Highway Crowdsourcing

STIC Incentive Grant Award: Crowdsourcing Traffic Data to Optimize Roadway Monitoring

The Federal Highway Administration recently awarded the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) a $55,000 State Transportation Improvement Council (STIC) incentive grant for the purpose of piloting a crowdsourced data platform to improve roadway monitoring operations.

NJDOT operates two Mobility Operations Centers that monitor conditions on more than 7,500 lane miles throughout the state. In 2017, a New Jersey Institute of Technology study found that the centers were only aware of 6.5 percent of crashes when compared with statewide records from the same time period. NJDOT plans to use this STIC grant to test software that could dramatically improve monitoring performance.

Slide image of a computer depicting a map with vehicles on it, text above it reads: Waycare is a cloud-based platform that provides AI solutions for proactive traffic management. To the left text reads: Automated Incident Detection, Crash Prediction and Forecasting, Irregular Congestion Detection, and Collaborative Tools for Faster Response
The Waycare Platform

The “Enhanced Crowdsourcing for Operations in New Jersey” pilot will fund a test of the Waycare traffic management platform, software that aggregates data points and uses Artificial Intelligence for predictive traffic monitoring. The $55,000 grant from the FHWA will finance the implementation of this technology for a limited section of roadway, and help NJDOT analyze whether the cloud-based data-aggregation platform can significantly assist the agency with predictive and real-time traffic monitoring.

Several states across the country, including California, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina, have successfully deployed the Waycare platform. Waycare takes data such as information about hazardous weather or sudden braking from a variety of sources (Waze, INRIX, Ticketmaster, etc.), aggregates them, and uses artificial intelligence to predict where accidents and congestion are occurring. This granular-level driving data would be sourced from around 1 in 10 vehicles in the state—information which could then be passed on to NJDOT’s Mobility Operations Centers. The platform’s collaborative, shared dashboard would also enable monitoring in the field, and potentially speed up the dispatching of emergency and maintenance vehicles. The promise of the technology is to comprehensively revamp how NJDOT monitors traffic operations, transitioning from a few, human-monitored data points to many, aggregated and prioritized by AI.

Slide reading: Platform ingests data from a vast amount of sources to provide highly accurate insights and predictions. Below this text, there are logos of companies, such as Volvo, Waze, iCone, Siemens, and Ticketmaster.
Data sources used by Waycare

NJDOT applied for funding from the FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) program, which is currently in its sixth round and known as EDC-6. The program provides grants for projects that champion underutilized innovations and promise quick delivery times, and has highlighted Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations as a key theme for this two-year grant cycle. Once funds are disbursed, the NJDOT Crowdsourcing pilot could begin operations in as little as six months.

Through the program, NJDOT will monitor the performance of the Waycare platform with regards to how it affects roadway monitoring and incident response times, as well as the efficacy of the crowdsourced data when compared to the existing statewide crash records. The overall goal for this two-year project is to find new, more comprehensive means of monitoring traffic for New Jersey.

Sal Cowan, Senior Director of Transportation Mobility in NJDOT’s Transportation and Operation Systems and Support Unit, presented this at the NJ STIC Spring 2021 meeting. The full presentation can be viewed here.

Final Report Released for the Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Distributing Road Service Safety Messages from Safety Service Patrols

NJDOT’s top priority is to improve highway safety. To support this goal, in September 2018, New Jersey began a pilot study of the effectiveness of using connected vehicle technology to alert the motoring public to the presence of safety service patrol (SSP) workers at incident sites.  With the support of the NJ State Innovation Council (NJ STIC) and a STIC Incentive Funding grant of $39,600 awarded by FHWA, NJDOT piloted the use of Beacon Hazard Lights technology on 32 safety service vehicles to alert drivers to the presence of workers via the mobile navigation app Waze. The device, which is produced by iCone, uses GPS location and wireless communication technology to transmit the location of the SSP vehicles to the iCone Data Server in the cloud where it can be picked up by Waze. Together with the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s (NJIT) ITS Resource Center, NJDOT published a final report of their findings from the pilot project in December 2019, available here.

The SSP location and message shown on the Waze.com website. Photo Source: Cowan et al., 2019.

The primary goal of the study was to test the feasibility of the iCone technology on SSP vehicles by analyzing the time elapsed between device activation and Waze notification, to examine the Verizon 4G cellular network strength for potential coverage loss that could result in service disruption in communication, and to analyze the effectiveness of the equipment through several testing means. The methods of evaluation to complete these objectives were field and remote testing of the technology and documentation of the equipment installation and repairs. Field testing was conducted from January to October 2019 by activating the iCone-enabled SSP truck hazard lights and Dynamic Message Board (DMS) at 2-mile intervals along the entire 280-mile SSP coverage area. An analyst conducted remote testing through monitoring of the iCone and Waze web-based interfaces.

The results of field testing showed that, on average, communication with Waze was successful 76 percent of the time, 20 percent of the time the device communicated with the iCone Data Server but not Waze, and the remaining 4 percent of the time the device did not transmit its location to the iCone Data Server or Waze. The average time elapsed from the iCone device activation to its appearance in Waze was 2 minutes and 41 seconds. On two days of testing along the SSP coverage area, there was no communication between the iCone device and iCone Data Server or Waze.

In addition to field testing, analysts conducted remote testing of 85 active instances of the iCone device by observing the iCone and Waze web portals. In 59 percent of these 85 instances, the active iCone device was detected in Waze, with 29 percent of these successful detections showing the exact timestamp in both Waze and iCone. These results were shared with Waze so that the company could address the issues related to missing and delayed data transmission. For equipment evaluation, results showed that by April 2019, 12 of the units had technical problems that were attributed to the winter weather conditions in New Jersey including snow, road salt, and extreme cold. The iCone engineering team was responsive to the issues and re-evaluated the device design so that replaced units could withstand the weather conditions. A prototype of the newly-designed replacement devices was delivered to NJDOT in December 2019 and has been installed in five of the vehicles.

The installation of the device on an SSP vehicle by an iCone technician. Photo Source: Cowan et al., 2019.

The researchers believe that this technology evaluation pilot project was the first of any state DOT to seek to inform the public of SSP patrol vehicle locations with the sole objective of increasing safety.  The pilot project provided valuable analysis and lessons learned to inform next steps for NJDOT. Testing and analysis of installed devices and their replacements will continue until the end of the product warranty period on September 1, 2021. Additionally, researchers recommended further investigation of the disruptions and delays in the communication path from the iCone device to Waze.  Additional coordination with each technical partner during the steps of the testing process could help to identify the cause of service disruptions.

During the study, NJIT and iCone were unable to obtain Waze data showing how many people clicked the “thumbs up” to the message on the app. Future analysis should investigate how to gather reactions of the motoring public to Waze notifications. The researchers recommended exploring partnerships with crowdsourcing GPS navigation providers to further learn how drivers are reacting, which should include a data transfer process and strategies for reducing latency between iCone data server and Waze.

The Final Report contains additional information on the purpose of the research, the role of various stakeholder organizations in the research, a description of the technology devices and tools procured and used in the research, and the evaluation results.  The Final Report was submitted to the FHWA and is available to review here.

Featured Image Source: NJDOT, 2019.

New Jersey Pilots Connected Vehicles Program to Protect Safety Service Patrol Staff

NJDOT safety service patrol vehicle. Source: NJDOT

Each day New Jersey’s safety service patrol (SSP) workers put their own safety at risk to assist motorists in need and to assist other first responders. In addition to warning other motorists about recent traffic incidents, they remove disabled vehicles, provide gasoline, and perform vehicle repairs. Safety service patrol workers use temporary signage, traffic cones, flares, and portable variable message signs (PVMS), existing overhead message signs, the NJ511 phone and website systems as well as the SafeTrip application to warn motorists about their presence.

Unfortunately, collisions involving safety service patrol workers still occur. Cars often travel at excessive speeds near staff who work on the scene of such collisions. In 2015, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports that a work zone crash occurred once every 5.4 minutes in the United States. The impact of crashes can be catastrophic. Every day 70 work zone crashes occurred that resulted in at least one injury, while every week 12 work zone crashes occurred that resulted in at least one fatality. The NJDOT’s continued efforts to reduce work zone fatalities since the 1990s has resulted in one of the lowest rates in the nation. Despite this, at least one service worker has died in a New Jersey work zone each year since 2007. In 2016 seven fatal crashes occurred in New Jersey work zones, including the death of one service worker.

The automobile manufacturing industry is in the technology development phase of putting connected and automated systems fully in place.  Once deployed, first responders and/or their response vehicles would be detected by these systems to prevent crashes resulting from oncoming traffic.  Until those systems are deployed, the most used applications to alert motorists to roadside incidents, stopped police vehicles and other types of hazards is by Google, Waze, or HERE.

To help ensure the safety of service patrol staff, NJDOT has initiated a pilot study that will examine the effectiveness of using connected vehicle technology to alert the motoring public to the presence of safety service workers at an incident site. Starting in September 2018 NJDOT will pilot the use of a Beacon Hazard Lights technology to alert drivers to the presence of workers when safety service vehicles turn on their hazard lights. The piloting of the technology has received the support of the NJ State Innovation Council and a State Innovation Council Incentive Funding grant of $39,600 awarded by FHWA.  More information about the STIC Incentive Funding source can be found here.

According to Ross Scheckler, the managing partner of iCone, the product supplier for the hazard light technology to be piloted in the NJ study, the firm seeks to build technologies that will increase the availability of data about work zones to the traveling public.  Their tools alert drivers in real-time to the presence of workers, lane-closures and construction related back-ups by making them available on the cloud, where state traffic centers and navigations companies like HERE and Waze can pick them up.  A primary goal of the technology is to let drivers of vehicles know that the rescue truck or the flagger is in the road miles ahead so that the driver or the automation system can slow down and move over, or maybe choose a different route.

In the New Jersey pilot program, the iCone technology will transmit the location of worker vehicles within two minutes of the activation of a vehicle’s hazard lights. The location updates every 15 minutes and is re-transmitted if the vehicle moves more than 500 feet.

Data from 31 SSP vehicles will alert drivers via 511NJ as well as mapping & traffic apps

Thirty-one Safety Service Patrol (SSP) vehicles in Harding and Cherry Hill Yards will pilot iCone’s GPS technology to alert drivers using the 511NJ website and mapping, and traffic apps including Google Maps, Waze, and Here.  A Texas DOT study found that deploying iCone’s traffic beacons reduced crashes at a busy highway up to 45 percent (WorkZoneSafety.org). In addition, beacons deployed on roads resulted in crash cost reductions between $6,600 and $10,000 per night. Arlington is one of more than 450 partners including city, state and country government agencies, nonprofits and first responders to partner with the Waze Connected Citizen Partner program, a free data-share of publicly available traffic data, to deliver road and construction work information to cars.

Different states have used iCone’s technology in various ways, according to Mr. Sheckler. For example, Nevada has focused on relaying lane closures through iCone’s “Smart Arrow Board” modification product. Colorado on the other hand, has focused on the location of traffic cones around work zones through the ‘iPin’ product.  New Jersey’s initiative will examine the effectiveness of iCone’s technology on service patrol vehicles.

One benefit of the approach being tested is that the data appears to be comparatively low-cost and effective in reaching the traveling public through available traffic flow applications.  Mr. Scheckler, iCone’s product supplier representative, notes that most states can quickly accommodate to the data flow that the firm produces since the data feed is modeled off the Waze format.  “When states aren’t ready to integrate the data flow, the data still goes out to millions of cars through partners like Waze, HERE and Panasonic. This works so well that in states that haven’t started picking up the feed, we still have contractors using our equipment because they want their workers to show up in the car.”

iCone’s Vehicle Hazard Light Radio Adaptation GPS device. Source: iCone

In New Jersey, one of the program’s goals is to enhance awareness of the State’s Move Over Law enacted in 2009. The law requires a driver who sees an emergency safety vehicle to approach cautiously and, if possible, make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the emergency vehicle. Emergency safety vehicles include those operated by fire or police departments, ambulance services, tow trucks and highway maintenance or emergency service vehicles, many of which display flashing yellow, amber or red lights. Drivers must create an empty lane of traffic or prepare to stop, if possible, or face fines of no less than $100 and a much as $500.

NJDOT plans to evaluate the success of the program during Year 1 and determine interest and opportunities for collaboration with transportation agencies in other states and first responder organizations. NJDOT is part of TRANSCOM (XCM), a coalition of 16 transportation and public safety agencies that improves communication and technology by the use of traffic and transportation management systems and in partnership with technology companies. XCM currently provides NJDOT incident data to Google, Waze, and Here as well as the 511NJ web and phone platform, however SSP vehicle location data is not integrated into any of these programs.

Sources:

Cowan, S. (2018). Spring 2018 STIC presentation: Connected Vehicle — Road Service Safety Messages. Retrieved from: https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/CIA-Team.pdf

Hsieh, E. Y., Ullman, G. L., Pesti, G., & Brydia, R. E. (2017). Effectiveness of End-of-Queue Warning Systems and Portable Rumble Strips on Lane Closure Crashes. Journal of Transportation Engineering, Part A: Systems, 143(11), 04017053. Retrieved from:  https://ascelibrary.org/doi/abs/10.1061/JTEPBS.0000084

National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse. (c2016). 2016 New Jersey Work Zone Fatal Crashes and Fatalities. Retrieved from https://www.workzonesafety.org/crash-information/work-zone-fatal-crashes-fatalities/#new%20jersey

Ullman, G. L., Iragavarapu, V., & Brydia, R. E. (2016). Safety effects of portable end-of-queue warning system deployments at Texas work zones. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, (2555), 46-52. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3141/2555-06