Smart transportation hits interoperability speed bump

Smart transportation hits interoperability speed bump

Although many states  are outfitting their roads with smart transportation technology, they are still faced with communication interoperability challenges resulting from auto manufacturer-specific devices.

“The data on every car, on the network on the car, is not standardized at all today,” said Zachary Doerzaph, the director of the Center for Advanced Automotive Research at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.  Manufacturers use different formats and units, making it difficult for cars to communicate with each other. Currently, there is no common standard for how smart cars will collect information from smart roads.

Virginia began working on the technology part of the problem in 2012, when VTTI and the Virginia Department of Transportation began installing dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) devices on what is called the Virginia Connected Corridor. This area includes popular interstates in Northern Virginia -- 66 and 495, U.S. Routes 50 and 29, and state route 7. So far, about 50 roadside units have been installed and more continue to be deployed, according to Doerzaph.

In this “living laboratory,” the DSRC devices are attached to light poles and bridges to monitor the highway using a wireless link to send traffic and weather information back to officials at control sites and to state road-maintenance vehicles. Officials can then post speed-limit changes or alerts on dynamic roadway signs placed over the highway, the Wall Street Journal reported.

VTTI has also built an entire backend infrastructure with a data cloud, analytics and application environments to deploy smartphone-like apps on specialized vehicle dashboard interfaces so they can display the same alerts being posted to the dynamic highway signs. So far, VTTI is testing 50 vehicles with these interfaces, Doerzaph said.

Since VTTI has built the communications backbone, Doerzaph said the next steps are to continue working with VDOT to layer applications on top of it. “That will evolve over time,” Doerzaph told GCN. “We’ll do things like integrate it with the traffic signals,” which could make traffic light systems more efficient and optimize timing. Eventually, Doerzaph said he hopes to make the application publically available with a better-looking interface and more valuable information for the driver.

Agreeing on a common language

After years of building, learning and improving, Doerzaph said the basic technology hurdles have been overcome. “Everybody knows it can happen, so the really tricky part … is getting everybody to agree, so that we’re all talking the same language,” he said. “A really big focus area I think for us moving forward is to continue to develop those standards.”

The Department of Transportation’s recent issue of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to enable vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology on all new light-duty vehicles is progress, according to Doerzaph. Assuming it becomes a rule, it would ensure new cars would come from the factories equipped with these systems. “We’re going to start seeing the rate of these systems increase a lot because the market is more certain. The more certain the market becomes, the more risks I think the industry is going to be willing to take,” Doerzaph said.

This expansion could also help advance VTTI and VDOT’s bigger plans for Virginia. The dynamic road signs were installed last year, but Virginia hopes to eventually wire its roads with fiber optics, cameras and connected signaling devices, according to the Wall Street Journal. The sensors on the Virginia Connected Corridor could one day receive data from connected vehicles and transmit alerts to drivers nearby.

Virginia is but one of a number of states researching vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies. The Ohio Department of Transportation recently announced it is upgrading its 35-mile Smart Mobility Corridor with high-capacity fiber-optic cables that connect to embedded and wireless sensors. According to the Wall Street Journal, Utah is testing traffic light sensors in Salt Lake City that connect with public buses to help them stay on schedule.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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