In an effort to improve traffic flow, driver safety, and asset management, the Michigan Department of Transportation (DOT) has installed 17 sensors on a 50-mile stretch of one of the state’s busy Interstate highways. The “connected corridor” deployment will provide useful data for drivers of cars equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication technology.

A crew installs a signal radio at M-5 and 12 Mile Road. The installation began in February 2015. (Image Credit: Michigan Department of Transportation)

The sensors and cameras -- along Interstate Highway 96 and 696 -- are installed on power poles and stoplights, collecting information like vehicle location, speeds, position, and traffic light timing. Using Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) units, the information is transmitted from roadside devices, as well as sensors on connected cars passing by, and then transferred to a back-office system.

The DOT-developed administrative back office, housed on servers, analyzes the large amounts of data and then converts it to specific notifications that can be distributed to public entities such as traffic operation centers, maintenance facilities, and emergency responders. In addition, applicable information can be sent to drivers with V2I capability.

The system’s applications will determine the specific data elements to be sent back and supplied to the driver, making automated decisions based on established thresholds, according to Robert Morosi, Communications Specialist, Michigan Department of Transportation – Metro Region.

“Data analytics is where the power lies,” said Morosi.

One major reason for the highway’s sensor installation is to improve mobility. At traffic signals, the sensors are connected to the stoplight’s controller cabinet to determine signal timing. Equipped vehicles will then see a warning of a countdown for when the signal is going to change to red -- much like a pedestrian countdown signal at intersections.

“We can only add so many lanes and expand so much, not to mention the cost of doing that,” said Morosi. “We’re really looking to use this technology to help alleviate congestion, keep people moving, and get them home safe.”

The technology could also ultimately enable platooning, the efficient grouping of vehicles to make maximum use of the road. Communicating real-time conditions to platooning vehicles will allow safer interaction with other vehicles on the road, said Morosi.

The devices on the highway will suggest flow conditions to the platoon, including an average speed, based upon real-time roadway details: weather, congestion information, or the presence of a reduced-speed area or work zone.

Platooning uses adaptive cruise control in a series of vehicles to improve traffic flow stability and safely allow short headways. The cooperative technology enables mobility and fuel-efficiency benefits. (Image Credit: US Department of Transportation)

In addition to traffic flow monitoring, the system offers a more expedited manner of addressing infrastructure issues, according to both Morosi and Senior Project Manager for the Michigan Department of Transportation, Michelle Mueller.

If a driver travels down the freeway and hits a substantial pothole that rocks his or her vehicle, the sensor on the side of the road can detect the event. The information is then transferred to one of the Detroit operation centers so a crew can be sent out to fill the pothole.

“We can proactively manage our assets and our labor forces to be more on the reactive side,” said Mueller.

A roadside sensor can also send an alert to drivers that a mobile work crew is currently operating in a specific freeway lane. By potentially saving lives, the project is a natural extension of Michigan’s statewide “Toward Zero Deaths” safety campaign. The initiative, based on the National Strategy on Highway Safety, is designed to improve driver behavior and reduce fatalities on the road.

Avoiding the Roadblocks

Although the connected-corridor initiative aims to improve the lives of drivers, the deployment poses security challenges, specifically the need for a fast, secure communications band, said Morosi. Dedicated Short-Range Communications units and other communication technologies are uniquely suited for sensor applications because of their speed and low latency. An act of Congress is needed, however, to dedicate a certain bandwidth to be used solely for the vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, he said.

Morosi also understands that drivers will need to be assured of the privacy of the data being collected. “An automobile is personal to you. It’s your car. Privacy issues will need to be worked out: What types of data is going to be shared with the roadside, and with whom will it be shared,” he said.

The Department of Transportation says it is using industry-accepted security practices implemented within the system to minimize potential threats. The data will be supplied in an anonymous fashion that is not personally identifiable, according to Morosi and Mueller.

Another challenge for the Michigan office will be getting drivers to adopt the connected vehicle. Older autos will need to be fitted with aftermarket installations of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V)- and vehicle-to-infrastructure-enabling technologies.

The costs of implementing infrastructure across the country could also be too high for drivers and prevent use of the sensors. Mueller knows that drivers may not be able to afford new vehicles or may not want to put an aftermarket device on their car.

“Not everybody’s going to go out and buy a new vehicle off the line, but what we can do and what a lot of suppliers are doing right now is work on the aftermarket technology to enable these older vehicles,” Mueller said.

The Michigan DOT announced its “connected corridor” and its partnership with GM, Ford Motor Co., and the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center consortium, at the Detroit ITS World Congress in September of 2014.

Phase 1 of the connected corridor installation began immediately after the World Congress event; 17 sensors were installed on I-96’s state-owned roadside infrastructure and nearby signalized intersections off freeway interchanges. The first phase of the corridor covers a 50-mile section of Interstate 96 and Interstate 696.

Moving forward, the Department of Transportation will continue installations across the I-696 freeway. The team will also look to implement the devices in locations where there is a high volume of OEM- and supplier-enabled vehicles.

One of the most exciting possibilities of the sensor deployment, said Morosi and Mueller, is the improved safety for drivers. The radios along the roadway, for example, will provide signal phase and timing data to vehicles. The information, then processed by equipped vehicles, will notify the motorist of a potential red light violation.

By providing the driver with a warning to not proceed through the intersection, a collision could potentially be prevented. The technology, they think, will help drivers make well informed decisions.

“I can speak personally from having a daughter getting her driver’s license in a month. This technology will actually get your family home safely,” said Mueller. “That’s the message that we need to get the public to understand: How this technology affects them personally.”

This article was written by Billy Hurley, Associate Editor, NASA Tech Briefs. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.