Blog Report From ITS HQ: Caltrans is King, NYC Goes Wireless & Vehicles Talk to Everything


ITS America’s Best of ITS Awards

Monday saw ITSA’s Chairman of the Board Randell Iwasaki blush as he handed award after award to various projects involving Caltrans, his institutional home, at the Best of ITS Awards ceremony. Caltrans deserves a lot of credit. They’ve been busy testing, deploying and partnering on projects covering everything from using GPS enabled cell phones to monitor traffic, to VII implementations, and my personal favorite–adaptive signal controls.
Then there was Sensys Networks snagging an award for a deployment of their wireless vehicle detection technology with a grant from (you guessed it) Caltrans. I believe the line was “installs in 10 minutes, transmits for up to 10 years.” Pretty impressive stuff–battery powered, as accurate as loop detectors, and not affected by weather. Caltrans is deploying 5,106 of them in 800 locations.

Sensys Flush Mount Wireless Vehicle Detector

One of the most brilliant systems is a bit of simple elegance rarely seen in any infrastructure project. Instead of trying to change drivers’ behavior by charging them more to drive on the road they want, Caltrans District 4 deployed variable message signs on major routes around the San Francisco area that informed drivers of how current travel times on the road compared against the real time travel times of transit options. This tiny bit of information lead to a substantial increase in transit ridership. It seems almost silly in hindsight, but if a superior transit option exists and drivers know about it, they often will choose transit of their own free will. In this case they didn’t have to spend a single dollar on roads or transit, just a way to deliver compelling information to their target market.

VII (Vehicle Infrastructure Integration) is all the rage around here, and NYC has rolled out the microwave carpet. There is a functioning demo of the system both on a loop through Manhattan and on a nearby highway. The system talks with demo buses and features full integration with lights (alerting when the lights will change and if you are about to run one), congestion pricing and estimated trip times. It even estimates your carbon emissions.
There is a “Traffic Management Center of the Future” setup that does a great job of articulating where this is all going. Data reigns supreme in the world of ITS and pervasive technology for monitoring vehicles and communicating with infrastructure will open doors to things we can only scratch the surface of now.
Before the day closed (and I hit the bar), I tracked down a few of the people responsible for NYC’s new municipal wireless network NYCWiN. NYCWiN (pronounced nice-win) is a shining example of inter-agency communication and an impressive half a billion dollar 400 node project that provides wireless data services over 90 percent of the city for various agencies at speeds of up to 1Mb for each user. The system was designed, built and operated by Northrup Grumman in the 2.5Ghz space.
Aside from the justifiably questionable ideas they have to link in various big-brother VII systems and automatic license plate readers (presumably to catch everyone from parking ticket scofflaws to people with too many overdue library books), it’s stellar. It’s being used by around 20 agencies, notably first responders and DOT for traffic signal control.
The real benefit of the system comes from the fact that now all the agencies are standardized, not building their own systems and the incremental cost of adding new technology is (relatively speaking) dirt cheap. If you want to add a gunshot detection system, or a germ detection system there is no need to develop a new communication system, just add it to the network.

Matthew Scholz

Matt is Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Oisín Bio. A serial entrepreneur with a background in computer security and immunology, Matt is also the founder and CEO of Immusoft, a biotech firm developing a breakthrough technology that will turn a patient's B cells into miniature drug factories. Matthew speaks and presents regularly to university, association and scientific audiences, including those at his alma mater, the University of Washington. He served for several years as a mentor to recipients of the Thiel Fellowship, a program that awarded grants to some of the world’s brightest scientific minds under age 20.