It's hailed as the solution to an almost infinite array of problems, but can technology really help to relieve congestion on the nation's highways? The U.S. Department of Transportation would like to think so.
The Research and Innovative Technology Administration, a branch of the DOT, has issued a request to private industry, research organizations, and state and local governments for information about commercially available applications that can fight congestion and improve the United States' transportation system.
The effort is part of the agency's SafeTrip-21, a pro gram to field test technologies aimed at improving safety and reducing congestion. The program will be launched at the 2008 Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress in New York City this November.
Using technology to improve traffic flow certainly isn't a new concept, but there are some new applications under development, including several that involve RFID. As reported in DC VELOCITY's August 2007 issue, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are equipping taxicabs and private cars with RFID and global positioning system (GPS) technology as part of a project called CarTel.
The aim of CarTel is to make personalized route recommendations to drivers, based on the driver's own commute history as well as the histories of other drivers who are willing to share their information. In addition, the system would monitor road conditions, and when combined with sensor technology, could provide both the driver and authorities with early warnings of potential troublespots.
Neither snow, nor rain …
Another research project that the DOT may want to take note of is an initiative currently under way in upstate New York. Researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the New York State Department of Transportation have deployed solar-powered mobile RFID readers that monitor traffic flow by reading EZPass toll-payment tags attached to passing cars. The readers were successfully deployed last summer. Although officials initially planned to pull them when the weather turned cold, they decided to leave them in place to see if they could withstand an upstate New York winter. So far, the readers have continued to send information despite the cold, snow, and ice.
Jeffrey Wojtowicz, a research manager with the RPI project, says that the mobile RFID readers can help to monitor traffic as long as information is provided and analyzed in real time."If travel times are starting to increase, [authorities] will have to get that information out before the problem exists and get the driver to take an alternate path if that's what's needed," he says. "Storing archival data is good for some purposes, but in terms of relieving congestion, the data needs to be real time."
It's not hard to understand why the DOT would be eager to find a technology-based solution to the nation's road congestion problems. In the long run, using technology would be far cheaper than building new highways. But technology alone won't solve the problem, says Paul Manuel, vice president of sales and marketing at Mark IV IVHS, the company that manufactures the solar-powered readers used in the RPI project. "It's also a matter of public policy and user habits, and it takes champions and people willing to take a risk," he says. "Technology is great, but it can only do so much on its own."