Wireless prototype to ease road congestion, detect bottlenecks

SCATS system used in 130 cities worldwide

A collaboration between NICTA and the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) could realise substantial telecommunication benefits for the agency through the use of wireless communications between Sydney's traffic signals.

The utilisation of a prototype wireless mesh network is one of five co-operative research projects being investigated under the banner of NICTA's Smart Transport and Roads (STaR) Project.

Around $7.5 million is being invested by NICTA, Australia's Centre of Excellence for information and communications technology, as part of a joint research and development agreement with the RTA looking at innovative traffic control communications, traffic sensing, traffic modelling and traffic control room user interfaces.

With enhanced traffic information and traffic modelling capabilities, traffic control systems will be better able to predict and respond to traffic build-ups and more rapidly detect and respond to problems such as bottlenecks, accidents and vehicle breakdowns.

The long-term agreement may lead to NICTA and the RTA exploiting opportunities to improve the management of road traffic not only in NSW, but worldwide.

Over 130 cities worldwide use the RTA-developed Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System (SCATS).

With the support of the RTA, NICTA has installed on-street research infrastructure in the shape of a prototype wireless mesh communications network at seven Sydney intersections.

The NICTA test-beds will support a variety of NICTA research and development activities and is anticipated to provide the basis for a robust and low-cost integrated communications platform supporting a wide variety of traffic requirements.

This may include low-bandwidth communication with traffic light controllers and variable message signs and high-bandwidth communication with roadside video sensors and vehicles.

Reliability and timely delivery of critical data will be achieved through innovative routing algorithms which exploit redundant wireless links.

For example the mesh will have a built-in mechanism to protect the network should the integrity of individual nodes be compromised.

In conjunction with the wireless mesh test-bed, NICTA is also researching new traffic sensing technologies.

Traffic monitoring cameras at a signalised intersection adjacent to NICTA's Kensington laboratory have been connected to a video processing system that can measure queue lengths and monitor traffic congestion.

These new sensing technologies will allow NICTA researchers to incorporate additional real-time wide-area traffic information into traffic control decisions.

Other aspects of the research collaboration could see road traffic control room operators interacting with computer systems using a combination of natural speech and hand gestures.

NICTA research has already seen improvements in the user interfaces for traffic incident recording and for accessing the contacts database used by Traffic Management Centre operators in managing those incidents.

NICTA's Australian Technology Park laboratory director, Professor Aruna Seneviratne, said a smart road system consists of four broad components - sensors, output devices, information processing and a communications network.

"We have research strengths which can make a significant contribution in all these areas," she added.

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