Incorporating live traffic data into onboard navigation systems, such as ALK’s CoPilot Truck, shown above, is becoming a reality as many metro areas have intelligent transportation systems that gather real-time traffic data.
Although you may feel powerless to address it, you probably recognize that highway congestion is an enormous and growing problem for trucking operations. Slowdowns and gridlock sap your drivers’ productivity and asset utilization. Backups on expressways set the stage for one of the most dangerous and expensive types of accidents in trucking – the rear-end collision. And the sheer frustration of it all adds significantly to driver dissatisfaction.
At Burns Motor Freight, highway traffic is a driver retention concern. “The biggest problem I see today is congestion,” says Fred Burns, president of the Marlinton, W.Va.-based carrier. “Drivers really get concerned with the congestion, traffic problems and hassle they have on the highway. That is the working condition that I think makes it tough to get new drivers and retain them. We’ve had drivers leave after 30 days, and their complaint was that they couldn’t stand the traffic. It was getting on their nerves.”
Investing in highway construction and rehabilitation is increasing, but user demand almost always outpaces the supply of concrete and asphalt. Facing this reality, Congress decided more than 10 years ago to support the development of intelligent transportation systems (ITS).
Over the past decade, states like Utah have made great advances. Using more than 1,000 cameras and sensors positioned throughout the Salt Lake City metro area, Denny Simmons, supervisor of the Utah Department of Transportation Traffic Operations Center, can monitor traffic incidents and speeds on the freeways from his desk. No accident or congestion problem goes undetected.
A high-tech office used for surveying Utah’s major transportation routes, the center dispatches emergency assistance and reports incidents and tie-ups to commuters. In Utah and other states deploying ITS initiatives, drivers on the road or dispatchers in the office can access real-time traffic information through various means: the Internet, a 511 call, the radio and electronic traffic signs.
As states continue to deploy and expand the features of ITS, carriers and drivers benefit through improved traffic flow and better information to manage movements through congested cities. As real-time traffic information has become available in a digital format, vendors that provide routing, navigation and fleet management software are beginning to incorporate this data into their solutions. But will more information about traffic really make a difference in managing your drivers’ routes for safety and efficiency?
Traffic in real-time
Like several other states, Utah’s Department of Transportation maintains a website (www.commuterlink.utah.gov) that allows users to view live camera shots from any location, monitor the traffic speeds and congestion points and review current traffic alerts. Instead of linking to the website each time to get new traffic information, Simmons says that visitors can customize Commuter Link to automatically send e-mail alerts to pagers, cell phones or other wireless devices. Users may choose to tailor the system to notify the driver or dispatcher of traffic incidents only on a specific route at a certain time of day.
Due in part to significant federal funding in preparation for the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta also is a good example of what is possible. The website for Georgia’s Navigator system (www.georgia-navigator.com) provides real-time travel speeds and travel times between various points along the freeways through the Atlanta area. Navigator also allows users to tailor the information they want to receive through e-mail and pager alerts, including weather reports from stations around Georgia, says James Gordon, director of ITS for Georgia’s Department of Transportation.
While each state differs in the exact features and advancements of ITS, a common venue to access traffic information is America’s new travel information number, 511. The free service is being deployed around the country and will be available in 25 percent of the United States by the end of 2003, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
In addition to providing commuters with real-time traffic information, a primary goal of ITS is to prevent accidents and congestion problems through real-time feedback. Georgia’s Navigator system, for example, has crash prevention systems located at several of the sharp
Many states have high-tech operation centers where data collected from intelligent transportation systems is used to dispatch emergency assistance and report incidents and tie-ups to commuters in real time. Shown above, workers at the Utah Department of Transportation Traffic Operations Center survey Utah’s major transportation routes.
curves in the freeways in Atlanta. The system alerts drivers when it calculates that a moving vehicle has the possibility of rolling over based on speed, height and weight factors, Gordon says. If the computers calculate that a truck is at risk, a warning immediately flashes up on an electronic sign placed well in advance of the curve.
Many states also have advanced signal control systems to improve traffic flow and travel time on interstates and urban traffic with ramp metering. In Minnesota, for example, a recent study showed that when ramp meters were turned off, freeway volume decreased by 9 percent and travel times increased by 22 percent; speeds decreased by 7 percent; reliability of travel time dropped 91 percent; and crashes increased by 26 percent, according to FHWA.
A more efficient method – or so it may seem – of incorporating traffic data into fleet operations than dialing 511 or looking at a website is to directly feed traffic data into routing software and tracking and communication systems.
Some vendors have already begun to integrate real-time traffic data into fleet management applications. One of the largest providers of digital map data, Tele Atlas, now includes real-time traffic data geocoded on top of the street-level maps through its partnership with WestwoodOne, the world’s largest provider of traffic information. WestwoodOne broadcasts traffic information from hundreds of sources including public sector agencies and highway video cameras and its own aircraft to monitor traffic in major metropolitan areas.
When combined with an asset-tracking solution that pinpoints the location of the vehicle and driver on the map through a wireless link to the global positioning system (GPS) receiver in the vehicle, a software application can calculate time/distance matrices for different routes. The hardware a driver needs to operate a routing system that incorporates real-time traffic data can be as simple as using a GPS-equipped Nextel phone, says Robert Kaumm, president and CEO of Boston-based TransDecisions.
TransDecisions, a provider of logistics and transportation software solutions, has developed an application that uses Tele Atlas’ database to compute and compare travel times based on real-time traffic data.
“What the combination of the two technologies allows you to do is if you’re in an airport shuttle driving north of Los Angeles to drop someone off at LAX, and you’re starting to come down I-405, you wonder ‘should I hop off onto the Pacific Coast Highway?'” Kaumm says. “By bringing in real-time traffic data, and a time/distance matrix, you can factor in the real-time traffic that Tele Atlas is sending to us. The computer will tell you the time for each route, and you decide what to use.”
Rather than incorporate real-time traffic data into its routing/navigation software, Aqui (www.aquicentral.com), a Cupertino, Calif.-based company has taken a different approach. Aqui has developed a database of road conditions that includes truck and car accidents recorded by state Departments of Transportation, recorded by the time of day and weather. Aqui’s database can be used to predict where accidents are bound to happen, and help fleets and drivers route vehicles away from known accident areas, says Lana Batts, a member of Aqui’s board of directors.
Aqui’s system interfaces with a fleet’s dispatch software and mobile communications/tracking system to notify dispatchers and drivers in advance of where and when to avoid accidents, Batts says. Danger spots and areas to avoid will automatically flow to the truck when triggered by the location of the vehicle at points where the information makes sense – as he is approaching a problem area.
In running the simulations, Batts says that if carriers use the database, 30 percent of all accidents in the industry could be reduced. To verify these preliminary studies, Aqui is in the process of forming a consortium of trucking companies to run 20 billion annual miles using the database as described above.
Potential for more
At this point in the development of advanced navigation and routing software, even the most technologically advanced fleets have not incorporated real-time traffic data to compute arrival times or re-route drivers, say representatives of FedEx, Roadway Express and Contract Freighters Inc.
One of the drawbacks of integrating real-time traffic data into commercial routing and navigation systems is the lack of data consistency in different areas of the country, says David Marsh, director of product development for RandMcNally. Even if the data were
Wireless devices such as this weigh station bypass reader are central to the CVISN program.
consistent, fleets would not want to recalculate driver routes based on real-time traffic conditions, he says. On the contrary, Marsh says that the best use of traffic data in routing and navigation solutions is to send an alert to the driver that one of his five favorite ways into a city has a problem, and leave it up to the individual to determine the best alternate route.
RandMcNally currently maintains a road construction database that is updated every two weeks and tied to its mapping and routing products through the Internet, Marsh says. “For construction purposes, it’s a little different. It is somewhat real time, but construction does not come and go in an hour.”
Despite the present shortcomings of real-time traffic data, ALK’s CoPilot Truck, an in-vehicle GPS navigation and route guidance technology, is already “live-enabled,” says Garry Dryer, chief executive officer of ALK. Wireless links are built into the routing engine and database (PC Miler), enabling information to transmit back and forth between a server in a trucking company’s office, a data center with traffic information, and the computer in the vehicle.
“We have implemented this in anticipation that good traffic and weather data is coming in the future,” Dryer says. ALK is currently working with Tele Atlas and WestwoodOne to implement this functionality in a pilot program in Minnesota, Dryer says.
In the long-term, Dryer says that instead of gathering traffic information from public agencies, which is mostly text- or speech-based, he anticipates collecting traffic speeds from the thousands of vehicles that already have GPS and wireless communications. The vehicles could report, in real time, their speeds in a digital form to a central database through cellular or satellite links. In other words, each vehicle could be a traffic probe.
“In the future, if we could get thousands of vehicles reporting speed vectors, and a computer doing the number crunching, they could create a positive feedback loop,” Dryer says. The real question, though, is who will pay to create and manage a central repository of traffic speed information? The government has shown no interest in it, Dryer says, and, therefore, it will most likely need to be a private enterprise with truckers willing to pay to use it.
Despite the present challenges of incorporating real-time traffic data into existing vehicle routing and management software, the market for in-cab navigation devices will continue to grow significantly for consumer and commercial users, Marsh says, as the price of hardware fitted with a GPS device continues to drop.
“Storage will always be cheaper than bandwidth,” Marsh says. An entire U.S., street-level map can fit on a gigabyte card that costs less than $100. To include traffic data, you will just pay for the monthly cost of a data plan. “What you’ll see is that the base map data remains on storage locally, is time sensitive, and traffic data is wirelessly transmitted as an overlay to these devices.”
If you dispatch vehicles in one metro area or even regionally, using the real-time traffic information provided by a state’s transportation department can be a useful supplement to the mobile communications and tracking systems you may already use on a daily basis to monitor your fleet. Traffic congestion and delays will always be a problem, but ITS is making a measurable difference in managing the growing number of commuters with little room left to expand the infrastructure.
The vision of CVISN
FMCSA plays a role in intelligent transportation
Imagine a wireless network that monitors compliance on a real-time basis. A driver who chooses to keep driving after failing a roadside inspection in Utah, for example, would be signaled to pull over at a Colorado inspection station. With safety and compliance information collected in a national database, a safety checkpoint would detect the driver as he is moving through an identification signal from a transponder in his truck.
Information passing from moving vehicles to roadside checkpoints and between government agencies and commercial operations is now a reality in most states through a program called the Commercial Vehicle Information System and Networks. CVISN is a design or blueprint of systems and networks to support three core capabilities: the electronic exchange of safety information; fixed or mobile safety screening sites; and electronic credentialing, says Jeff Secrist, CVISN’s program manager at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Exchanging safety information between states is already possible with the SAFER database (www.safersys.org), maintained by the FMCSA. States can receive proactive updates of carrier, vehicle and driver safety and credentials information. Carriers that qualify to participate in electronic pre-clearance systems such as PrePass and Norpass, can use a truck-mounted transponder to bypass weigh stations and checkpoints based on their ratings in the SAFER system. The benefits of weigh station bypass go beyond more efficient safety inspections. It keeps trucks moving, reducing delays and, when truck traffic is heavy, potentially dangerous backups on interstate highways. (For more on electronic pre-clearance, see “Weighing bypass,” CCJ, February 2002.)
But CVISN isn’t just an over-the-road initiative to make it easier for authorities to catch violators and for carriers with clean records to bypass safety checkpoints. Carriers should see benefits in paperwork reduction as CVISN addresses a wide range of information management. Imagine, for example, electronic filing of all the legal paperwork now required for interstate commerce – applications, processing, fee collections, issuance of state agreements, fuel-tax filing and auditing.
All 50 states have gone through the planning process to implement CVISN’s core capabilities, but currently only 26 states have deployed most aspects of CVISN. Six states have completed it entirely, Secrist says. Mostly due to a lack of funding, most states have not been able to deploy systems for electronic credentials such as international registration plan (IRP) and the international fuel tax agreement (IFTA) as timely as the other capabilities, Secrist says.
For more information on CVISN, visit www.jhuapl.edu/cvisn.
Beyond Citizen’s Band
Telematics automate vehicle-to-vehicle communication
In addition to the continued development of intelligent transportation systems to improve safety and traffic flow, governments at all levels have formed a partnership with the motor vehicle industry and its suppliers called the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI) to help take ITS technologies into the cabs of trucks.
Expanding the cell coverage along the highway infrastructure will be a big step for truckers and other motorists toward a safer highway, says Dan Farmer, program director of Kenworth Truck Company’s Advanced Vehicle Programs.
“The powerful function of telematics is to transfer information vehicle to vehicle,” Farmer says. “The truck industry has had vehicle-to-vehicle safety communications for quite some time – the C.B. radio has provided valuable information for years. Loose loads, low tires, traffic conditions – C.B. radios have had the eyes of many on the problems of the highway. The problem with the C.B. is it requires driver attention, similarly tuned radios and only works in short distances.”
Kenworth is working with systems, for example, that can exchange route information – where vehicles are, how they got there, and speed and temperature information to predict safety issues, traffic and timing.
In the longer term, “swarm” technology will be used to provide outside information to the driver, Farmer says. Swarm technology allows fighter aircraft to use information across sets of planes to track multiple targets and aim missiles.
“In trucks you will most likely see speed information automatically transferred between trucks to help drivers anticipate speed changes.”
In addition to vehicle-to-vehicle communications, connecting the vehicle to a network – in other words, the use of telematics – can help fleets and drivers anticipate problems before they become a hazard.
Volvo Trucks developed a proprietary mobile communications system called Volvo Link that uses low-earth orbit satellites to connect the truck and the trucker with wherever the trucker or the fleet wants the truck to be connected, says Skip Yeakel, principal engineer of advanced engineering, Volvo Trucks North America Inc. The fleet can choose to automatically send messages to Volvo’s call center for quick dispatch of a repair vehicle for a breakdown emergency. If an airbag is deployed, a signal can be sent through the satellite directly back to a dispatcher, or be configured to first ask the driver the question: “Are you OK?” If the driver doesn’t answer, the system can automatically notify an ambulance, Yeakel says.
An ongoing strategy for the use of telematics is not just to transmit the diagnosis of a problem to a fleet manager, such as an engine breakdown, but also to predict problems that could develop into a hazard, such as low tire pressure. Using a tire pressure monitoring system and other sensors tied into the ECM database, a dispatcher could instruct the driver to pull into a Volvo dealership or truck stop and the service center would already know what parts and service the truck needs, Yeakel says.
“The prognostics aspect is the area to highlight with telematics. You can prognosticate and fix something before it becomes a problem. The fleet knows in advance and increases safety and efficiency to the end user.”