Innovating Transportation

December 27, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Vehicles may soon be able to alert drivers to hazardous or congested situations ahead, and communications engineers like Paul Bustanji at URS Corp. are working to make it happen.

Bustanji, Communications Department Manager Jim Haskins and Technology Group Project Manager Mark Dylewski are working to bring innovations in the communications field, including Intelligent Transportation Systems, to Michigan.

Though there are systems used now to alert motorists of dangerous conditions such as the variable message signs found on U.S. 131, Bustanji said new technology called vehicle infrastructure integration (VII) would take it to the next level, allowing nodes in the road to transmit messages directly to the driver via a wireless system in the vehicle.

“Information is mainly revolved around incident management,” he said.

Bustanji said systems such as VII would help make travel easier in areas with heavy traffic and help cities with no room for expanding roads fit more cars on existing roadways.

“The design itself is aimed at trying to help the public as well as help the transportation systems adapt to the needs of the motorists,” Bustanji said. “The car will have some intelligence to communicate back and forth within the communication system.”

Haskins said the technology is out there, but many people don’t understand it. VII is comparable to the General Motors’ OnStar service, but with a constant connection. Haskins said this is an ability that most foreign cars already have and the Big Three auto manufacturers are working on. The system will most likely be standard equipment in a few years, he said.

“This is where everybody’s moving to,” Haskins said. “They’re all going to do this because this is a way to help move traffic, move people. We can move them in a safe and proper fashion.”

The system is a combination of wireless and hardwires that is able to track information on vehicles such as type, occupancy and speed, and then send it to the processing facility and back to the client or public. Wireless nodes on poles along the highway, about three for every mile, would communicate with the vehicle, Bustanji said.

“It will all be done without the motorist really doing anything,” he said.

Someday the technology could be used for wireless Internet access or for sending personalized commercials to the driver, Bustanji said, but for now it would be for improving the efficiency and safety of the roadway.

With many systems now independently monitoring the location of emergency vehicles, location of buses, traffic lights and construction devices, the goal is to find ways to bring the technology all together.

“There’s a huge amount of infrastructure and systems that need to be integrated and coordinated,” Haskins said.

The challenge with the system is meeting clients’ expectations and providing a capable network.

“It’s looking at, ‘How do you get information from point A to point B and get it in the time period that the service requires?’” Bustanji said.

Haskins said the ITS field is now where the building communications field, such as networking communication for schools and hospitals, was 10 to 15 years ago.

“In some areas they’ve been addressing this for five to seven years, in other areas they’re just getting started on it,” he said.

Dylewski said the systems will be significant to the public in several ways.

“They begin to notify you of traffic blocks and events that occur that are scheduled and also things that occur of an accident-related nature,” he said.

The service would improve a traveler’s ability to deal with traffic congestion and problems by identifying trouble areas and allowing the driver to avoid them.

“One of the big pushes right now is to share more information with the public so as they travel they have better, more accurate information,” Dylewski said.    

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