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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, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)
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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.
Southwest Minnesota has the highest average wind speeds in the state—bad news for MnDOT snowplow operators who often drive in low-visibility conditions to clear roads.
That’s why District 7 is piloting a snowplow driver-assist system (DAS) developed by U of M researchers to combat the blowing snow and fog that often cause zero visibility. The DAS helps snowplow operators see road alignments and features such as turn lanes, guardrails, and road markings.
The DAS was developed and refined over the past 20 years under multiple research projects funded by MnDOT and the USDOT’s University Transportation Center program. Professor Max Donath, director of the U’s Roadway Safety Institute, led the work.
With early warning about traffic delays ahead of them, highway drivers can adjust their speeds to keep traffic flowing smoothly and avoid dangerous sudden stops that often result in rear-end crashes. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Transportation has made the development of smart speed harmonization and queue warning systems that can provide these warnings a high priority.
As part of this national effort, researchers at the U of M’s Minnesota Traffic Observatory (MTO) are working to establish a testbed for developing and testing connected vehicle technologies and applications, including speed harmonization and queue warning, as part of a project funded by the Roadway Safety Institute.