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

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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.

Connected Vehicles Program Pilot Testing of Technology for Safety Service Patrol Workers Continues

Video screenshot of hazard display message received

The rise of crowdsourced navigation applications and connected vehicle applications provide new opportunities to relay road service safety information to the motoring public.  NJDOT has initiated a Connected Vehicle: Road Service Safety Message pilot study that evaluates the effectiveness of using connected vehicle technology to alert the motoring public to the presence of safety service workers at an incident site. NJDOT is piloting 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 (NJ STIC) and a STIC Incentive Funding grant of $39,600 awarded by FHWA.

The primary objective behind the initiative is to inform the public of the presence of Safety Service Patrol (SSP) personnel thru various services and applications that share real-time traffic and roadway information once they have responded to an incident or to help a motorist.  A short demonstration video of how a technology-equipped NJDOT safety service vehicle interfaces with crowdsourcing platforms in the field can be accessed here.

Periodic interim reports for the pilot study are being prepared to evaluate the technology’s application during the STIC grant period. Previously, NJDOT and New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) personnel conducted a field evaluation of the technology following the device-equipped SSP vehicle then subsequently maintained a data log of the device’s activity in the field and through mobile and web-based interfaces.  In continuation of this effort, the NJIT team proceeded with a similar analysis by studying the correlation between the data recorded via the device log and the crowdsourced navigation applications web-based interface. In addition, the radio logs maintained by the Safety Service Patrol were used to further support this evaluation effort.

 

Local Safety Peer Exchanges: Summary Report

NJDOT, FHWA and NJDOT held a series of three Local Safety Peer Exchange events for municipal and county representatives to share best practices in addressing traffic safety.  These full-day events brought together representatives of NJDOT, FHWA, counties, municipalities, and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to discuss project prioritization, substantive safety, implementation of FHWA safety countermeasures, and use of a systemic safety approach.

The Local Safety Peer Exchanges Summary Report provides an overview of the event proceedings, including the presentations, workshop activities and key observations from the Local Safety Peer Exchanges held in December 2017, June 2018, and March 2019.

The Local Safety Peer Exchanges were funded, in part, though the use of a State Transportation Incentive Funding (STIC) grant.  The Local Safety Peer Exchange events are well-aligned with the FHWA Technology Innovation Deployment Program (TIDP) goal: “Develop and deploy new tools and techniques and practices to accelerate the adoption of innovation in all aspects of highway transportation.”  The focus of the Local Safety Peer Exchanges is also consistent with two of the FHWA's Every Day Counts (EDC-4) Innovative Initiatives: Safe Transportation for Every Person (STEP) which supports the use of cost-effective countermeasures with known safety benefits to address locations of fatal pedestrian crashes; and Data-Driven Safety Analysis (DDSA) that uses crash and roadway data to reliably determine the safety performance of projects.

 

 

On December 6, 2017 municipal and county representatives gathered to discuss best practices to address traffic safety. Topics discussed included NJ safety performance targets, use of Safety Voyager, substantive vs. nominal approaches to design, systemic vs. hot spot approaches to safety, and discussion of FHWA safety countermeasures.

The summary report provides documentation of the agenda, presentations, highlighted tools and model practices, and workshop activities for each of the Local Safety Peer Exchange events, including the December 2017 event.

Purchase and Evaluate the Use of Tablets for Construction and Work Zone Inspection

In FY2017, the NJ STIC recommended that a STIC Incentive Funding grant be used for the purchase and the piloting of the use of the tablets for construction and work zone inspections.

Once acquired, the use of tablets were found to expedite as-built review reporting. For example, comments between team members were easier to share and compile and As-Built review reports, checklists and other supporting documents were no longer printed prior to the review. The reports and checklists could be completed electronically at the field office during the review as the information was collected.  A list of findings could be created during the review and shared electronically with the resident engineer (RE) and the review team.  Guides and manuals could also be shared with the RE on the tablets during the As-Built review to answer any questions.

Several benefits were evident from the use of the tablets in construction and work zone inspections:

  • Improved communications within a team in sharing or demonstrating a design idea such as sketches, field changes, request for information, etc.
  • Improved efficiency in keeping field records, particularly through the use of the camera’s function for capturing field videos and pictures.
  • More productive meetings as participants had the ability to quickly reference contract documents, plans or emails (Ex. progress construction meetings with contractor, Project Manager/Designer, and utilities.)

Some other lessons were noted in piloting the use of the tablets:

  • It is important to keep the battery fully charged; the battery life was found to last up to two hours with extensive use.
  • For practical use on site, the use of a stylus pen makes it much easier to use.
  • The tablet keyboard will be easier to use if a mouse device is available.
  • It is essential to have and maintain the remote internet access connection to enjoy the benefits of the field use of tablets.

Advancing Use of Mobile Devices in Administration and Oversight of Local Public Agencies Program

By adopting a paperless process for delivering construction administration documents, practitioners can save time and resources while improving the process of managing construction documents. New Jersey’s State Innovative Council recommended that a STIC Incentive Funding Grant be awarded to NJDOT to advance the use of mobile devices in the administration and oversight of its Local Aid Program.  The NJDOT received a STIC Incentive Funding Grant of $21,464 in FY2015.

The STIC grant funded the acquisition of tablets for use in two areas: application ratings and construction inspection.  The primary benefits of the transition to tablets were expected to come from improved staff efficiency through a reduction in the preparation time prior to field visits and an elimination of the need to manually transfer data collected on paper in the field.

NJDOT’S Division of Local Aid was able to use the funding to acquire 14 tablets and Mi-fi “hotspot” cards to ensure field network connectivity.  NJDOT’s IT department was engaged to coordinate the procurement process to the purchase the tablets for Local Aid staff and install cellular connection, VPN Access, security software, licensing. Electronic Field Inspection reports were designed, developed and tested in accordance with the Division’s Policy and Procedure for Construction Inspection.  District training was delivered for the use of tablets for construction inspections of federal projects. The tablets were distributed to the 4 Local Aid districts and are in use.