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Intelligent Transport: Antidote for traffic snarls

18 October 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Intelligent Transport System (ITS), an advanced technology developed as software and camera systems is used to analyse the traffic behaviour patterns inside tunnels and on highways.

 The technology focuses on the use of cameras with video analytics or traffic management applications, in an attempt to enhance traffic management in the transport sector. Specialised in thermal camera technology, FLIR Systems is a US based company that promotes the ITS technology worldwide. Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Business Development Director of ITS Koen Soenens and the Project Manager of ITS Helmert Decavele shared their views regarding the use of ITS technology worldwide, with special emphasis on Sri Lanka, and how it could contribute to minimise traffic congestion, gather vital statistical data on transport and other benefits of ITS usage.

ITS technology is used in more than seventy countries including Sri Lanka. The three main domains of ITS technology include intersection control, where the behaviour and presence of vehicles and people in and around intersections are detected in order to create more dynamic intersection management. Secondly, it focuses on incident detection on highways and inside tunnels. The third main application is gathering traffic data, which is crucial for travel time calculation, statistical purposes and infrastructure details and to provide information to other road users concerning the conditions on the road.

Soenens noted that in terms of ITS usage in Sri Lanka, ITS technologies were applied for public transportation in Sri Lanka Railways two years ago.

In a recent meeting with the Road Development Authority (RDA), FLIR has introduced this technology to the traffic operators. “It is about creating awareness of what this technology can do in Sri Lanka. What we offer is actually only a small part of the total ITS developments. ITS heavily rely on the statistical information provided but there is a lot more to the list including smart cameras, sensors, valuable message signs, traffic control systems and all kinds of safety products that contribute towards traffic management. It is important to raise awareness among traffic operators concerning these aspects as it would immensely contribute to effective traffic management and better infrastructure facilities in future,” Soenens said.



ADOPTION IN SRI LANKA
As noted by Mr. Soenens, ITS technology is currently used in the railway, where the camera system is mounted on train engines. This has been installed specifically for trains, which travel to areas where elephant encounters are more frequent since the collisions between trains and elephants are high. Therefore providing the railways a vision enhancement system allows engine drivers to be informed in case there are elephants crossing the tracks. Mr. Soenens stated that this was a joint venture between Sri Lanka Railways and the Department of Wildlife, where FLIRs (Forward Looking Infra Red) plays a proactive role by providing them with the technology required to implement traffic management.

“ITS is an extra set of eyes for the engine drivers and by applying video analytics, a warning or signal is automatically sent to the operator alerting that there was an object ahead on the track.

“For instance, if there is an elephant on the track, an early alert would let the train driver take necessary actions to avoid a collision. This is only one example,” he said. “The second example is the smart cameras we have installed in Colombo 1, near zebra or pedestrian crossings. These cameras automatically detect pedestrians, who want to cross the road. This detection of those pedestrians will allow them to safely cross the road because there will be a “green man” signal giving them priority. “In order for the so called “green man” to know there is somebody waiting to cross the road, we need to detect those people first. We have installed smart cameras to provide this feature to pedestrians.

“This is part of the larger pedestrian safety approach implemented in the city of Colombo. Since one and a half years, there is some knowledge of this type of application in Colombo and obviously there is more room for improvement and new initiatives. “It is important to raise awareness among authorities and the public regarding these technologies since in the whole of Sri Lanka the road infrastructure is increasing which means there would be more traffic in future. This means that we have to control traffic in a more professional and effective way. This is why we consider ITS as the supporting tool for traffic management,” he added.

Commenting on the difference between GPS (Global Positioning System) and ITS, Project Manager of ITS Helmert Decavele said that a more advanced GPS system may direct a person to take an alternative route if the road he or she wishes to take is congested. “This information about the condition of the road comes from ITS and not from the GPS itself which is a map that shows only the directions. The continual information about the road condition comes from sensors and software systems that measure, what happens on the road network, which is done by applying ITS technology.

“We are working towards the concept of smart cities. Smart cities include smart traffic meaning that it would be less time consuming and would also give a boost to the country’s economy.

“If you take the definition of Intelligent Transport Systems, it is ninety percent related to the road traffic management. ITS applications in public transportation in Sri Lanka are more related to safety issues such as elephants train collision, people crossing the tracks and pavement safety. Although trains don’t run on schedule frequently they are better structured and more predictable because of the nature of the transport itself, compared to other modes of public transport,” Mr. Decavele said.



FUTURE OF ITS
The next step in ITS is to implement car to car communication and car to infrastructure communication. In place of a sensor alerting the traffic lights that someone needs to cross the road, this information will directly be conveyed to the driver via sensors. Overall, the infrastructure, the traffic lights and the sensors will communicate directly with the car user. While this could be described as infrastructure to vehicle communication it also works the other way round. There will be cars in the future that will alert the traffic lights of their arrival, which can be defined as vehicle to infrastructure communication.

“The cherry on the pie is when cars start communicating with each other and FLIR is currently working on this technology. Like in human communication, for the time being, all these cars are having different languages and we don’t understand what one car is saying to the other. First we need to get through some kind of standardised language system using ITS. We believe that this would be possible within the next ten years. “It is easy for a Government if everything stays the way it is since there won’t be any headaches for them. When new things are introduced to society, it makes people think and Governments sometimes tend to be conservative on such matters.

“However, this was not the case with Sri Lanka; we are confident that they would further investigate what our technology can bring them as added value and I am quite sure that by early next year or a couple of months later we might have pilot sights in some locations in Colombo or out of Colombo to implement ITS technologies,” Soenens said. In addition, he stated that in terms of volume and number of units, there was no other place in the world that had more ITS being deployed to the country as much as Singapore did. This is mainly because Singapore is geographically a small country with a relatively high population amounting to five and half million, and an increasing number of car users.

Since Singapore puts itself in the market as a logistics hub, mobility is very important for them on a daily basis. Singapore takes a great deal to increase traffic management by investing in camera systems and intelligent technology that provides information for the Government and road users via information signs, radio, telecommunication and the channel through which this data is provided to them is ITS.
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