A new app that sends warning messages to drivers as they approach work zones was featured on KARE 11 News on Thursday. The app was developed by U of M researchers in a project sponsored by MnDOT.
The story aired as part of KARE 11’s #eyesUP campaign to end distracted driving.
The app works by pairing with Bluetooth low-energy tags placed in work zones, triggering audio warnings in smartphones that are within their range. This allows drivers to get a warning message without having to look down at their phones—or at warning devices such as changeable message signs outside their vehicles.
University of Minnesota researchers at the Minnesota Traffic Observatory will work to improve the mobility of people and goods across the nation as part of the new Freight Mobility Research Institute, a Tier 1 University Transportation Center funded in 2016.
Led by Florida Atlantic University (FAU), the Institute will receive $1.4 million per year from the United States Department of Transportation for five years. A combined match from state and private-sector sources will bring the award to more than $10 million in total. In addition to FAU and the U of M, Institute members include the University of Florida, Portland State University, Hampton University, the University of Memphis, and Texas A&M University (College Station).
Imagine that you’re driving to work as usual when your smartphone announces, “Caution, you are approaching an active work zone.” You slow down and soon spot orange barrels and highway workers on the road shoulder. Thanks to a new app being developed by University of Minnesota researchers, this scenario is on its way to becoming reality.
“Drivers often rely on signs along the roadway to be cautious and slow down as they approach a work zone. However, most work-zone crashes are caused by drivers not paying attention,” says Chen-Fu Liao, senior systems engineer at the U’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory. “That’s why we are working to design and test an in-vehicle work-zone alert system that announces additional messages through the driver’s smartphone or the vehicle’s infotainment system.”
As part of the project, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Liao and his team investigated the use of inexpensive Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) tags to provide in-vehicle warning messages. The BLE tags were programmed to trigger spoken messages in smartphones within range of the tags, which were placed on construction barrels or lampposts ahead of a work zone.
U of M researchers have received funding from MnDOT’s Transportation Research Innovation Group and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board (LRRB) for 15 new projects beginning this summer.
Researchers will tackle a number of big transportation questions: How should our transportation agencies prepare for connected vehicle technology? Are unseen factors affecting safety at rural intersections? Can Twin Cities roadsides be used to grow habitat for endangered bumble bees?
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Innotronics LLC, a company launched by the U of M’s Venture Center based on scientific discoveries made by CTS Scholar Rajesh Rajamani, was named among the “Best University Startups 2016” in August by the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer.
Innotronics, based in Stillwater, MN, develops non-contacting position sensors for use in construction and agriculture vehicles, as well as in industrial material handling systems.
Rajamani conducted the original research behind this technology in a project funded by the U’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Institute, a federally funded University Transportation Center (UTC) at the U of M from 1991 to 2013. In that project, Rajamani led the development of magnetic sensing technology that could be used to predict imminent collisions in passenger vehicles. The ITS Institute was succeeded in 2013 by the U of M-led Roadway Safety Institute, the Region 5 UTC, where Rajamani continues to conduct safety-related research.
Researchers at the U of M’s HumanFIRST Laboratory recently tested how in-vehicle signing—perhaps presented on a smartphone or vehicle display—could alert drivers and modify their behavior. Led by principal investigator Nichole Morris, the project examined how drivers react to in-vehicle sign (IVS) systems designed to prepare them for transitions to new driving conditions such as speed zone changes, school zones, construction zones, and curves.
The project, sponsored by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board, arose from a previous MnDOT study that looked at the feasibility of using smartphones for implementing connected vehicle programs. One of the questions that came out of that study was whether road signage could be eliminated from the roadside and displayed in the vehicle instead. Doing so could save tax dollars related to sign installation and maintenance, improve landscapes, and make it easier to keep signage up-to-date.
Intelligent lane control signs (ILCS) are displays above lanes that warn drivers of incidents ahead. They’re becoming increasingly popular in high-crash areas of busy metropolitan areas as a way to reduce congestion and improve safety. Their effectiveness, however, depends on driver compliance.
In a recent project, U of M researchers set out to determine whether drivers are, in fact, heeding the messages displayed via these high-tech warning systems. To do so, they studied the effectiveness of ILCS messages during incidents in the high-crash area of westbound I-94 along the south edge of downtown Minneapolis.