Try This at Home: MoDOT’s Innovations Challenge

The sixth round of Every Day Counts (EDC-6) was kicked off with a Virtual Summit that introduced the innovations that FHWA would be promoting over the next 2 years. The Summit also featured a National State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) Network Showcase that highlighted some 245 innovations developed and deployed by agencies throughout the United States. This article is one in a series that takes a closer look at “homegrown innovations” implemented by state and local agencies to save lives, time, and money. 

During Innovations Challenge showcases, MoDOT employees are able to physically see potential new best practices and ask questions about them in a professional environment.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has promoted a culture of innovation through its Innovation Challenge contest, which showcases and proliferates improvements to MoDOT’s tools and processes annually. Spurred on by MoDOT’s commitments to performance management between 2004 and the present, and its expressed values that ”embrace new ways of doing work” (1), this competition enables employees at all levels of the Department to introduce innovations that generate measurable results and cost savings. Since its inception in 2007, the Innovation Challenge has given thousands of MoDOT employees the opportunity to share their office’s improvements to productivity, tools, and project processes with the wider agency.

MoDOT employees receive small cash rewards for the highest ranked innovations, in addition to formalized recognitions such as the Dixon People's Choice Award or the Directors’ Safety Award. Innovations are divided into three categories (2) to convey the nature of each potential improvement:

  • Tools and Equipment - Innovations to items that were fabricated or modified by MoDOT employees.
  • Project - Innovative project implementations that produce exceptional results for transportation users or internal operations.
  • Productivity - Improvements to office and field processes, materials, and product submissions.

After an Innovation Challenge showcase, subject matter experts evaluate the innovations to determine if they should be considered as best practices for MoDOT to adopt and promote. MoDOT has implemented over 300 showcased innovations to the level of best practices since 2007. The institutional benefit of rewarding innovation extends beyond the findings of the showcase itself; encouraging a culture of innovation through this event motivates MoDOT teams to consider how to improve their work throughout the rest of the year. Giving hundreds of employees the opportunity to learn from their co-workers in such a celebratory way also increases buy-in for new transportation technologies and methods. Additionally, MoDOT notes that providing a space for employees at all levels of the Department to share ideas “can result in employee retention and boost teamwork” (2).

Two recently showcased improvements at MoDOT’s Innovation challenge are a Camera Assisted Remote Sprayer (CARS) and a Signing Information System (SIS).

The Camera Assisted Remote Sprayer puts a greater distance between the vegetation control chemicals and the operator, making the task safer as well.

At a Southeastern District Innovation Challenge, a team from Qulin, Missouri displayed their development of CARS, a set of remotely adjustable vegetation control equipment that allows one driver to finish tasks that previously required two people. This reduction in required personnel was motivated by the need to reduce COVID-19 contact and presents efficiency benefits by cutting the required labor for the task in half. CARS is designed to be attachable (and detachable) to most flatbed trucks — meaning trucks can still be used for other tasks — and provides two cameras for the driver to remotely direct the dual nozzles and spray bar of the equipment. A video describing this Tools and Equipment innovation in further detail is available here.

The Central District submitted their SIS innovation to the 2022 Innovation Challenge Showcase for the Productivity category. The SIS keeps track of damaged signs across the district, and it records the date, caller, location, cause, and required repair type of the damage, among other information. Filtering row by row, SIS users can check the repair status of a particular road’s reports within a county. The physical repair status of signs is broken down into four recorded categories detailing progress for its dig rights, stub, post and the sign itself. The system is recorded in Excel, which makes it easy to edit, modify, and scale for other topics and jurisdictions. A video describing this Productivity innovation in further detail is available here.

The success of MoDOT’s Innovation Challenge illustrates the importance of leadership in the development of a culture of innovation within an agency. As previously noted, three of the Department’s stated values, “Be Bold,” “Be Better,” and “Be One Team,” encourage extra effort in evolving processes and products, even if it invites the potential for failure (see text box). By “empowering staff (particularly middle-management leaders), encouraging innovation, demanding measurable results and cost savings, and holding staff accountable for results” (3), MoDOT and its Innovation Challenge sustains an improvement-oriented mindset that is worth emulating. In the 2020 National STIC Showcase, FHWA recognized the Illinois Innovative Ideas Council, Illinois DOT’s annual innovation contest inspired by MoDOT’s, showing that this approach has potential outside of Missouri. Information on Illinois DOT’s sister initiative is available here (3).


Illinois DOT's "Innovative Ideas" Contest has recognized and promoted innovations such as a Mobile Plow Racking Emergency Stand System, Rotating Sign Holders, and an improved Payroll Calculator

Resources and References on MoDOT’s Innovation Challenge:

MoDOT Mission, Values and Tangible Results:  https://www.modot.org/mission-values-and-tangible-results
The MoDOT Innovation Challenge Homepage: https://www.modot.org/innovations-challenge
Innovations Showcase Homepage: https://www.modot.org/innovations-showcase-homepage
Southeast Missouri Innovation Contest: https://www.modot.org/seinnovationschallenge
Illinois DOT’s Innovative Ideas Contest: https://idot.illinois.gov/innovative-ideas

Further References:

(1) Caltrans Division of Research, Innovation and System Information. (2015, July 18). Fostering Innovation within State Departments of Transportation. https://dot.ca.gov/-/media/dot-media/programs/research-innovation-system-information/documents/preliminary-investigations/fostering-innovation-pi-2015-07-28-a11y.pdf
(2) MoDOT Innovation Explainer Page with Videos: https://www.modot.org/innovation
(3) Illinois Department of Transportation. (2022). Innovative Ideas Contest. https://idot.illinois.gov/innovative-ideas.

Examples of Promoted Innovations:

HERE Camera Assisted Remote Sprayer.  https://www.modot.org/se-innovations-camera-assisted-remote-sprayer
HERE Signing Information System. https://www.modot.org/signing-information-system

Try this at Home: Florida Safe & Accessible Pedestrian Facility Inventory Model

The sixth round of Every Day Counts (EDC-6) was kicked off with a Virtual Summit that introduced the innovations that FHWA would be promoting over the next 2 years. The summit also featured a National State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) Network Showcase that highlighted some 245 innovations developed and deployed by agencies throughout the United States. This article is one in a series that takes a closer look at “homegrown innovations” implemented by state and local agencies to save lives, time, and money. 

Highlighted by the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA)’s journal Innovator in its March/April 2018 issue, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) produced a systemic, digitized way for creating an inventory of pedestrian infrastructure (1). As a part of a State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) program, FDOT, in cooperation with the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, Florida International University, and the FHWA created a Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Facility Inventory Model (SAPFIM) (1). SAPFIM has been described as “a web-based application designed to collect, manage and report on pedestrian facilities along public roadways” (2) through cost-effective, real-time means.

The project received STIC incentive funding ($100,000) in 2015 to develop and deploy this GIS-based software tool (3), establishing a model that could be adapted and scaled for other local projects and transportation agencies.

As part of the STIC project, several agencies had an opportunity to test SAPFIM and provide feedback that the project team used to modify the software and user’s guide.

SAPFIM has four core functions in recording, managing, mapping, and generating reports on pedestrian. Source Dr. Fabian Cevallos, National Center for Transit Research.
SAPFIM has four core functions in recording, managing, mapping, and generating reports on pedestrian. Source Dr. Fabian Cevallos, National Center for Transit Research.
The general design of SAPFIM was broken by researcher into the image above; this particular division of functions could provide a conceptual basis for digital collection software on different topics as well. Source Dr. Fabian Cevallos, National Center for Transit Research.
The general design of SAPFIM was broken by researcher into the image above; this particular division of functions could provide a conceptual basis for digital collection software on different topics as well. Source Dr. Fabian Cevallos, National Center for Transit Research.

As an example, a fire hydrant obstructing the middle of a sidewalk might render a pathway inaccessible to wheelchair users. This obstruction in the sidewalk can be photographed and reported in SAPFIM resulting in its identification, labeling and geo-location. Such a tool allows local agencies to better track their pedestrian features while needing less time and resources. The technology also alerts planners and other officials to what pedestrian improvements, repairs, or even new constructions need priority in real-time. With updates being automatically incorporated in a wider database, information storage and retrieval is generally more complete yet simplified for users.

Obstructions to sidewalks and the location of critical pedestrian infrastructure, such as pushbuttons, away from pavement can signal spatial hostility to pedestrians. Right image courtesy of www.pedbikeimages.org; Dan Burden; left image courtesy of www.pedbikeimages.org, Laura Sandt.
Obstructions to sidewalks and the location of critical pedestrian infrastructure, such as pushbuttons, away from pavement can signal spatial hostility to pedestrians. Right image courtesy of www.pedbikeimages.org; Dan Burden; left image courtesy of www.pedbikeimages.org, Laura Sandt.

As highlighted in a presentation from one of its research team members, SAPFIM collects over 80 standard attributes (2), such as geographic and photographic references, to describe pedestrian infrastructure across the Sunshine State. Authorized users can use wireless devices (smartphones, laptop, tablets, etc.) to enter information on a pedestrian feature or update an existing one. By answering preset criteria tailored to three categories of features (sidewalks, curb ramps, and crossings), compliance with American Disability Act (ADA) accessibility statutes or general safe, comfortable pedestrian design could then be assessed and improved upon (2).

Teams collecting data for SAPFIM still physically measure sites before inputting the information digitally. This physical component could help experientially familiarize participating stakeholders with the wider built environment of their communities. Courtesy of Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Teams collecting data for SAPFIM still physically measure sites before inputting the information digitally. This physical component could help experientially familiarize participating stakeholders with the wider built environment of their communities. Courtesy of Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A similar program from Seminole County, Florida revamped the transcription and tracking processes of their ADA pedestrian ramp inspections into a digital, mobile application that utilized GIS technology (4). Ultimately winning the FHWA’s 2021 Building a Better Mousetrap Smart Transformation Award, the Seminole County ADA ramp tracker reduced inspection times of individual ramps from 1.5 hours to 5 minutes (4). It streamlined the entire tracking process of a feature from taking 3-4 days with pen and paper to reportedly a single day (4) by also eliminating a multi-hour step of transferring physical records to digital ones.

Build a Better Mousetrap recognizes local and state innovations in American transportation infrastructure processes and products. By winning an award from the project, Seminole County’s ADA accessible tracker now is more likely to be emulated and advance other digitalization efforts. Courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration.

It is unclear if the Seminole County’s trackers were built off of SAPFIM, but nonetheless the demonstrated utility of the County’s efforts validates the purpose of the FDOT project. Applying digital cataloging technology to the built-environment clearly suggests that the future of transportation maintenance will include enhanced digital record-keeping, including breaches to accessibility ordinances. Such technology continues to be re-tailored to maintenance of street lights, potholes, public bathroom accessibility, curb-cuts and other physical assets and their attributes. The equity and cost-saving gains of these homegrown innovations warrant further attention and deployment, particularly in ways that can respond creatively to rising pedestrian fatalities nationally and in New Jersey (5).


Resources

  1. Federal Highway Administration. (2018, March-April). Enhancing Pedestrian Safety in Florida. 11(65), 10. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/innovator/issue65/issue65.pdf
  2. Cevallos, Fabian. (Accessed 2022, August 2). SAPFIM: Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Facility Inventory Model. Florida Department of Transportation. https://fdotwww.blob.core.windows.net/sitefinity/docs/default-source/content/roadway/ada/sapfim-online.pdf?sfvrsn=228b87ca_0
  3. Federal Highway Administration. (2022, July 13). STIC Incentive Projects (FY 2014-2022). US Department of Transportation. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/stic/incentive_project/
  4. Federal Highway Administration. (2021). Smart Transformation Award. Build a Better Mousetrap. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/clas/pdfs/2021_mousetrap_entries_booklet.pdf
  5. Bascome, Erik. (2022, April 07). S. pedestrian fatalities spike by 17%, over 500 more deaths, in first half of 2021, data shows. Staten Island Advance. https://www.silive.com/news/2022/04/us-pedestrian-fatalities-spike-by-17-over-500-more-deaths-in-first-half-of-2021.html
  6. Cevallos, Fabian. (2020. June 1). Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Facility Inventory Model (SAPFIM): Development. National Center for Transit Research (NCTR), University of South Florida. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/323870213.pdf
  7. Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization. (Accessed 2022, August 4). Safe and Accessible Pedestrian Facilities Inventory Model. https://www.browardmpo.org/images/CSMP/SAPFIM_Presentation.pdf

New Jersey STIC Incentive Project Grant Funding Available

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) offers technical assistance and funds—up to $100,000 per year to each STIC—to support the costs of standardizing innovative practices in a state transportation agency or other public sector STIC stakeholder.

NJDOT is the primary recipient of the STIC Incentive Funding Grant. Other public sector STIC stakeholders such as MPOs, local governments or tribal governments are eligible to receive STIC Incentive funding as sub-recipients to the NJDOT.

Proposed project ideas for funding are prioritized by the NJ STIC for each federal fiscal year. Selected projects are then submitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for approval.

Purpose

To be eligible, a project or activity must have a statewide impact in fostering a culture for innovation or in making an innovation a standard practice and must align with FHWA’s Technology Innovation Deployment Program (TIDP) goals.

STIC Incentive Funding may be used to: conduct internal assessments; build capacity; develop guidance, standards, and specifications; implement system process changes; organize peer exchanges; offset implementation costs; or conduct other activities the STIC identifies to address TIDP goals and to foster a culture of innovation or to make an innovation a standard practice in New Jersey.

The proposed project or activity must be started as soon as practical (preferably within 6 months of award, but no later than 1 year) after notification of approval for STIC Incentive funding and funds must be expended within 2 years.

Past and Recent Projects

NJ STIC Incentive Funds have been used to hold safety-related peer exchanges with local governments, integrate mobile devices into construction-related inspections, test crowdsourcing equipment to improve safety of service patrols, and launch the NJDOT Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Program, among other projects

More recently, funded projects have sought to advance implementation of the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Strategic Plan through additional training and equipment, develop and implement a NJ STIC Communications Plan, develop a training for local agencies to use Bluebeam to advance e-Construction, and to establish a pilot study for enhanced crowdsourcing for operations.

How to Apply

The solicitation of STIC Incentive projects opens at the beginning of the Federal fiscal year (October 1st) and closes at the end of the Federal fiscal year (September 30th).  All proposals should be submitted for review by March 30th. If funding is available, proposals may be considered after this date.

More information on allowable activities, incentive funding proposal requirements, and a list of past projects that have received funding in New Jersey can be found here:  https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/new-jersey-stic-requests/.

If you have questions about your project’s eligibility for the STIC Incentive Program, email us: Bureau.Research@dot.nj.gov or call us: 609-963-2242.

The STIC Incentive Funding Grant was used to develop and implement the NJ STIC Communications Plan. 

The STIC Incentive Funding Grant was used to purchase equipment and implement training for the UAS Program at NJDOT.

 

Innovation Spotlight: Testing and Deploying ITS Solutions for Safer Mobility and Operations

NJDOT’s Transportation Mobility unit is working on several initiatives related to FHWA Every Day Counts innovative initiatives, including: Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations (EDC-4, EDC-6), Next Generation Traffic Incident Management (EDC-4, EDC-6), and Weather Responsive Management Strategies (EDC-4, EDC-5).  The unit has been creatively deploying STIC Incentive Grants and Accelerated Innovation Deployment (AID) grants to pilot test and evaluate innovations in recent years. We spoke with Sue Catlett, Project Manager in the Mobility Research Group, to provide updates on this work and discuss the coordination needed between agencies, organizations, and industry to make progress on these initiatives, and the barriers to deployment.

The Waycare crowdsourcing platform will feed information to NJDOT’s traffic operations centers to help resolve traffic issues and improve safety.

Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations

Q.  Can you give us an update on the STIC incentive grant and the pilot of the Waycare crowdsourced data platform?

Waycare is in the DOT’s procurement process.  Once we have access to the information, the pilot will begin. We hope to see an increased situational awareness of the roadways.

Q.  Once it is deployed, will you have data coming in immediately?

We anticipate that we will have data but we will need to evaluate what that data means to us. For example, a key consideration is the definition of terms such as “crash incident,” and “accident.” We need to determine if we accept what the system’s definition of a term is or if we can set a definition.

Once the Waycare system is operating, NJDOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Resource Center (ITSRC), housed at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), will be working with NJDOT on the evaluation of the information coming in and matching it up with other information that DOT is utilizing.

Next Generation Traffic Incident Management

Q.  Can you update us on the deployment of the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) integration with the State Police?  At the 3rd Quarter STIC meeting in September 2021, you mentioned that the State Police had deployed their CAD system and are still doing some fine-tuning.

The State Police deployed their system at the end of June and are continuing to make adjustments to the system and train staff in its use. They will be building out the system by adding modules. We are working with the State Police to determine how we will have access to the information gathered and we are working towards an agreement.

Q.  Traffic Incident Management must require coordination with numerous organizations, yes?

The Department promotes the safety of traffic incident first responders through their Move Over campaign.

Yes, in fact, we just had our statewide Traffic Incident Management (TIM) meeting today where we reported out on what we have been working on, what we will be doing in the next six months, and what help we will need from others. The various participating groups also report out. TIM involves coordination with first aid, EMS, the State Police, the MPOs, municipal fire departments, the Department of Health, and many others. We have been working on the Move Over bumper sticker campaign, and the National Crash Responder Safety Week was in November, so there are a lot of initiatives that we are working on through the year with a purpose of reducing time an incident is on a roadway and keeping first responders safe while responding to an incident.

Q.  Has there been any progress on establishing an Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) platform or core software? What are the steps involved? What are you ultimately looking for with this platform?

In our operations centers, we gather data from many systems such as highway cameras, and travel times, as well as other information. The ATMS platform would combine these multiple platforms into one so that NJDOT operators can look in one place for all the information collected. The State Police CAD data could be included in this core software system.

We want one platform for our existing systems and we are also looking towards what we will need in the future. We worked with an engineering consultant firm to determine required elements, desired elements, and future needs. We were looking for a vendor that has a system that was already built and could then be customized to meet the Department’s needs. Any system would need to work with systems that DOT is currently using. We consulted with NJDOT Safety Service Patrol (SSP) and electrical maintenance, among others, to see what future needs they could anticipate. We wanted to cast a wide enough net to avoid missing something that other groups can anticipate now that they would need later on. We also talked to other state DOTs to receive feedback about their systems.  The pandemic slowed progress on this effort and we have not contracted with a vendor yet.

It is anticipated that the platform will be built out through the addition of modular components. This makes it difficult to predict when the platform will be ready to use.

Weather Responsive Management Systems (WRMS)

Q.  Congratulations on receiving the ITS-NJ 2021 Outstanding Project Award for the Weather Savvy Roads project. What is happening with the project?

The Weather Savvy Roads project was a collaboration with many individuals and organizations.  The project has expanded to 23, and soon to be 24, equipped vehicles. Equipped trucks include six Safety Service Patrol vehicles (3 north, 3 south) which operate 24/7, two incident management response (IMRT) trucks which can respond to incidents at any time (1 north, 1 south), and Operations vehicles including 7 snow plow vehicles (3 north, 2 central, 2 south) and pickup trucks used by supervisors who can respond where needed. We are still working on modifications and analysis of the data we have received.

Weather Savvy instrumentation displays atmospheric conditions and a dashboard view of road conditions in real time.

The Mobile Road Weather Information System (MRWIS) provides information on ambient temperature, road temperature, road condition and grip, as well as a windshield view of road conditions. Management can see what the drivers are seeing. The information helps to assess a storm’s duration and intensity while it is ongoing. The data available through the system has helped management make decisions. For example, last winter a Director referred to the system to determine how much longer crews  would need to be out on the road based on conditions, and could predict another two hours commitment.

WRMS can also assist in traffic incident management. Video of an incident, captured by an NJDOT responder truck, provides much more information than a verbal description of an incident scene. The detail can help ensure that individuals in the field can get the appropriate support and get the road back open more quickly.

NJDOT has extended the pilot deadline to June 2022 to include a second winter using the WRMS. This expansion will allow us to test the system on a potentially wider range of weather conditions, and assess the durability of the equipment. Last winter, NJIT analyzed the information we were collecting and found an issue with the data being reported. The vendor had to change their manufacturing process to address condensation issues and we installed replacement sensors.

Q.  What do you anticipate being the next steps?

We are exploring how to bring this system inside the Department. Currently, the Weather Savvy website is hosted by the ITSRC at NJIT.

Other Innovative Initiatives Underway through Research or Other Activities

Q.  Are there non-EDC innovations being undertaken at NJDOT or elsewhere in NJ that should be highlighted to STIC partners? 

Drivewyze® is a phone app that is used to inform truck drivers of upcoming weigh stations, enabling drive-by of weigh stations, and provides in-cab alerts about slowdowns or other road issues. The Department could use the system to alert truckers to specific conditions, such as truck restrictions on snow-covered roadways before they enter the State, to allow truckers to make adjustments. NJDOT is trying the system out for a year to look at the value of the information and what impact it may have.

We are also using video analytics to look at truck parking in the Harding Truck Rest Area during winter storms. Both commercial trucks and Safety Service Patrol vehicles use this rest area, and the space can become overly full and entrances and exits can be blocked. SSP vehicles need to be able to get into and out of the area to respond to incidents and for shift changes. We installed devices in the parking stalls, which provide information indicating when they are occupied, and cameras identify when trucks are parked in non-marked parking spaces. From the data collected, we hope to determine prime times for usage, and we are trying to find a way to communicate with truckers. NJIT is conducting this study through the ITSRC.


Resources

More Information on the STIC initiatives highlighted in this interview is available using the following links:

Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations - https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/2021/01/01/crowdsourcing-for-advancing-operations/

Next Generation TIM - https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/2021/04/19/next-generation-tim/

Weather Responsive Management Strategies - https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/weather-responsive-management-strategies/

Launching the UAS Program: STIC Incentive Funding Grant – Final Report

Click for report

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or drones, were promoted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as one of the Every Day Counts Round 5 (EDC-5) innovations. In 2017, the NJDOT Bureau of Aeronautics applied for and received a NJ State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) Incentive Program Funding grant to purchase equipment and provide training to evaluate the use of UAS for applications within NJDOT. Prior research had determined that this innovative technology could improve safety and efficiency and reduce costs.

The final report, Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS): Purchase and Training, describes the use of the STIC funding to assist in establishing the UAS program within the Bureau of Aeronautics.  The report describes the training curriculum and two use cases — high mast inspection and traffic incident management — and offers lessons learned and best practices.

The STIC grant, in combination with two other grants, enabled the Bureau to advance UAS within NJDOT. The innovation is now considered institutionalized within the agency.  A video, Drone Technology at NJDOT, highlights the efforts to launch and integrate UAS in NJDOT operations.

FHWA offers up to $100,000 to each STIC each year. You can find out more about the STIC Incentive Program here.

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.

STIC Incentive Funding Grant Awarded for Local Aid Software Training

FHWA recently announced the award of a State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) funding grant ($38,490) to support NJDOT’s Division of Local Aid and Economic Development in their efforts to deliver software training to NJDOT and local transportation agency staff to perform electronic plan reviews.

The STIC-funded training initiative will be provided in conjunction with NJDOT’s efforts to implement features of the Project Management and Reporting System (PMRS), initially launched in 2018, to establish electronic document management, electronic plan review, and other 21st century project management innovations to help make project management more efficient. The PMRS is also being designed to integrate with tools, such as Bluebeam® Revu® and geographic information systems (GIS), to enable collaborative plan review and georeferencing project data.

NJDOT is continuing with its plan for an enterprise innovation shift to electronic project management. The NJDOT Division of Local Aid is about to implement Phase 2 of the PMRS.   This implementation includes transitioning plan review from a paper-based process to an electronic process offering greater standardization and tracking capabilities. The Department’s shift is well-aligned with EDC-3’s e-Construction initiative and Local Aid’s objectives to improve program delivery through electronic review.

With this shift, Local Aid project managers will have easier access to project plans and documents from the District Offices in electronic formats from anywhere.  The innovations embedded in the platform and supporting software will enable easy file sharing, efficient project transfers, tracking comments and their resolution, and the ability to track and review previous project phases more efficiently.

The STIC funding will support the NJDOT Division of Local Aid in the development of a software training program for municipal and county engineers and Local Aid staff.  The training will be conducted over a two-month period with various morning and afternoon classes to offer flexibility in scheduling and attendance.  The initial “live” training sessions are expected to be recorded for future online, “on-demand” use.  The course development and training initiative will be carried out by a team that manages the Local Aid Resource Center in association with NJDOT Local Aid staff.

The training seeks to accomplish key goals aligned with the Department’s commitment to using technology to enable staff to be more efficient in accomplishing routine tasks and collaborative activities with external stakeholders.   Ultimately, the transition to an online tool is expected to reduce paper consumption as well as centralize and standardize project management activities.

Click on NJ STIC Incentive Funding Grants to get more information on the purpose, eligibility and uses for which the NJ STIC has sought incentive funding in recent years.

 

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.

Drone Technology at NJDOT

NJDOT’s Unmanned Aerial Systems program in the Bureau of Aeronautics is demonstrating how the adoption of drone technology can serve NJDOT’s goals to increase safety, increase efficiency, save time, and save money. Drones are replacing boots on the ground, increasing accuracy, speeding up data collection, and providing access to hard-to-reach locations for divisions throughout the Department.

Click on the link below to see how drones are being used within NJDOT to drive innovation in the way our agency and workforce operate and what lies ahead for this technology.

Drone Program Reaches New Heights, Seeks to Go Higher

In May 2016 the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Division of Multimodal Services established the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program as a unit within the Bureau of Aeronautics.  The UAS program coordinator position was created within the Bureau of Aeronautics to lead NJDOT’s UAS initiatives. This position was established to provide leadership, guidance, and coordination for division flight operations. Other responsibilities of the position include ensuring compliance with state and federal aviation regulations, coordinating FAA airspace waivers and authorizations, assisting RFP efforts when contracting consultants, and informing NJDOT of public perception and liability.

In standing up the program, a survey was distributed to all other NJDOT Divisions to identify potential missions that could benefit from the integration of UAS. The 38 survey responses were analyzed and condensed into common mission categories such as structural inspections and construction project management. The missions were also evaluated to determine whether the use case had the potential to improve safety, increase efficiency, save time and save money for their routine operations. A suitable mission profile was developed and risk analysis conducted to create pilot projects for testing.

An early NJDOT study revealed the cost-effectiveness of high mast light pole inspections

UAS brings new tools forward for 3-D “Reality Modeling” with photogrammetry.

Initially, pilot project flights were conducted in support of structural evaluations, construction project management, traffic management, and watershed evaluations.   Valuable lessons were garnered from these initial pilot projects.  For example, a study of the benefits of using UAS for high-mast light pole inspections (HMLP) was shared with FHWA and a topic covered in NJDOT’s presentation at an invite-only national peer exchange held in Washington DC by the FHWA in 2018.

NJDOT’s UAS Coordinator, Glenn Stott, who had previously organized and hosted an NJDOT Peer Exchange on UAS, was invited to participate in the national peer exchange.  HMLP inspections, Stott observed, could be performed more quickly and less expensively than by traditional means. Cost savings include lost productivity due to the traveling public experiencing congestion issues. One advantage of UAS inspections is that they do not require shutting down a travel lane for a bucket truck to occupy. Furthermore, a UAS inspection only requires a crew of three to complete an inspection: two controllers: one pilot and one engineer, each with a camera and screen, and a third visual observer to monitor the site. Using this method, NJDOT was able to complete six or seven inspections per day compared with one or two using traditional methods, contributing to “significant” cost savings.

Going forward under EDC-5, the goal of the NJDOT UAS Program is the institutionalization of UAS technology and its integration throughout NJDOT operations. NJDOT hopes to leverage recently awarded STIC incentive funding to remove barriers in equipment and training toward advancing several potential use cases, including:

  • Survey Rendering of 3D Models. 3D modelling is a valuable tool that saves time and money by cutting person-hours and eliminating rework for transportation projects. 3D modeling of bridge decks and infrastructure is becoming a cost-effective inspection method for evaluating bridge decks to detect delamination in concrete. Using the right UAS technology, 3D modeling can rapidly determine the volume of stockpiles with a high degree of accuracy. Georgia DOT reports that that select UAS equipment can match GPS and LIDAR survey equipment and found the UAS reported volumes were within 1 percent of the traditional methods.
  • Watershed Resiliency. In March of 2018 NJDOT conducted several UAS photography missions along Routes 80 and 23 to support a Watershed Resiliency Analysis. Traditional photos were taken, but a thermal imaging capability would allow the NJDOT to more accurately determine the extent of flooding along our state highways. Thermal imaging overlays can more accurately define the extent of highway runoff and flooding issues. Thermal imaging is a better tool to detect water through the tall grass in flooded areas. Minnesota DOT has researched this use case and the NJDOT would like to expand on this research.

    Field tours demonstrate UAS capabilities to staff and partnering organizations.

  • Bat Counts Under Bridges. North Carolina is using infrared thermography to conduct counts on bat populations under bridges. New Federal regulations require state DOT’s to ensure they do not disturb a protected species while conducting inspections. The NJDOT Division of Environmental Resources has requested UAS assistance in conducting bat counts under bridges because they live in high and dark areas. A thermal imaging camera mounted on a UAS will confirm the presence of bats and should allow the counting of individual bats in near total darkness by detecting their body heat.
  • Thermal Inspections of Concrete Bridge Decks. Infrared thermography of bridge decks is becoming a valuable and cost-effective inspection method for evaluating bridge decks to detect delamination in concrete. The delamination photos can be rendered by addition of higher-end gaming computers into a 3D model that can be used to determine the exact location of each delamination.
  • Large Potholes and Longitudinal Joint Separations. The efficient identification of large potholes and longitudinal joints would require autonomous UAS that can be programmed to safely fly over long distances. Current regulations require small UAS to fly within the line of sight of the operator which makes this use case currently very inefficient and not cost-effective.
  • Thermal Imaging for Paving Project Management. DelDOT is examining the use of UAS to detect significant thermal anomalies during the laying of new asphalt. The UAS would take standard photographs and thermal photos of the same area. The photos would then be compared to detect potential quality issues in the new pavement. Sets of thermal and visual photos can be rendered through higher end gaming computers into a 3D model that can be used to generate a guide sheet to make it easier for work crews quickly find each problem area at the work site.
  • Construction Project Management. Several on-site inspectors, resident engineers, and traffic engineers have commented that the tiny UAS screen located on the UAS controller is difficult for a field team to view. A larger monitor mounted in the rear of the UAS Program vehicle can allow supervisors, upper management, and other non-participants to safely view UAS output in real time without interfering with the movement of the UAS crew.

Three years after its establishment, New Jersey’s UAS Program, continues to reach new heights as it discovers how it can effectively work with NJDOT’s divisions and bureaus to improve safety, increase efficiency, save time and save money in routine operations.  The UAS program challenges both the agency’s leaders and staff to adapt to new technologies, seek the training to develop new skills, and find new ways to collaborate to advance innovations in its transportation operations.