Intelligent Transportation and the ITSA Conference

Just back from the 2010 Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s Annual Meeting.  For those unfamiliar with intelligent transportation, I am not referring to the “shovel ready” projects that have been funded by President Obama as part of the economic stimulus package. These projects were designed to spend money and create jobs, thereby, stimulating the economy. Unlike the federal “shovel ready” projects, “network ready” intelligent transportation technologies and projects are rapidly being adopted and implemented by local and state departments of transportation that must still operate under fixed or reduced budgets. These local and state DOTs are using new technologies to “Do More with Less.”

ITSAIntelligent Transportation aims to reduce costs, delays, pollution, injuries and deaths by connecting infrastructure control and monitoring systems to the network and enabling these systems, and their operators, to communicate in real-time. Some examples of intelligent transportation solutions and control systems include dynamic speed limits that change according to traffic and road conditions, stop lights that know when you can go and the FasTrak electronic toll system that reduces congestion on the Golden Gate Bridge and other Bay Area bridges. Real-time technology is essential if these dynamic control systems are to collect your toll at 45 miles per hour or detect when it is safe to proceed through an intersection.

All of these intelligent transportation systems and devices can be thought of as “sensors” on the network. The data is collected by the sensors, streamed to a server, analyzed and eventually stored in a warehouse. (Imagine the final scene from Raiders of The Lost Ark, except with crates full of hard drives). Meanwhile, the analytic results are communicated back to the original sources (stop lights, toll booths and electronic road information signs) as well as to the mobile devices in your vehicle.

In some cases, new intelligent transportation solutions need to be integrated with legacy systems. In other cases, they simply need to be able to talk to each other. Thus, it becomes imperative that all new intelligent transportation solutions be built on a set of common, open standards. In the long run, solutions built on open standards reduce the total costs to those who implement and maintain the solutions. Open standards, and in particular, the global use of open data standards, within the intelligent transportation industry is essential, not just so that different sensors on the network and IT solutions can communicate with each other, but so that drivers can experience consistent and safe journeys as they cross from federal highways to state and local roads, always in contact with intelligent transportation systems that control these roads.