Wednesday, February 02, 2000
Smarter cars and roads may soon add safety
High-tech systems coming
BY TANYA ALBERT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Imagine a time in the next five to 10 years when your car will automatically chart an alternate route to keep you out of congestion. A roadside transmitter will break through your radio to warn of problems ahead.
Paramedics will arrive at an accident scene knowing how fast a car was going, where the car was hit and whether seat belts were used making it easier to quickly assess injuries and treat patients.
Much of this technology already exists. Experts are just working to fine-tune it, expand it and decide how to introduce it to the public.
WHAT IS ITS?
The Intelligent Transportation Systems uses technology to manage traffic flow, to get commuters immediate information about traffic jams and to direct emergency personnel. Its use is expected to explode over the next 20 years.|
What have the benefits been?
10 percent to 45 percent less time in traffic caused by accidents or other incidents. For example, a control center with TV cameras monitoring the highways can alert police, fire and ambulances to an exact location.
Eight percent to 25 percent improvements in travel time. Advanced traffic surveillance and signal control systems, such as timing traffic lights based on traffic volume, get the credit.
24 percent to 50 percent fewer crashes with freeway management systems, such as ramp metering where a stop light tells whether to proceed onto the interstate. Also, it's helped handle 8 percent to 22 percent more traffic moving at 13 percent to 48 percent faster speeds.
200 percent to 300 percent increase in toll lane capacity. Drivers buy a pass so they can drive through toll booths. The booth picks up a signal and charges the person's account.
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation
The technology is called Intelligent Transportation Systems and the federal government expects public and private groups to spend $400 billion on it during the next 20 years.
Ten years ago, ITS was seen as way to move more vehicles on a stretch of road, decrease fuel wasted in traffic jams and stimulate business. That's when programs like Greater Cincinnati's $37 million ARTIMIS got started.
But ITS is evolving into a way to get traffic information to people who need it most and to improve road safety.
We're really at the beginning of it, said Dory Montazemi, deputy executive director of Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the planning agency. It's unfortunate that the ARTIMIS perception has been somewhat negative because it's technology that needs to be learned.
ARTIMIS uses cameras and sensors along interstates to spot problems and those black electronic signs to alert emergency personnel and drivers. ARTIMIS' 211 phone line which lets people call for traffic information for a specific route is being considered as a national model.
Increasingly, technology will be geared toward getting people immediate information so they can make better driving decisions. The technology will also offer police, fire and EMS assistance that could save lives.
Whatever you can imagine, it could be done someday, said Jim Buckson, mobility and traffic operations engineer for the Ohio division of the Federal Highway Administration.
Already, services that improve chances of avoiding road congestion and improve safety are beginning to pop up.
You won't drive the same way, said Gerald M. Dupree,
with ITS Ohio, a local chapter of ITS America, a nonprofit scientific and educational society. Cars will be smart.
When the the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last fall decided to make a radio bandwidth available for ITS, it opened the door for the potential of a single computerized card to pay for parking, tolls or even fast food at the drive-through.
One day, that card could be used to download information that alerts a driver that a bridge is icy or an accident and congestion are ahead. The card would get the information from a roadside transmitter and download it to vehicle's navigation system or a radio.
It could be a reality within three to five years, said Paul Najarian, director of telecommunications for ITS America.
Ford's Jaguar XKR spots coupe model in Germany and England offers an Adaptive Cruise Control system that uses radar to help drivers maintain a certain distance from cars ahead. Drivers choose how far back they want to stay and if traffic slows, the Jag slows.
If another vehicle cuts the driver off, the system taps the brakes to slow the car down and alert the driver that he or she needs to take action. The system doesn't take over braking, but its initial response is quicker than a human's and could reduce rear-end collisions, said Gerry Conover, manager of external technology assessment for Ford Motor Co. He could not say when the Adaptive Cruise Control might be available in the United States.
Ford and General Motors offer systems that alert company centers about some crashes. Global Positioning Satellite systems figure out where the car is, and center personnel can call the proper police.
Veridian, a company based in New York, is working on an even more sophisticated system. It delivers a message to 911 operators and trauma centers. The data tell them where the vehicle is, whether it's on its wheels, side or top, where the impact was and how hard. When the data are delivered, a voice line is opened between the car and dispatch center through a cell phone mounted in the car.
Tests are under way in Erie County in New York and in Minnesota. One day, the system could detect how many people are in the car and if they were wearing seat belts. The more information available, the more quickly emergency personnel can dispatch the right number of vehicles to an accident and prepare emergency room physicians for what they'll be treating, said Noah Rifkin of Veridian.
In four or five years the Veridian system should be offered in new cars and available for older cars, he said. It should take a little less than 10 years before you typically see it on most cars on the road.
Etak, a California-based company, provides up-to-the-minute traffic reports for more than 50 cities nationwide, including Cincinnati. It sells the information to AT&T PocketNet, Palm Pilot VII, Motorola iKno! paging system and others. Those companies sell it to drivers for specific routes. Commuters can use the information to chart the least troublesome route.
Service isn't widespread but should become more common in the next year, said Pamela Crowley, spokeswoman for Etak.
USA Digital Radio Inc. is testing a system that lets drivers listen to the radio and get information on a screen. It could be what song or artist is playing, or traffic and weather reports. The company is testing prototypes in several cities, including Cincinnati. Drivers would require a special radio, which should be available by late 2001, said Bob Struble, president of Maryland-based USA Digital Radio.
Next steps at federal and local levels involve figuring out how to deliver information to people drivers, paramedics, fire departments, police departments, transit agencies and others. And the groundwork needs to be laid so the technologies can work together, similar to standards that allow people to buy VCRs, TVs and other equipment with confidence that they're able to hook into one another.
An OKI $210,000 study will pursue those answers. It's a necessary study if the region wants to be eligible for future transit funds.
The two-pronged OKI study, 90 percent federally funded, will determine what Greater Cincinnati wants from ITS and draft a plan to make sure technologies are compatible.
The technology is there, said Achille Alonci, with the Kentucky division of the Federal Highway Administration. The challenge will be figuring out at the local level who will control what information.
But, he said, within the next decade, you will see it (ITS) become somewhat prevalent in major cities.
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