ITS researchers broaden areas of study

  • 03-Mar-2010 09:51 EST

The U.S. DOT foresees a day when cars tell other vehicles where they are, improving safety and reducing congestion.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation System office is expanding its scope, looking beyond freeways and passenger cars. The ITS Strategic Research Plan released earlier this year also details a greater focus on fuel conservation and emissions reduction.

The new ITS outlook sets a number of research goals for the years 2010-2014. Along with its expanded scope, the plan underscores its primary technology: Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) will be used to gather and transmit data.

“DSRC operating at the 5.9-GHz spectrum remains the only communications technology to meet the rigorous requirements of active safety applications, such as the Vehicle-to-Vehicle [V2V] and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure [V2I] safety applications,” said Shelley Row, Director of the DOT’s ITS Joint Program Office.

“These applications require very high-speed, secure communications to enable warnings to drivers in imminent crash situations, as vehicles are traveling at high speeds,” she added.

Though safety remains the central focus for what’s now called the IntelliDrive system, environmental concerns are getting more attention. To be examined are techniques for improving traffic flow, eliminating bottlenecks that impact fuel usage and emissions. The plan will also extend the focus to include many forms of transportation.

The Applications for the Environment: Real-Time Environmental Synthesis (AERIS) program takes a broad approach to both conservation and multimodal transportation. One goal of AERIS is to capture real-time environmental data from vehicles and integrate them with other sources for use in transportation management. Its developers also plan to create applications that use real-time data on environmental impact for use by transportation managers and travelers.

“At the core of this program is the idea of facilitating ‘green’ transportation choices," said Row. The program will generate data sets and knowledge that will be widely applicable by the public and private sectors to create green applications and facilitate greater transparency of system performance, environmental impacts, and modal choice options. The purpose of the research is to determine just how much environmental benefit these applications can achieve.

Another facet of the plan’s multimodal strategy, the Real-Time Data Capture and Management component, will assess the available traffic, transit, and freight data that can be gathered from various sources. It will also explore ways to integrate data from a range of vehicles that act as data-gathering probes in the system.

The challenge is to make the data useful once they are gathered. Communication between vehicles and roadside infrastructure is the focus of the V2I safety component of the ITS Strategic Research Plan.

“The initial focus of the V2I research will be communication of traffic signal phase and timing information to vehicles, which we believe has enormous potential to improve safety,” Row said. “One of the ways to disseminate this information is through traditional roadside signs.”

Row cited a successful test project on the East Coast. Along the I-95 corridor, data from private traffic sensors is being collected and distributed to travelers via dynamic roadside message signs.

For many applications, data transfer rates don’t need to be close to real-time levels. For these aspects, the ITS Program is examining a range of wireless communications technologies that will work alongside DSRC for applications that aren’t safety-critical.

Researchers are also exploring one of the biggest challenges, driver distraction, posed by the large number of inputs that drivers will be receiving as digital communications becomes more common. They are trying to determine the best way to present information without overloading drivers.

The program plan is based on a continuation of funding that’s been set at $100 million per year. In 2010, up to $77 million will be dedicated to multimodal research and an additional $14 million to technology transfer and evaluation. IntelliDrive research comprises $49 million of the multimodal research funds.

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