In February the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released new data showing that Americans are driving more than ever before. In 2016, drivers in cars, trucks, minivans and SUVs put a record 3.22 trillion miles on the nation’s roads, up 2.8 percent from 3.1 trillion miles in 2015.
The data also shows that it’s the fifth consecutive year of increased miles driven on roads and highways which underscores the demands facing American’s roads and bridges and reaffirms calls for greater investment in surface transportation infrastructure.
It also means drivers are more aware of the roads they travel each day. There is that road that must be avoided at certain times of the day due to high traffic congestion. We all have our special back-road shortcuts, which have become few and far between these days, that we take when traffic is at a standstill. Before the internet and mobile phones, we relied only on television, newspapers, radios, traffic helicopters and even CB radios to warn us of construction, accidents and congestion on the roads. If your car broke down, you thumbed a ride or walked to the nearest pay phone, unless the road had one of those convenient, emergency call box phones on the roadway.
These sources are still very reliable, but once mobile devices and the internet came into existence, the updates became instantaneous as we refreshed our web browsers. The department of transportation in most states seems to have taken notice to this resource and partnered with other businesses to get their websites up-to-date.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced in January that they were partnering with the popular crowd-sourcing traffic navigation mobile app Waze. The Wisconsin DOT will verify and then post real-time traffic data such as construction, crashes and road closures throughout the state using the Waze website and app. Wisconsin DOT plans to incorporate Waze’s data into the 511 Wisconsin website redesign this spring. The change will give drivers faster updates, personalized camera feeds and better knowledge of road conditions.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CT DOT) launched a new website last month called the CT Travel Smart. CT DOT spent $150,000 upgrading the website and the federal government funded 80 percent of the bill. Drivers can personalize their travel details, can view the entire state or just a region or they can sign up online and create certain routes and save individual cameras to their profile. They can also receive personalized alert messages about their saved routes or certain roads. The state has 350 traffic cameras running 24-hours a day.
If potholes seem to be a common problem on your route, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is currently updating its online database so all roads in Boston will have lookouts for potholes. The program was piloted in a couple of cities and will expand its service to the rest of the state over the next few months. During the pilot program, a total of 520 potholes were repaired on I-90 and between Springfield and Weston. Drivers can report a pothole by calling a hotline or filling out a form online.
If it isn’t potholes you want to avoid, maybe it is a slick film of ice that has you anxious. New technology was recently added to the Michigan Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) website which allows drivers to track snowplows working around the Upper Peninsula in real time. Drivers can click on active plows and see exactly what they are doing and whether it is plowing or applying salt. The technology currently only tracks MDOT plows and not county road commission or private plows.
Transportation agencies aren’t the only ones keeping their residents in the know. City officials in West Palm Beach, Fla. teamed up with a consulting firm to study the city’s transportation for the future. The study will include downtown, the Okeechobee Boulevard corridor, parking management and transportation demand.
The consulting team will have a website, WPBmobility.com, that will go live in a few days with updates on the studies and an interactive map for the public to help identify where there are problems or opportunities for transportation changes. This comes at a time when the city is developing a citywide bicycle master plan and making downtown more livable.
But what happens when it is your vehicle that is causing the traffic jam? The Illinois Tollway has launched a beta form of tracking program for users to locate Highway Emergency Lane Patrol (HELP) trucks. The HELP Truck Tracker, which is available on the tollway’s website, shows trucks marked on the website with arrows identifying the direction of travel with a popup text box reporting the nearest mile marker. The HELP program sent out 12 trucks to patrol the Tollway system in 12 counties from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. The trucks assisted more than 30,000 customers while patrolling more than 1.2 million miles last year.
Here’s something shocking… A recent report revealed that smart traffic management could save 4.2 billion man hours worldwide annually by 2021. If that happened, it would mean that every motorist in a crowded city would save roughly one full working day per year.
Transportation data, the focus of most smart city initiatives, is helping city leaders use technology to alleviate traffic congestion, improve mobility and create safer roads. That’s a good thing and motorists in traffic congested cities hope that relief is on the way soon.
Cities used transportation data in the past for planning and decision-making but the data that was collected was usually outdated by the time planners received it. The technology was not there to collect traffic data in real time.
All that has changed and traffic data is now collected in real time and the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing cities so rapidly that most citizens are not even aware of the changes.
The IoT enables the collection, storage, analysis and use of real time data. For example, one city project in Ontario, Canada, is using real time traffic data to create algorithms that regulate traffic lights.
Another city – Columbus, Ohio – is about to install an IoT-connected transportation network that will respond to sensors deployed along 50 miles of roadway, at 175 traffic signals and on 3,000 vehicles. When complete, the project will allow emergency vehicles to have priority at all intersections. The real time data received from the sensors will signal traffic light changes as emergency vehicles approach. Pedestrians and motorists will be protected at intersections.
Cities are also launching innovative technology solutions to provide better circulation routes on roadways with high truck traffic. Oregon Metro in Portland hopes to deliver freight priority at signalized intersections on Columbia Boulevard, which is a freight corridor and a vital link between North Portland and I-5.
In 2018, the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission plans to experiment with variable highway speed limits based on road and traffic conditions detected by computer sensors. Many motorists will support that concept.
Cities are even using transportation data to make infrastructure repairs more effective. Digital monitoring of streets uses real time data collection to assess infrastructure quality and prioritize needs. Some cities are doing it through vehicle-monitoring systems, and here’s how that works. Street data is collected from city-owned vehicles that have sensors and other technology attached to them so that they can transmit road data to a central location. The vehicles have GPS technology, tire pressure sensors, cameras, radar and microphones which gather road data cheaply and effectively. Cincinnati turned to this form of digital monitoring to monitor and prioritize repairs to streets that had fallen in disrepair.
From monitoring traffic congestion to planning and prioritizing future infrastructure projects, the IoT (which really means the collection of massive amounts of real time data) is changing cities like nothing has in the last few decades. Smart cities are evolving and citizens and taxpayers will reap the benefits for generations to come.
The day of the drones may sound like the overtaking of a male bee colony or some science-fiction movie, but in reality this unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) deserves a day of recognition because it has gone to extremes…even putting a man back in the drone.
A Chinese-made passenger-carrying drone, called an eHang 184, recently made its debut in Dubai and is expected to be flying commuters through the city in July. The 440-pound aircraft can carry up to 220 pounds, has a battery life of a half-hour of flight time and can travel up to 31 miles- which will be monitored remotely by a control room on the ground. The top speed of this machine is 100 mph, but will operate around 62 mph for travel. Once the passenger puts on the seat belt they select a destination on a touch-screen pad and the drone takes it from there.
The passenger-carrying drone was first introduced in January 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev., at the Consumer Electronics Show. Since the Federal Aviation Administration has no guidelines for its use, these egg-shaped, four-legged vehicles will remain grounded, for now, in the United States. But the smaller, unmanned versions are welcome in America’s air space as long as the owner/operator follows the FAA rules and regulations.
UAV’s have gone from being a recreational play toy to a useful tool in the workplace. To capture data
correctly with ease of navigation, these aircraft come in different shapes and sizes. In North Dakota what looked like a swarm of bees at this year’s Drone Biz, were really small eBees, a type of fixed-wing drone, that were used to collect data that can be analyzed and used to create maps, isolate problem areas in crops and track plant stand counts. These eBees were shown off at Drone Biz, a monthly event held in Grand Forks that focuses on the unmanned aircraft industry.
One method known as swarming required staff to synchronize flight paths for the eBees and send them out to survey a field. The eBees were released on five flights with a duration of 36 minutes and each covered about 350 acres. Over the course of the flights, about 2 billion data points were created- a gain of 300 times the normal graphical density for survey data.
Drones that look like bees have even taken on some of their daily tasks. With concerns over the dwindling bee population and their ability to pollinate, a company based out of Japan has produced a bio-inspired drone prototype that could help bolster pollination. The short term solution could lie with drones.
Horse hairs were added across the bottom of the drone and then painted with an ionic liquid gel so the pollen would stick. During the simulation, the drone gathered pollen from one flower and flew to another to artificially pollinate a different plant. The plan is to train these robotic pollinators to learn pollination paths using global positioning systems and artificial intelligence.
If bees aren’t your thing then how about a Bat? Researchers at CalTech and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, have developed a drone prototype called a Bat Bot. The three-ounce flying robot was found to be more agile at getting into treacherous places than standard drones. It mimics the unique and more flexible way bats fly, is smaller and has no spinning rotors.
The Bat Bot has nine joints and measures slightly less than 8 inches from head to tail. Its thin membrane wings span over a foot and can flap its wings as much as 10 times per second. The researchers still need to add cameras, build more drones and get permission from federal agencies before they can be debuted to the public.
Another drone getting attention by the federal government is a water sample collecting drone developed by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Normally a water scientist will haul equipment, boats and people to collect samples. A drone was made that can collect three 20-mililiter water samples. In 2013, the researchers received a $956,210 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to continue their efforts. These drones will be able to help monitor water quality and quantity and lead to other UAVs that can collect air samples, take leaf clippings, measure crop height and recharge environmental sensors.
Drones got their start as safer and cheaper alternatives for manned military aircraft. They are now being used to perform tasks that could potentially be hazardous or dangerous to humans. These aircraft can be used to grab data from high altitudes at construction sites. They can even be used for search and rescue efforts by flying into areas that would be deadly for a human. The demand continues to grow for drones from the commercial and civil government sectors.