilities for   high-level, local insights, to be generated  and the effects of any minor inaccuracies   in individual sensor readings will be balanced  across the large number of sensors being used. Additionally, because of the reduced  needs for supporting infrastructure,   they allow units to be deployed off-grid in areas  which have not previously been instrumented,   because of the difficulty and expense of providing  electrical supplies and communications links.  

This is of particular interest in rural  areas, where roads can be susceptible to   disruption caused by a very wide range  of set of causes and sensors such as   climatic and incident detection would have  been prohibitively expensive to install. A large proportion of the strategic road network,   predominantly motorways and  trunk roads here in the UK,   has been equipped with a comprehensive Intelligent  Transport Systems infrastructure over the years.   Typically, this includes facilities ranging from  Emergency Roadside Telephones, Incident Detection,   Variable Message Signs and CCTV, through  to advanced Smart Motorway implementations.   However, there are still routes, which usually  because of their rural nature, have not been   equipped. Emerging standards for trunk roads could  take advantage of using Internet of Things type  

implementations for the technology requirements  on highways to reduce the need for elements of   traditional 'heavy' ITS infrastructure, which can  be difficult to deploy in more remote locations. There is currently an apparent ubiquity of  data with the availability of apps such as   Google Maps providing users with very detailed  levels of information about the state of the   highway network. However, most of these types  of facilities currently operate in isolation,   many developers of Internet  of Things technologies,   have come from outside the existing  ITS industry and use bespoke software,   or online tools, to allow users to make use  of the data which their products produce.   Also, with the emergence of 'Big Data', it has  become commonplace to use analytics tools to   extract a meaningful insight to what is occurring,  although these types of tools can provide valuable   insights to the way in which our communities  function and help in identifying causal   factors for problems, they do not have a direct  method of influencing the operation of the city   to overcome issues or to optimise the  operation of the transport infrastructure.

So, how can the disparate data  sources be brought together to   influence and inform the ITS systems  which operate our transport networks   and offer a pathway for additional  stakeholders to gain value from their use. The Urban Traffic Management and Control  (UTMC) initiative was launched in the UK   in 1997 by the Department for Transport. It sought  to use modular systems based on open standards,   to allow highway authorities to achieve their  transport objectives without being constrained   by single source solutions. Commercial UTMC  products, use intelligent smart mobility  

applications to leverage the advantage of open  standards, allowing equipment and subsystems from   different suppliers to work effectively together,  in order to deliver effective ITS system.   Systems usually consist of elements, such  as a core Common Database, to control the   operation of traffic functionality; to receive  and deliver real-time data to a broad range of   external entities and an analysis capability to  understand the effectiveness of interventions. UTMC systems commonly work with a  diverse range of disparate subsystems,   from a range of different manufacturers, to  achieve an integrated system environment.  

Examples include, traffic signal control using  SCOOT, integration of CCTV to monitor the network,   car park occupancy information and Variable  Message Signs to convey information to drivers.   In addition, work is being undertaken to more  closely align the UTMC technical specification   with Datex, the European standard for traffic  related data. This type of platform is therefore,   not only mature, but is also being used across  the UK by the majority of highway authorities   and offers a route for emerging  technologies to be used directly   by traffic systems and to share information  across a wide spectrum of stakeholders. An example of the way in which UTMC systems offer  a pathway to integrate different systems and allow   future technologies to be more easily assimilated,  is with the use of air quality monitoring.  

Back in January 2017, air quality in London,  hit the headlines with high pollution levels,   resulting in the poorest categorisation  band of 10 being issued for the first time   since the current system had been used. A major  contributor to poor air quality in cities is   recognised to come from vehicle emissions,  although the reasons why these are worse   at different times of the year are complex  and include a range of climatic conditions. To tackle this, urban authorities have  established air monitoring stations   which provide data that can be  used to identify pollution events   and to allow forecasts to be produced to  proactively warn of their likely occurrence.   However, these systems tend to be large, often  housed in a small cabin, which can be difficult   to locate in an urban centre, where space adjacent  to an affected highway can be at a premium.  

These systems are also expensive to purchase  and to operate, with regular calibration and   replacements required. These drawbacks, therefore,  limit the ability of most local authorities   to deploy them across their road network, the  result of this is that the data produced can   only provide broad indications of the environment  and lacks detail on a street-by-street basis. To overcome this, small roadside sensors  can be used, which give us resolution,   which is simply not possible with the traditional  monitoring stations. Although these new sensors   are not as accurate as full-scale air monitoring  stations, the technologies used are progressing   continuously, so that measurements at parts per  billion, instead of parts per million, are now   possible. These new generation sensors typically  make use of the Internet of Things principles,   discussed earlier, to use small devices that  can be mounted onto existing street furniture.  

Because of this, it is possible to  install many units across the city,   to gain a detailed understanding of the  patterns that result in poor air quality events. These data streams can be fed into UTMC systems,  to allow traffic managers to understand the impact   of traffic plans on the environment. This  information can also be used proactively   to trigger a range of actions, such as changing  traffic plans to reduce the impact that these   events have, so it could be used to reduce  traffic flow in badly affected streets,   or to re-route traffic away from affected  areas before the situation becomes too serious.   The system can then also be used to warn  the public about air quality incidents,   with online and Variable Message  Sign displays being used. With the future introduction of connected and  automated vehicles, there will be a requirement   for data to pass from Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V)  and from Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I).   The Vehicle to Vehicle connectivity  will allow vehicles to inform or warn   other vehicles around it on the road, for  instance to alert following vehicles that   a car has had to apply its brakes hard. The  Vehicle to Infrastructure data exchange will  

allow traffic systems to inform vehicles  of operational parameters or warnings,   such as the traffic signals ahead are  currently red or that there are roadworks. This connectivity will also allow vehicles  to pass data back to the traffic systems,   enabling the vehicles to become data probes  for a range of criteria, including actual   journey time information, climatic measurements  and warning of the occurrence of incidents.   Although this type of deployment  is currently being researched,   the need for Vehicle to Infrastructure  connectivity will result in the requirement   to find ways in which traffic systems can  work cooperatively with individual vehicles.   Traffic systems will also need to have the  capability to work with a growing range of   standalone sensors, to get the most benefit out  of these and to provide a pathway for emerging   technologies to have the capability to inform the  operation of the highway network, in real time.  

UTMC systems offer a unique platform, which  working with existing traffic systems,   also facilitate a pathway to allow emerging  technologies to integrate effectively with them,   to the benefit of the whole community. I hope you found that interesting,  I think over the next few years, the   issues around integration,  with both Connected Vehicles,   Smart City requirements and in response to  the Climate Emergency, will pose some really   interesting issues and opportunities for ITS  infrastructure. Right, in the next couple of   editions, we've got a special coming from  Traffex, and we've also got a version of a   paper that I'll be giving at that conference, so  look out for that, until then, see you next time!

2022-06-16 06:27

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