UCI?s Intelligent Transportation Research Seeks to Revolutionize Traffic Management

09.08.05 – Traffic jams driving you to distraction? Hold on to your steering wheel; help is on the way. Researchers at UC Irvine’s Institute of Transportation Studies, in partnership with Calit2, are developing vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications algorithms that one day will turn cell phones or GPS devices into personalized traffic-mitigation tools.

James Marca
James Marca watches traffic flow.

The systems in development will utilize mobile ad-hoc networking to allow cars to monitor the speed and position of passing cars and to communicate that telemetry with other cars. A northbound car passing an accident in southbound lanes would automatically observe the size and scope of the incident and then transmit that information to oncoming cars; those cars can exit the freeway and take alternate routes. It is even possible that the system could suggest alternative directions.

 In addition to vehicle-to-vehicle communication, the intelligent transportation system will include vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, utilizing traffic-monitoring beacons alongside city streets and freeways. These roadside data stations would broadcast information on traffic, weather and road surface conditions to passing vehicles, while simultaneously processing and storing incoming data from those same cars.

Researchers call their system “Autonet” – a network of intelligently informed vehicles, roadways, stations and consumers. The ITS group has developed a model to explore the information technology and communications requirements necessary to support this system. The information and control system combines a traffic simulation model with wireless communications services. The computer simulation tests the feasibility of Autonet and provides a platform for testing associated software components and communications protocols in a realistic environment. It also serves as a test bed for examining the benefits and constraints of commercial hardware.

Craig Rindt
Craig Rindt examines aerial highway views.

The traveler-centric Autonet system differs from existing traffic management systems. Current commercialized systems require a traffic-processing hub. In addition to requiring a large capital investment, these systems are difficult to upgrade, vulnerable to system failure and lacking in relevancy to specific trips. Unless a driver coincidentally is near the scene of a broadcasted accident, conditions will have changed by the time he/she arrives at the location.


Autonet-type systems ultimately will be purchased by the consumer, and because they utilize ad-hoc mobile networks, require no investment in infrastructure.


They would also be personalized to the needs of the individual driver. By tracking its owner’s daily trips, each personal Autonet device will learn that car’s most likely travel routes. The device can then intelligently suggest alternate routes when necessary, based on current traffic conditions. It can also help city and county planners manage total usage of streets and freeways by broadcasting the general direction the vehicle is most likely to travel.


Additionally, Autonet can help drivers receive pertinent information in real-time. “Our system would be able to ‘narrow-cast’ traffic reports to specific cars, instead of ‘broadcasting’ to everyone,” explains James Marca, a postdoctoral ITS researcher.


Researchers, under the direction of Will Recker, ITS director, are not concerned with developing the actual devices; they are focusing on the software necessary to disseminate the information. Test versions utilize commercial off-the-shelf technology like 802.11b or 3G cellular hardware, but the actual devices will be designed and manufactured by auto or cell phone makers.


“We want to make information the backbone of how we manage traffic,” says Recker. “We are tailoring information to specific people and/or trips in a distributed fashion. We have algorithms that can forecast traffic time in real-time, which becomes important in managing unforeseen events.”                 


An Autonet-type traffic management system benefits not only the consumer, who wants to arrive at the final destination as quickly as possible, but also city and state agencies trying to plan and manage traffic issues. “If cars equipped with the devices ‘know’ where they are likely to be going, we can better estimate demand on the roadways,” Recker explains.


Initial research results indicate that Autonet can begin to provide benefits to individual drivers with as few as 2 percent of cars on the road equipped with the system. “Because those cars will be communicating to each other, those users will still benefit,” says Craig Rindt, another postdoctoral ITS researcher.


Researchers aren’t sure when a commercial system based on Autonet will be available to consumers, but they do know that Autonet is on the verge of transforming transportation. “We are at the forefront of traffic management integration,” says Recker. “Vehicle-to-vehicle communication has the potential to revolutionize our daily commute.”

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