Published by MIT
Smart Traffic Management
Indian technologists are developing interdisciplinary solutions to make traffic conditions in the country less chaotic.
Anyone who has ever crossed through Indian traffic, as a driver or as a passenger, can vouch that their heart has skipped a beat more than once. The figures for road deaths second that nervous beating of the heart — India records the highest number of road deaths per year, according to a World Helath Organization report. In India, everyday almost 300 people are killed while 4,100 are injured on the roads, with the yearly toll hovering close to 100,000 deaths. The repercussions of these losses are not only seen in individual families, but in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) too. What all of this points at is the need to focus on better transportational and infrastructure facilities keeping in sync with the country’s growth. And if we have to learn a lesson from high-income/developed countries, road traffic injuries (RTI) are preventable and also predictable with the inculcation of proper technology mix, leading to better traffic management.
“If we take an example, Delhi has a per capita car ownership which is only 20 percent of that in London, and it has more road space. But London has far lesser road fatalities and the traffic is much better managed,” vies Dinesh Mohan, Volvo chair professor for Biomechanics and Transportation Safety and Coordinator of the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. He also heads the WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Safety Technology, Delhi. Mohan’s statement means that India has immense opportunity in the space of intelligent transportation system (ITS) and that it can utilize its pool of technological expertise for the same.
Mohan adds that for any good technological implementation in traffic management solutions, a good amalgam of people from various disciplines such as information technology, electronics, civil engineering, and medicine is needed. Premier institutions like IIT-Delhi, IIT-Madras, and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have groups of researchers and technologists who are concerned about the traffic situation in India and feel they can do something about it. The Government of India is also keen on improving the infrastructure of the country and has committed Rs. 234,000 crore for the sector. However, there is a limit to infrastructure expansion and that alone may not be able to accommodate the growing traffic demand. It needs to be coupled with an improved transportation management system and one option for this is the use of intelligent transportation systems. “A lot of headache will be spared if the basic road designs are meticulously looked into,” says Mohan. The government’s Department of Information Technology (DIT) has been working on intelligent transportation systems for some time now with various public and private organizations.
The Center of Excellence in Urban Transport (COEUT) set up in IIT-Madras comprises people from various disciplines and is working closely with the ministry on research in ITS. The center works with various private firms who are developing innovative solutions for better transport. “The basic and most important issue that stares in our face today in India is the problem of data collection,” says V. Lelitha Devi who works with the COUET group and teaches in the civil engineering department of the institute. Devi has researched and published various papers on the applications of the use of technology in efficient traffic management, such as travel time prediction under heterogeneous traffic conditions using global positioning system (GPS) data from buses. “Unlike developed countries, we don’t have appropriate data coming from the fields which we can use for further processing, and hence we need to first establish models for data collection of the current traffic scenario in India,” she explains. She says that ITS in India is in a very raw form presently, and most of the existing prediction technologies employ crude ways. GPS has made its headway into India, the complete solutions employing GPS have been minimal in the country. In the recent years efforts have been stepped up to introduce solutions built on GPS tracking systems which could be useful for traffic managers.
Kritikal Solutions’ traffic analyzer relies on image processing for data collection.
Intelligent transportation systems essentially mean application of computer and communications technologies to solve transport problems. Intelligent transportation technologies enable gathering of data or intelligence and then providing timely feedback to traffic managers and road-users. They result in improved safety to drivers, better traffic efficiency, reduced traffic congestion, and enhanced economic productivity. Some examples of ITS include advanced traffic management systems, advanced traveler information systems, advanced vehicle control systems, electronic toll collection systems, and advanced public transportation systems. Currently, the government has started with identifying eight different projects in this field: wireless traffic control system, second generation area traffic control system, real-time traffic counting and monitoring system, advanced travelers information system, intelligent transit trip planner, real-time route information, red light violation detection system, and the intelligent traffic congestion management system using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. The government is working with Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), Thiruvananthapuram, Indian Institutes of Technology (in Chennai and Mumbai), and the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata as participating agencies.
Most of the ITS applications require the collection of real-time traffic information on highway segments and surface street networks. The reliability of these applications heavily depends on traffic flow sensors to provide accurate and real-time data. The various ITS data collection techniques available are detectors, probe vehicles (automatic vehicle identifiers and automatic vehicle locators ), GPS and video. Among these, inductive loop detectors (ILD) are the most popularly adopted technique for ITS data collection worldwide, mainly because it can collect data without any need for public participation. These are the most popular sensors used in developed countries for applications such as vehicle detection, incident detection, automatic traffic surveillance, real-time traffic adaptive signal control, and data for traveler, commercial and emergency information services. However, the loop detectors currently used in the U.S. and Europe are designed for the lane discipline and homogeneous traffic and cannot be directly adopted for traffic conditions in developing countries such as India which lack lane discipline.
Also, the vast range of vehicular types (bicycle, two wheeler, three wheeler, light motor vehicle, heavy motor vehicle) that need to be identified for accurate traffic data collection is a major challenge for the existing ILD systems. IIT-Madras has developed a new type of loop detector which is better suited for Indian traffic conditions. The principal components of an inductive loop detector system include one or more turns of insulated loop wire wound in a shallow slot sawed in the pavement, a lead-in cable that runs from the curbside pull box to the controller cabinet, and a detector electronics unit housed in the controller cabinet. When a vehicle passes over the loop or stops within the loop, it decreases the inductance of the loop. The change in inductance helps in identifying various parameters such as vehicle speed and vehicle length, which also helps in processing the current traffic speed and the traffic count in the specific area.
The loop detector developed at IIT-Madras has a special loop structure which can sense vehicles of different sizes (for example, it can identify a bus from a bicycle) as they go through the roadways. This wasn’t possible earlier with the available ILD technology. The newly developed detector has a multiple inductive loop system where multiple numbers of the proposed single loop are arranged in a suitable way in the roadways to detect the lack of lane discipline observed on Indian roads. Thus the system can sense and segregate the number of vehicles and their types as well. IIT-Madras’ research group says that the new detector can be used for different ITS applications such as congestion management, incident detection, traffic modelling, and more. The team believes the availability of the data collected by the new detector will also help in calculating the travel time from the detector to the signal more realistically. The data can be used for creating a traffic data centre where all traffic data can be archived and shared among the transportation researchers across India.
CSR, a company specializing in wireless technology, is working on solutions centered around GPS which could be used by traffic managers and/or individuals. Its solution for fleet managers consists of collecting data of GPS-fitted vehicles, which talk to their servers for information processing, and give real-time result of the travel time of each vehicle. CSR’s “learning server” studies the pattern of traffic in areas where the tracked vehicles are moving and interprets and predicts the composite traffic speed in that area. Taking the GPS feed and the data that is collected, for the passengers, the CSR solution is capable of providing a time estimation of when a certain vehicle will arrive at a certain stop. Ashu Pande, managing director, SiRF India, a part of CSR India, says the time estimation of a vehicle “will be soon available through SMS and through applications in all smart phones.” If one wishes to travel by a certain bus, he or she can visit the website of the transport company or query through his or phone to check the time when the bus will reach the specific bus stop.
By using the CSR system, a passenger can also find out which parts of the city are crowded and can look for alternate routes to his or her destination. CSR’s “Where is My Bus” and “Geo Traffic” solutions are two such solutions for the commuters to find out the fastest as well as the shortest route to any destination, and to get the real-time mapping results of the traffic speed in various parts of the city. “Historical data such as weather, season, day of the week (weekends), festivals, and peak office hours are also gathered by our intelligent server and is fed into the algorithms which help in processing the final results for a congenial journey of the commuters on the roads,” says Pande. CSR has its own data center in Noida, dedicated to traffic management. The company has also developed an innovative solution based on Java wherein any phone can be converted into a GPS device whose location can be tracked and stored in the system. This finds application in safety solutions.
LICENCE PLATE READING
It is interesting to see that lately a bunch of young entrepreneurs have taken onto themselves to solve India’s traffic woes. Kritikal Solutions, the first startup spun out of IIT-Delhi’s incubation center, has in its kitty some unique products such as the licence plate reading system and a traffic analyzer that is based on image processing. Kritikal was started by four enterprising engineers from IIT from diverse fields — embedded systems, computer vision (image processing), and computer networks. They call their products the “creations of tomorrow” and have been working with IIT-Madras’ core team for intelligent transportation management technologies. Using its own image processing algorithms, Kritikal Solutions offers products such as the underbelly scanner which is used for security purposes to scan the underbelly of any vehicle before it enters in sensitive areas. Its licence plate reading system is called the Kliper, which is an intelligent software and camera-based system to extract, read, and process the licence plates of vehicles passing by in front of the camera in an area. Another product called Trazer is a traffic analyzer which is based on video feed from a certain patch of traffic area. Trazer is capable of determining the count of vehicles passing through the patch during a specified time period, while detecting the exact type of each vehicle as well. The Trazer uses object detection, object classification, and object racking methodologies to achieve these purposes. Trazer along with Kliper has use mainly in data collection projects for researchers and for traffic surveys and surveillance in areas such as toll booths.
A diagram of CSR’s four applications for traffic management, illustrating the technology behind each and how they communicate.
Mukesh Jha, founder of Ubida Solutions in Pune, started developing traffic information services for the public when he saw the plight of the regular commuter on Pune and Bangalore roads, especially during office hours or festivals. One of the startup’s solutions is the Route Advisory System which uses Google maps with the Internet to let users know the current traffic situation in different parts of the city. The solution was deployed successfully during the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Pune when certain roads were meant to be invariably congested. It was also deployed in Delhi during the Commonwealth Games 2010 to ensure smooth traffic flow and minimum public discomfort. Jha is also working towards developing active social networking pages for the traffic police and collaborating with radio stations to increase community participation for information on traffic conditions in various parts of the city. The company has also spawned off a venture called IndiaCommutes through which they connect autorickshaws and commuters of the city which is similar to dial-a-cab service.
PUBLIC TRANSIT INFORMATION
The search giant Google has also identified the dire need of a solution in India which aids the citizens to ply on roads safely and smoothly, and has recently launched Google Transit. Kiran Bapna, new business development, Google India and Manik Gupta, product manager, Google Maps and Local Search, Google India, say that “the fundamental goal of the Google Transit project was to make public transit information as easy to find as any other geographic information.” Commuters in Pune can now find out bus schedules and routes for 320 of the city transport buses through Google Maps on their desktops and mobile phones. Commuters can also get to see the directions for the entire route, including frequency, travel duration for each leg of the trip, in text and on the map.
Other companies such as Logica are focusing on overall sustainable development. Logica’s Chennai centre exclusively works on intelligent transportation systems for multiple modes of transport such as rail, road, and air, and also on their intermodality. Of Logica’s various products, the Logica EMO is an interesting one. The innovator of Logica EMO, Sanjoy Ghosh, was selected a member of this year’s India TR35 young innovators list. The EMO is a real-time driver behaviour monitoring solution which gives incentives to drivers based on their carbon footprint. Logica points out that oil companies could offer incentives in the form of green points to responsible drivers, who can exchange the points for lesser fuel price at fuel stations. This would in turn motivate drivers to assess their own driving skills and fuel efficiency. Another one from Logica is the Logica CRIMSON, which is a pay-as-you-drive and a pay-how-you-drive insurance offering. Through these solutions Logica aims to enable various stakeholders, such as fleet owners, vehicle manufacturers, oil companies, and governments to provide commercially viable solutions to certain sustainability problems.
Two researchers, Lakshmi Narasimham G. and Malavika Sujith from Nokia Siemens Network, have conceptualized an automated traffic management system which uses existing, already deployed wireless network solution, and a central management system to identify, report, charge, and track unruly vehicles. This solution introduces a smart key, which is nothing but the driver’s license with a chip embedded on it containing details about the driver. This smart key interfaces with the mobile communication unit (MCU) installed in the vehicle. The MCU is capable of capturing information from the car and transmit and receive data to the central management server via the existing 2.5G or 3G wireless infrastructure. The MCU provides the information periodically to the central management server. The central system processes the fed information and takes appropriate actions. According to the duo, “The current automated systems lack the ability to identify the driver who is committing the offence and therefore are also not in a position to enforce rules such as automatic licence suspension in case of repeat offenders.”
Experts are working hard and are excited about the new technologies which are shaping the future of transport technologies in India, but India still has a long way to go. “Dedicated research and study centres need to be set up across India for traffic management technologies. Right now the number is a null,” says Mohan of TRIPP. “Ideally there should be dedicated lanes for different vehicles,” he adds. While the technologists keep working at infusing intelligent technology to reduce accidents and congestion, driving behavior modification is a must. Only be a combination of traffic rules observation, behavior modification, and infrastructure change can make smooth and safe traffic flow on Indian roads possible.
Meenakshi Rohatgi is Senior Correspondent of Technology Review India edition.
Copyright Technology Review 2013.