Wireless trial gets the green light

In an effort to reduce road congestion and save on operating costs, the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) and National ICT Australia (NICTA) are planning a trial of wireless traffic light control systems in Sydney which could be operational as early as July.

NICTA's Smart Transport and Roads Project (STAR) is developing systems that manage traffic lights more on the basis of 'traffic' moving through a network rather than what is stopped at red lights, according to project manager Geoff Goeldner.

Goeldner said NICTA will be wirelessly enabling several sets of traffic lights for the pilot project, but did not reveal exactly where.

"The good thing about working with the RTA is the sensors are already out there and the traffic control systems are collecting a lot of data," he said. "We immediately have the opportunity to compare our results with theirs. So when we start using this technology to improve the traffic flows we will really be able to measure our success both on historical and real-time data."

The potential for the technology is multifaceted, according to Goeldner, as lease line costs run into the millions of dollars every year and if traffic is streamlined the fuel savings will be even greater.

"There are four and half million cars in Sydney, so if we can knock off one percent off the fuel bill the maths are fairly straightforward," he said, adding the savings could run into half a million dollars a day.

"Those savings go back to the public [and] you can add in the environmental impact in reduced fuel consumption. It also removes some of the aggravation of red lights."

The objective with this technology is to better optimize traffic flows, such as giving priority to buses running "a little behind schedule", or to deal with bottlenecks that develop around breakdowns or accidents.

"There are all sorts of different ways you might provide priorities to different vehicles, including emergency vehicles," Goeldner said. "With better models of traffic flows we have a good understanding of what the traffic is doing. We update it with sensor information when one of the inductive loops fires or comes within range of one of our cameras that reinforces our model."

With base stations at each set of traffic lights, the wireless network would form a mesh grid so that any one node on the network would have several neighbours, making it more robust.

As for the number of base stations needed for the RTA's network, Goeldner said the 3500 sets of traffic lights in Sydney is a good approximation.

"Wireless networks are subject to interference from a number of things [so] the network should be self-healing, self-configuring, robust and reliable," he said.

The RTA was asked for comment, but did not respond before deadline.

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