CMU, Cranberry to team on traffic data, technology - CTTEC - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, March 31, 2011

CMU, Cranberry to team on traffic data, technology

There are magnetic sensors beneath the asphalt that can count the number of cars passing through a particular intersection. There are cameras that can show pictures of those same cars and whether they're in a streamlined progression or snarled by a disabled vehicle.

You'd think that between the sensors and the cameras, all these "smart" traffic management tools would be smart enough to make the traffic signal turn green at a side street to Route 19 when it becomes suddenly clogged with church traffic on Sunday morning.

Nope, not yet.

"[The traffic signals] don't have enough brains. It seems like they should, but they don't," said Duane McKee, Cranberry assistant township manager.

Change is on the horizon, though, and Cranberry's state-of-the-art traffic data collection systems will play a role.

Cranberry is entering into an agreement with Carnegie Mellon University to further the efforts of the Traffic21 project, a universitywide research initiative aimed at integrating technology into public transportation projects. The first project -- ParkPGH -- provides real-time information on space availability at parking garages in the Cultural District. The information may be accessed by iPhone application, a website for other mobile phones, a regular website, text message and telephone.

Stan Caldwell, associate director of Traffic21, said research now is being conducted into "adaptive signalization" and ways to better use traffic cameras. That's where Cranberry comes in.

The township's traffic data collection systems are among the most advanced in the region. "It's a good place for us to do research," Mr. Caldwell said. "It could be the perfect test bed."

The details of the agreement haven't yet been worked out, but both Mr. Caldwell and Mr. McKee see the potential for a fruitful partnership with Cranberry providing raw data and the township being the site for the testing of the technology that flows from that data.

The first meeting among the players was held March 16 in Cranberry. The discussion focused on ways of conveying Cranberry's video information and raw traffic data to CMU. The township has a new traffic operations center, based at the public works building off of Route 19, that uses sensors and cameras to evaluate traffic volumes and alert officials as to when there is a traffic "incident," such as a disabled vehicle or an accident.

While those data collection systems are considered state-of-the-art, the art is somewhat limited, Mr. McKee said.

"The limiting factor is that [the traffic management system] only has a limited number of traffic signal patterns to pick from" to respond to the data that it has collected, he said. Mr. McKee is hoping Cranberry will be a part of creating an "adaptive software" system that's intelligent enough to respond to real-time conditions and create a logical management solution based on the existing traffic circumstances: "It'll be as close to artificial intelligence as you can get."

"We have the newest stuff [in data collection], and they're working on the newest stuff in adaptive software," Mr. McKee said. "To play a role in that is exciting and holds a lot of potential benefit to Cranberry and the traveling public in general."


Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette