ITS in Australia needs to adopt Open Standards Protocols for Road Side Devices

18 04 2013

Australia has been a bastion of innovation and creativeness in many fields of endevour including medicine, aircraft technology and ITS to mention but a few. Australia is such a remote continent that means we have the create a solution when we are presented with a problem to solve and Australians have always stepped up to such challenges.

ITS in Australia has been witness to the fervent development of many such systems, SCATS, VMS Signs, weather stations and many others, resulting in much engineering and development that has seen the travelling public being well served by these systems.

Now however, the game is changing and the world is a much more cosmopolitan place, and Australian Roads Authorities need to look at ITS solutions locally but also further abroad. Since the convergence of telephony and internet technology, we have all seen a convergence that means ITS is no longer a niche and specialist area when designing new systems.

Now, many ITS systems overseas have moved away from proprietary protocols to more open standards based protocols such as TCP/IP and now Cooperative ITS protocols and the pace of development of these systems is “aided” by the very foundation of the protocol being available to everyone.

Australian state road authorities have encouraged local industry to participate in supplying solutions, however, these often have a narrow focus on that state’s need or just the australian territory. Such solutions unfortunately these days do not meet the sophistcation and functionality because they are bespoke and highly custom solutions. This means they are limited to few suppliers, cost more and generally represent less value for money when compared to products based on open standards protocols.

Such an example is the European “ecall” standard and this has been mandated in all passenger vehicles sold in Europe as of 2014. This standard provide the ability of a car calling emergency services in the event of a major accident, a very useful function especially in severe or fatal car accidents that may occur. Also, the organisation has standardised a protocol known as TPEG for the dissemination of traveller and travel time information to the public via any media including Internet, Radio, Smartphones, Variable or Dynamic Message Signs and airports or sea ports. This means equipment can be sourced by multiple suppliers which means better and more economical products available on the market and one protocol means we don’t expend effort at “re-inventing” the wheel each time we want to solve a new ITS problem.

Even traffic control systems are being encouraged to do so and the POSSE ( effort in Europe is attempting to move authorities away from using bespoke systems that limit the ability to innovate and progress the state of the art in traffic management systems.

The pace at which information is disseminated across the world means Australia can no longer afford to ignore development overseas to adopt systems that have an application in Australian ITS applications and the benefits of adopting such standards have been documented many times and not just in ITS, as this link confirms

What does it mean to Australian ITS? It means that we can finally rationalise the number of small, disparate and not well integrated protocols into a more cohesive and consistent set of roadside devices that all speak a common protocol that can cater for a VMS sign or an Ice Warning Station and can be better integrated with the traffic control system they are a part of as opposed to being driven by their own bespoke systems.

These challenges present opportunities for all ITS industry players and Australian firms have always been up to meeting these challenges and confirm that Australian ITS is at the forefront of world developments in this field.

Road Traffic Control in Asia

13 03 2012

A recent visit to a major city in Asia revealed an ever demanding road using public wanting to avoid traffic congestion and looking to new technology to implement time efficient solutions such as the SCATSĀ® Urban Traffic Control system. Here is a city of some 8 million people choking with peak period traffic morning and night.

This city also has the twin evils of long intersection cycle times and count down timers.

Both these attributes seem to contribute to an aggressive driver behaviour as they can “see” how long is left and “go for it” in an effort to avoid another “LONG” cycle to wait.

I observed drivers say on approach “A” literally use up their alloted time of some 220 seconds and then when the count down timer expired, traffic on approach “A” did not stop, they simply kept streaming through, at close spacing so as to keep blocking approach “B” who by now clearly had a “green” signal to proceed.

Followed by much verbal and aural abuse by way of honking horns, many approach “B” road users were about to crash into the tail of the “out of time” approach “A” road users. Add to this also pedestrians who want to follow approach “B” in crossing the intersection “waiting” for the tail “A” cars to clear the intersection to complete their walk.

It is this authors belief that count down timers and long cycle times are the twin evils of traffic control as they seem to ellicit a behaviour of intollerance to the traffic signals and abuse of the count down timer as presence in the intersection constitutes “ownership” of that crossing.

Using such adaptive traffic control systems such as SCATSĀ® and adaptive Traffic Signal Controllers such as the ATSC4 – SCATS compliant Controllers can alleviate this problem automatically without manual intervention.

In many countries where SCATS is used in conjunction with the ATSC4 Controller or SID device in conjunction with the local supplier’s controller can yield better traffic management results and avoid this driver behaviour and adapting with the local changing conditions.

Err, Car? Bike? Tram? Uhmm, Who goes first

27 01 2012

An irreverant start to the new year with a classic set of road traffic signals in the city of Melbourne Australia. Needless to say this would cause most people to look twice before moving ….

Car? Bike? Tram? Who goes first?


Can Urban Roads Cope with Cyclists too?

29 07 2011

Cycleways. Can cities make space?

I recently was asked to review the configuration of video detection camers on a cycle way at a very busy intersection in the Sydney central business district.

The reason for this was so that the video detection hardware would detect most if not all cyclists and essentially be treated the same a motorist would be making the Traffic Signal Controller give the cycle way its own green light. This is in the form of a pedestrian light fitted with the symbol of a bicycle.

Great idea! A great way to acknowledge the growing popularity of pedal power, but an annoyance to motorists.

The equipment supplied did a great job of detecting those cyclists that followed the rules, and the Traficon cameras provided by ATC Pty Ltd do a great job at detecting them.

The ultimate aim is so that the video detectors can “signal” to the intersection controller that someone is there and wants to cross the intersection. The intersection controller’s job is to “acknowledge” that by allowing a certain amount of “green” time to the cyclist to do so, and not if there is no one “wanting” to cross the intersection.

However, what I noted was that the cycle ways were well patronaged but not to the point of huge popularity. The Sydney Morning Herald was reporting cycle ways are becoming more popular recently.

What I also noted was some cyclists did their best to defeat the detection technology as they stopped “beyond” the cycle way stop bar so that in effect the video detector could not see the “cyclist”.

The result of that could in fact be that the cyclist sits their not knowing they’re being ignored and in frustration crossing illegally when no one is in sight and against the signals or they become frustrated and still move against the signals even though the cycle way is painted green and has well marked “stop bars”.

Having observed the intersection for around a number of hours it appears those who follow the rules outnumber those who don’t by a large margin.

This means that cycle ways that become part of the road network can be integrated without causing huge disruption to motorists.

So the question goes, can busy, congested urban roads cope with cycle ways?

Based on the short observations of the author it “appears” they work well, pedestrians and motorists seem to allow them their time and space at the intersection and if more people take up cycling, it may be a way to reduce congestion of vehicular traffic.

Lets see if governments recognise this as a form of behaviour to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint and congestion in heavily used urban areas.

Road traffic management in the USA

2 06 2011

As someone who lives in Sydney, with 4 million people, hundreds of thousands of cars and not too many freeways compared to our american friends, having the chance to drive in Arizona allowed me to make some observations about how good our SCATS Urban Traffic Control (UTC) System is.

Firstly, it is evident that they have a lot more infrastructure that carries a lot of road traffic in and around urban areas along with vehicles that are not seen much in the rest of the world the so-called “trucks” and “SUVs”.

I had the opportunity to experience driving in urban areas and noted how much time was “wasted” waiting for pedestrians that weren’t there to cross. Why I asked? Because, not having the capability to let a pedestrian “notify” a Traffic Signal Controller that a person(s) is waiting to cross means “introducing” a pedestrian crossing phase whether someone is there or not.

This is something that hasn’t been seen in Australian intersection for many years.

In addition, the same concept applies to cars for example on a small side street waiting to get on a major arterial road, but failing to be able to “notify” its presence to the Traffic Signal Controller by means such as an inductive loop in the road surface or a video camera detector.

Again, the poor motorist on the side street has to wait until his “turn” comes up to cross the road. More wasted time.

This also impacts the motorist on the major arterial road who has had to stop because instead of switching the green phase on the major arterial as soon as there are no more side street vehicles, the major arterial road user has to wait the whole time allocated to the side street.

More wasted time.

Clearly, fixed plan time systems are inefficient and therefore will accumulate traffic in quasi peak times all the way through peak times.

It is then that one can see the efficiency of using an adaptive urban traffic control system such as SCATS to trim the wasted time at intersections I have just described and allow road users to keep moving as much as possible – getting rid of a bank up of road traffic.

Every cycle of a fixed time plan means building in fixed delay throughout the day.

There is a growing awareness that systems such as SCATS ensure that signalised road intersections run as efficiently as possible whilst trying to provide coordination in the direction of most traffic during peak periods.

It is the efficiency and shortness of each cycle that ultimately directs the most green on time to the direction that has the most traffic and leads to reduction in fuel consumption and shorter trip times.

These are things most people in Australia and New Zealand have been used to and benefited from the most.

It will be interesting to see if the roll out of systems such as SCATS can bring marked improvements in travel time even in America.

Chaos on the Roads due to power Blackout

24 08 2010

It is interesting to stop your daily routine and observe the pace at which people do business.
The broadband driven Internet supports ever higher volumes and transactions yearly than all the previous years combined. This implies a high reliance on continuous availability of that service.
The same concept applies to traffic authorities in most urbanized centers.
Motorists have come to rely on good signal coordination and supply of power that most take it for granted.
It is a well documented fact that governments have not been investing the large sums of money needed to keep the power supply in step with population growth and business demands.
Recently, Sydney in Australia has suffered a few major power disruptions in the Central Business District resulting in chaos on the roads, confusion among morning and evening commuters using the public transport system.

This type of disruption is both a major issue for law enforcement, agencies and public transport services.

What can be done to minimize the disruption to a modern metropolis?

In sydney’s case a public address system deployed to disseminate information to large volumes of people in the city was rendered useless due to the lack of a backup power source such as a pole mounted UPS.

In the case of road traffic, the traffic signal controllers (devices) were also blacked out causing chaos in the Central Business District of Sydney, Australia.

Total gridlock was the result of no power to the intersection signals, and it is this traffic engineers opinion that governments and local authorities could invest funds in providing the Traffic Signal Controllers of the most critical intersections with integrated UPS systems that can be monitored remotely by monitoring systems such as the Adaptive SCATS Urban Traffic Control systems.

This type of system would be capable of maintaining working signals and coordination between intersections during power outages of up to 4 hours depending on loads.

Such UPS based Controllers can also be power local Public Address systems as well.

The rational is that in first world countries most power outages are brief and generally less than 2 hours, so installing Traffic Signal Controllers with UPS such as the ECUPS or ICUPS units manufactured by ATC in Sydney, Australia for 50hz or 60hz based countries, 230vac or 110vac.

ECUPS – External Controller with UPS – two cabinet solution.

ICUPS – Integrated Controller with UPS – single cabinet solution.

Writing Personalities for Traffic Signal Controllers

10 08 2010
NGEN Traffic Signal Controller Personality Configurator

NGEN Traffic Signal Controller Personality Configuration Software

The traffic industry in Australia has had a long history of developing systems that have over time become more complex and feature rich.

The first traffic signal controllers were all based on relays and timers and cam driven mechanisms to control which traffic signals (lights) turned on at a given time.

Add to that, detection systems came into being, and the number of vehicles provided some statistical information that could be used to “detect” the presence of a vehicle and also a count of how many vehicle passed over a given detector.

Suddenly, the time a controller spent in a given phase could be altered based on all of those inputs (not forgetting the poor old pedestrian of course) and provide a more responsive system.

A typical situation would be a vehicle waiting on a side street waiting to get onto a major arterial road at night. Depending on when the vehicle got to the intersection they could wait a long time before the controller would allow the side street vehicle to move.

With vehicle detectors, the controller is now aware of the waiting vehicle on the side street and if the major arterial road has light amount of traffic or none (because it is late at night) then it can shorten the phases on the major arterial road and give a green light to the side street vehicle.

These sorts of features have slowly been added to the configuration of a traffic signal controller.

When traffic signal controllers moved to the microprocessor age, such information was stored in a DIP packaged EPROM of several KB.

The latest version of the “PROM” as it is commonly referred to by traffic engineers and technicians has evolved to a PCMCIA or “Cardbus” card that is commonly found in laptops.

If you write personalities or wish to you will need some Cardbus Drivers to install on the windows platform before you can do so.

A program called NGEN and various predecessors of it are used to “create” or “generate” a file in an “sft” format – a motorola format. This file is loaded onto a PCMCIA card (Type I – single slot) and then inserted into the Traffic Signal Controller’s Cardbus slot.

Prior to “running” the personality, the creator of the personality can use a test Controller to see if it runs as designed or use an ATC “Workstation” which simulates the Signal loads (traffic lights), pedestrian inputs and vehicle detections and wait state outputs.

In either case, a traffic engineer will ALWAYS test the personality to ensure its phasing operation is in accordance with the intersection design it was intended for.

To accompany the actual configuration, the traffic engineer will always create a written file commonly called the “Operational Sheet” or more commonly known as the “OP-Sheet”.

This document contains text and phasing diagrams that show the expected movements of each phase as well as mapping all vehicle detector channels and pedestrian input channels.

These channels mapping need to be in accordance with how the site wiring for that equipment was installed.

The Traffic Signal Controller installer will use this OpSheet to connect all the field wiring present at the bottom of the pit to connect to the various items in a Traffic Signal Controller – Signals (lights), vehicle detectors, pedestrian push button inputs, wait outputs and communications link back to SCATS if this controller is part of adaptive coordination.

Each traffic authority generate their own OpSheet based on the information each needs to record to implement a Traffic Signal Controller.

For information on how to generate a “Personality” for a Traffic Signal Controller click on the Personality Generation Training Course for details.