Driving Toward the Future of Intelligent Traffic

E. Anthony Incorvati

Despite going through these unprecedented times of social distancing and self-quarantine, we all have to believe that society will return to some level of normalcy. Before personal and commercial traffic came to an almost grinding halt, traffic was no doubt getting worse. And unfortunately I still foresee this happening in the future.

With more cars on the road in modern days than ever before, we’re seeing increased congestion, accidents and other roadside incidents.  With additional contributing factors such as urbanization, lower fuel costs, increases in population size and typical delays due to road maintenance activity, Traffic Management Centers (TMC) face a variety of challenges to effectively manage traffic in their districts.

As the hub of highway monitoring and operations, the TMC runs a 24 / 7 operation to provide oversight and to keep traffic moving and the roads clear. As you can imagine, being able to clearly see what’s happening at all times and immediately detect issues as they arise with real-time situational awareness is a true force multiplier.

Why is real-time situational awareness so important?

Collecting and managing data in real time helps TMCs quickly ascertain each traffic situation, especially those incidents or situations that deviate from the norm. While those might be short-term benefits, traffic data can strategically provide useful insights for the long term as well, which can be used when planning for road maintenance, developing new infrastructure and drafting additional traffic studies to name a few.

Of course, to take advantage of that data, TMCs need to be able to easily collect it in the first place.

How intelligent traffic solutions act as a force multiplier

The ever-growing issues of traffic is one that affects millions of people each day. However, there is a lot of innovation to counteract the impact of the usual traffic challenges, especially within the video surveillance area.

Today’s network video systems are incredibly robust and have the ability to easily integrate with different video and non-video devices, and more importantly, with other systems in themselves.  This ease of integration allows for useful information to be easily shared between fixed and mobile assets. In turn, this provides a more complete picture across multiple locations than any single device could accomplish by itself, hence making it a true force multiplier enabler.

TMCs need a quick, clear view of what’s happening around the clock.  This complete visibility can take place when network cameras are built on an open platform, enabling analytics and applications to reside and process video directly on those cameras. This eliminates the need to constantly stream video from every camera into the TMC, decreasing the cost of bandwidth, storage, and processing power compared to server-based applications.

With a smart network video solution, TMCs will quickly and automatically be alerted when there’s congestion, a stopped vehicle or someone driving in the wrong direction. By quickly obtaining the most pertinent information, operators can promptly act to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible.

Analytics really are the “brains” behind the TMC network in large part because they help combine multiple sources of data to create a more expansive, predictive view of how traffic is flowing, potential bottlenecks, and more. This is a huge plus not only for operators in traffic management but first responders, service and maintenance crews, and authorities to name a few.

Overcoming extreme conditions for optimal performance

Of course, there is also the question of how conditions can impact the performance of network video solutions. What if the weather is poor or it’s dark outside? What about the bright headlights when it’s dark outside? These are some of the main challenges TMCs have to overcome. And they all pose significant problems for TMCs that are not well-equipped with cameras that are built to overcome these issues. After all, TMCs need to be able to operate around the clock.

A key component of network video is its ability to deliver high quality video in the most difficult lighting conditions including continuously changing back and reflective light, and especially in very low light conditions. For instance, Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) can minimize the effects of blinding headlights and reflections caused by sunlight and wet pavements. And for situations where there is no light at all, thermal cameras can step in to create images based on a person’s or vehicle’s heat signature. In addition, network video is much better engineered today to withstand extreme weather.

Whether it’s dark outside or there’s low visibility caused by bad weather, high-quality network video can provide accurate and detailed images. Combining network video with traffic-specific applications and analytics, including AI and deep learning, ensures data generated by network video will be streamlined, and the most useful metadata will be provided to the TMC. Giving TMC’s more detailed information about drivers, objects, or even the causes of accidents can provide them with better ways to provide real-time detection, tracking, and response.

Establishing a surveillance system that uses some of these hot innovations can help turning any traffic monitoring from reactive to real-time and predictive.

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