LED-based smoothness of traffic

Intelligent road signs will exchange information between themselves and with moving vehicles; graphics: Paweł Spaleniak, Gdańsk University of Technology

Road signs capable of reacting to external conditions such as the current weather or volume of traffic are quite possibly every driver’s dream – why should you wait for the green light when the road is empty? And how about speed limits being able to adjust to the changing road conditions? Here comes good news: in a matter of years smart road traffic technologies might become part of your driving experience as AGH UST’s scientists are already developing an intelligent system of road communication.

The team behind INZNAK is headed by professor Andrzej Dziech, who co-operates with DSc Wojciech Chmiel of the Department of Automatics and Robotics and MSc Derkacz of the Department of Telecommunications. The project is focused on the so-called intelligent road signs capable of adjusting to road conditions prevalent at a given moment.

Professor Dziech explains:

 We want the signs to modify the displayed content according to the volume of traffic, including passenger cars as well as lorries, weather, visibility, condition of the road surface, the number of junctions or even the character of land development (e.g. schools) in the vicinity of the road. All these elements have their specific attributes, which can be fed into a database and based on their analysis we can determine the optimum recommended speed.

 Take heavy snowfall and the resulting poor visibility, which affects the possibility of observation – it is obvious that the maximum allowable speed should be reduced. However, the required reduction –  let us say, from 60 kph to 30 kph - may result from other factors the driver is not aware of at a given moment. There could be other vehicles obstructing the road in a traffic jam just behind the corner while the snowy surface may increase the braking distance. The creation of a dispersed network of intelligent traffic signs equipped with various types of detectors, capable of analysing the environment and familiar with the shape of the road will enable us to better determine safe speed. The new temporary speed limit will be shown on a sign supplied with e.g. LED display and will apply until the weather improves or the tailback is cleared  PhD Chmiel further explains.

The concept is remarkable, yet to what extent is it feasible? According to the scientists the chances are they will get the project off the ground as it has already been recognised and financed – in equal parts  by the National Centre for Research and Development and the General Directorate of National Roads and Motorways (GDDKiA).

According to Jan Derkacz:
- We have received support for the project due to the fact that no similar solutions have been deployed in Poland so far, while in other countries such a functionality has not made it beyond the testing phase. Our idea is linked to the so called dispersed intelligence. What does it mean? Our signs will be interconnected so as to pass information within the network. Our concept is intended for use by GGDKiA.

It should be noted that thanks to the previous project – INPREDO, which our research team delivered for GGDIKA, INZNAK, being compatible with its predecessor, is highly likely to be implemented by GDDKiA. The team of scientists commenced work in October 2017 and the project should be completed within 3 years.

The scientists further explain:
 INZNAK did not come from nowhere. We see it as a follow-up to INPREDO another project we have been working on for the last 18 months. With INZNAK, we are focused on the very system for traffic sign support and communication between the signs while INPREDO is primarily interested in the analysis of parameters affecting speed. So using cameras we can determine visibility and assess the number of vehicles – both passenger cars as well as lorries – passing in a given amount of time, which is what we understand as traffic profile. The data is further analysed to establish how speed is affected. We are carrying out a comparative analysis with what has been already done in this area in other countries of the world, particularly in the EU in an attempt to create an expert system which will automatically determine allowable speed limits.

The whole challenge is further complicated by the fact that the signs must be coordinated. Just imagine you are driving at 70 kph and then suddenly the road gets frosty and the traffic sign shows 20kph. Hence, the speed limits have to be harmonised. Thanks to the very high level of computer and IT sophistication everything is going ‘smart’ these days. Why should the signs we see on our roads not follow the same trend? The signs of the future will be capable of adapting to the current conditions on roads and determining the speed limit to be observed by the drivers at a given moment. They will ensure smooth traffic and increase road safety. Some bad news to end with: as of today, the system is not going to be implemented in cities – plans are to launch it exclusively on national roads and motorways.