It must be hard for Wai Cheung to drive a normal vehicle on normal roads knowing, as he does, what an incredible leap forward that cars and traffic control systems are so close to taking.
Wai is the City of Edmonton’s Transportation Services’ technical specialist in advanced traffic analysis, and he can see a future in which vehicles ‘talk’ both to one another and back and forth with roadway traffic control systems.
Wai and his colleagues are participating in a critically important North American program aimed at developing basic standards for an emerging applied technology called Connected Vehicle Technology (CVT). Other partners include the Universities of Alberta and BC and Transport Canada.
“We’re honoured to be the one of only two Canadian test sites, the other being at UBC, as this technology is developed,” he says. “There are eight other sites in the United States.”
He says the day is coming when small computer modules in every vehicle will communicate with each other to make sure that one vehicle can’t follow another too closely, or avoid a collision with another vehicle altogether.
“But that’s the simplest example of what CVT will do,” he says. “Vehicles will also communicate with traffic control systems, so the system can make fine-tuned, real-time adjustments to traffic signal patterns in order to speed traffic throughput.
“If an accident or construction slows traffic, the system will immediately ‘see’ the slowdown in the data being sent from vehicles. It will send a signal to the driver’s dashboard video screen, showing them a detour, guiding them with GPS and adjusting traffic lights along the detour route to speed them along,” he says.
And that’s not all. Among a limitless number of possible uses, CVT can determine if a vehicle will run a red signal and can hold the conflicting traffic back so that serious, right angle, high speed collisions can be avoided. Wai is in favour of red light running camera enforcement at those locations.
Installed in buses, the system could make sure an express bus gets green lights all along its route. It would even be technically possible – though not necessarily legal – to stop a driver fleeing police by freezing traffic with four-way red lights.
The U of A, with help from Wai and his Canadian partners and colleagues, as well as experts in the eight US test cities, is currently testing equipment necessary for all this two-way communication to occur.
A DVD player-sized box goes in the vehicle, and a slightly larger sending-receiving unit will be mounted to street poles and wired into the municipal traffic control system. When the equipment is installed and ready for testing on portions of the Whitemud Freeway and 97th Street next year, the team’s goal will be to make sure that the ‘onboard’ equipment and the roadside equipment are communicating properly.
It’s so early in the project that Wai’s group hasn’t yet developed an application with which they will conduct their tests. “Some of our ideas are too complicated for this early stage…we’re still developing ideas,” he says.
“Our goal in this first (three-year) project phase is to develop and test common standards so that when CVT is installed in all vehicles, they can easily communicate with our transportation infrastructure and share information about the same things, using the same ‘language’.
“Once standards are in place, it’ll be up to transportation authorities to develop applications for various ways of using CVT.
“There’s no limit of what can be done…it remains to be seen where different jurisdictions take it,” he says.