Applying Pervasive Computing and Communications to Transportation


Project: Autonet and Wireless Testbed
PIs:Michael G. McNally, Associate Professor; R. Jayakrishnan, Associate Professor; and Will Recker, Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, UCI
Funding: National Science Foundation & Caltrans
Corporate Partner: Caltrans
Start Date: June 2003

Applying Pervasive Computing and Communications to Transportation

Researchers at UCI are studying how pervasive computing and communications can improve transportation management. Their approach is based on two premises. First, microprocessor size and cost are declining, making it cost-effective to embed a Pentium-class computer in a car. Second, these processors can be applied to helping drivers make better decisions and disseminating information about the transportation system. Enter Autonet, a distributed, pervasive computing platform linking in-vehicle and roadside computers using high-bandwidth wireless technology.

"One goal of the Wireless Testbed is to develop a common set of tests and benchmarks so that, as new technologies become available, we can quickly determine their strengths and weaknesses compared to other technologies."
- James Marca, postdoctoral researcher, Institute for Transportation Studies, UCI

The obvious application of such an ad hoc mobile network among cars is to take existing in-vehicle navigation systems the next step to use real-time estimates and near-term predictions of travel conditions. But more exciting for UCI researchers are the possibilities for using this vehicle-based network to enable more distributed, system-optimal traffic management. For example, one idea funded by NSF is a system in which an intersection controller estimates the likely destinations of approaching vehicles by querying each vehicle's historical record of trips. If the destinations of a percentage of the vehicles can be predicted, then local intersection control decisions can be made within the context of their global impact. The vehicles become cooperating partners in the traffic management system. By tapping into the information storage and processing power available within each vehicle, the traffic management authority can approach system-optimal control.

UCI traffic management specialists are also collaborating with members of UCI's Information and Computer Science School and Caltrans to examine capabilities of local-area wireless technologies, such as the increasingly popular 802.11b and the new dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) standard. This group is experimenting with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadside communication. They seek to quantify the impact of various factors like distance, relative speed, packet sizes, traffic volumes, etc., on the throughput of wireless links. The researchers were encouraged by preliminary data showing that communication is possible between a moving vehicle and an access point (AP) at approximately 900 meters at better than 4 Mbps, using off the shelf hardware. At the same time, there are many inefficiencies in using 802.11b in automobiles: handoff between access points does not anticipate the movement of the vehicle; WiFi signals degrade at relative speeds of around 100 mph (two vehicles approaching each other at freeway speeds) due to Doppler shift of the signal; and hills and curves block the line of sight essential to a WiFi connection.

The researchers' overall goal is to develop high-level Autonet applications that leverage pervasive wireless communication between vehicles. They are cooperating with other research groups within Cal-(IT)2 to develop the wireless hardware and middleware that will make the Autonet possible.

Contact: Will Recker,, 949-824-5642
R. Jayakrishnan,, 949-824-2172
Mike McNally,, 949-824-8462