Open software to ease stoplight traffic

  • 04-Mar-2010 08:28 EST

Open source control of stoplights should ease congestion without high costs.

Adjusting traffic signals to match traffic patterns could save drivers a lot of time and conserve fuel. The U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) Signal Control Program Environment (SCoPE) aims to help municipalities reduce congestion by using open-source traffic-management tools.

There are more than 30,000 traffic signals in the U.S., and poor timing of them accounts for an estimated 10% of all traffic delays, about 300 million vehicle-hours, according to the U.S. DOT. Fuel consumption was improved by nearly 10% in a Texas Traffic Light Synchronization program.

U.S. DOT’s SCoPE program is designed to make it easy for state and local governments to upgrade stoplights. Advanced Technologies Inc. is nearing the halfway point in a two-year, $600,000 Small Business Innovation Research project that addresses the software side of traffic control.

“The DOT wants an open-source traffic system that anyone can modify,” said Mark Gardinier, President of ATI, which has developed real-time software for military users for more than 25 years. “Municipalities can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on systems or they can get this software for free and hook it up to a camera.”

ATI recently tapped AdaCore’s GNAT Ada tools so its engineers can focus the high reliability Ada language on the program; the tools are widely used in the aerospace industry. Ada is designed for fail-safe operations, something ATI will use while also backing up the Ada tools with C-based software.

“We’re providing dual redundancy in software; doing it in hardware is much more expensive,” Gardinier said. He noted that a signal-control program developed at the University of California and algorithms created by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program will be included in the end product.

When agencies turn to improved software, they’ll also need to address the sensors that provide the input needed to make intelligent decisions. Gardinier feels the magnetic sensors now used to measure traffic flow will be replaced by less-expensive cameras that feed data to modern controllers.

“Today, 90% of traffic signals are pretimed or actuated with sensors buried under the ground,” Gardinier said. “It’s a lot easier to mount a camera on a light pole than to dig up these sensors.”

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