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Intersection Technology is About to Get a Make-Over

06.15.2020

DURATION 4 minute read

Autonomous vehicles steal the spotlight when it comes to the future of mobility. These vehicles move faster than a standard car and can travel closer together, allowing more of them to fit on the road. But researchers are discovering that, with large volumes of autonomous vehicles on the road, our current intersections could limit the future of self-driving cars.  

Even without self-driving cars, intersections already pose safety risks for drivers and pedestrians. Nationally, 40 percent of all crashes take place in an intersection – the second largest category of accidents behind rear-end collisions.  

Research engineers across the United States are developing technology to address present and future intersection concerns for both autonomous and standard vehicles. By using advanced cameras and sensors, researchers are creating “smart intersections” that allow for a future of safer, less congested roadways. 

What is a Smart Intersection?

Earlier this year, our team visited the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) and learned firsthand about smart intersection technology. These intersections are like standard intersections, but with a few new bells and whistles.  

Smart intersections still include traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, but they also feature multiple industrial-grade cameras and computers capable of communicating with connected vehicles near the crossing. These cameras can capture images of pedestrians, oncoming vehicles and other potential hazards in or approaching the intersection, which is then sent to a computer that classifies the object and its potential threat. 

Information from the computer is shared with a nearby transmitting device that broadcasts the data to approaching vehicles with connected technology. The vehicle then interprets the data and decides how to act, whether it be notifying the driver of the approaching hazard, or stopping on its own.  

The technology can also control traffic signals to correspond with activity on the road. For example, rush hour in downtown areas experiences large volumes of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Smart intersection traffic signals can use pedestrian data to time light changes to ensure crosswalks are clear for drivers and safe for crossing pedestrians. 

 

Smart Intersections and the Future of Development

Smart intersections collect large volumes of traffic and driver behavior data, which will be beneficial to city planners and engineers. The data can provide intersections analytics about flow, traffic volumes, congestion metrics, travels times and pedestrian behaviors.  

Such information can then be used to lay the foundation for improvements based on the needs reflected in the data. This can include adding designated turn lanes for better traffic flows or updating pedestrian elements for improved safety. Most importantly, city planners and engineers can use the data to create safer intersections.  

In a fully autonomous network, a traffic signal may not even be necessary. With navigation systems, the destinations of vehicles are known so vehicles can be grouped with other cars traveling the same direction. The system could adjust the speeds of these various groups so they pass through the intersection concurrently with other groups so traffic signal control is not even necessary.  

The impacts of a fully autonomous system would be far-reaching. The system would not be based on what was best for individual vehicles but on what is necessary to maximize the efficiency of the entire system, thus leading to a safer system for all users. The effects on land use planning and roadway design could also be significant. It could lead to a complete change in the road environment including fewer warning signs, less striping, no billboard signs, no toll booths, no clear zones, narrow lanes, fewer roads and more green space. 

Smart intersections and autonomous vehicles are just some of the technologies expected to reshape civil engineering. We are a learning organization that works to adapt to changes in our industry to ensure we have the skills to deliver quality projects. Be sure to regularly check our website for the latest news and updates on technology reshaping the industry.  

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