TAYLORSVILLE — UTA bus passengers who regularly travel routes along Redwood Road in Salt Lake County may find their commute times sticking much closer to the schedule thanks to some very high-tech gadgetry that's just been brought online.
The Utah Department of Transportation showcased its connected/autonomous vehicle network, the first operational network of its kind in the nation, to visiting transit leaders and local media Wednesday. And while improving transit vehicle efficiency may not sound like something out of “The Jetsons,” the technology driving the system is likely a foreshadowing of how a driverless future might work.
"Right now, the CAV system will help move transit vehicles through this corridor more efficiently," said Blaine Leonard, UDOT technology and innovation engineer. "But there are all kinds of future applications and uses for this two-way communication and monitoring system."
Radio transponders installed at 24 intersections along 11 miles of Redwood Road between 400 South and 8020 South communicate with buses, also equipped with radio equipment, about the vehicle's speed, direction and lane location. Software that coordinates processing that information "sees" the bus, calculates whether it's on schedule or otherwise and, if necessary, can help move the bus through the next intersection by slightly increasing the length of the greenlight phase.
Other data gathered by UDOT, like the volume of vehicles moving along Redwood as well as other routes that feed into and impact traffic in the corridor gets rolled into the calculations performed by the Multi-Modal Intelligent Traffic Sign Systems software. This brain behind the system, developed by UDOT in partnership with the University of Arizona, is capable of communicating with other smart and networked vehicles.
Leonard noted he expects there may be some interest from autonomous vehicle developers to use the corridor for testing how emerging onboard driverless technology can interact with infrastructure data. That combination, Leonard said, will be necessary to support roadways teaming with cars, sans drivers.
"The vehicles being developed now can see their surroundings and react to that information, but they'll need data, communicated from infrastructure sensors, to really be part of a smart network," Leonard said.
Patrick Son, a civil engineer and managing partner of the National Operations Center of Excellence, a transportation systems management and technology group, participated in the connected/autonomous vehicle demonstration Wednesday and said UDOT's nation-leading innovation would help guide, and accelerate, how other states move forward.
"After seeing how this works, we’re able to learn what all these deployers have done and what we can exchange in terms of all the other DOTs working on this," Son said. "That experience is what the rest of the industry needs to really deploy this on a faster scale."
Son also noted the development of "smart infrastructure" that would be required for a large-scale deployment of autonomous vehicles is still ongoing, but that connected/autonomous vehicle networks represent the kind of solution that could help advance the effort.
"What we’re looking at is, in terms of automated vehicles, the book is still open," Son said. "What we are seeing is a lot of DOTs saying this technology is available, and we have it, so let’s use it instead of waiting for the perfect version to be developed."
UDOT is moving forward with the connected/autonomous vehicle system, and Leonard said an even bigger network is going in as part of a new bus rapid transit system, currently under construction in Utah County. That deployment would be almost double the size of the Redwood Road system, with 45 sensor-wired intersections.