Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 28, 2014

Tech Evangelists Hit the Hill to Showcase Transportation Inventions

Cars talking to nearby cars to avert accidents, cars sending collision avoidance warnings to pedestrians’ cell phones, and traffic signals adjusting their sequencing in real time to respond to surges in bicycle traffic — those were a few of the technology-enabled ideas displayed at Wednesday night’s Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA) showcase at the Cannon House Office Building.

The trade association – whose mission is “to use technology to solve transportation problems” — sponsored a fly-in of its members to lobby Congress, followed by a presentation of the products and services that their members offer.

ITSA includes private companies, academic think tanks, state transportation departments, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), counties, and cities.

The exhibitors ranged from well-established tech firms such as Qualcomm to Urban Insights, a four-person startup that just launched on Monday.

As the House moves toward designing a new surface transportation bill in the near future – as promised Wednesday by Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. — ITSA wants lawmakers to promote and fund technology to help transit agencies manage traffic and use data analytics to make it easier for travelers to reach their destinations.

At least two House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members — Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie and Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski — showed up Wednesday night to examine the exhibits and chat with ITS members.

“Obviously, funding is first and foremost on everybody’s agenda. Our states, cities, MPO’s are already starting to feel the pressure of [federal highway] funding running out at the end of July and they’re scaling back on projects,” said ITSA president Scott Belcher. “They don’t have the certainty they need about how much funding they’re going to have and for how long.”

Belcher said in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s bill transportation bill, “they reduced funding of [intelligent transportation] research by half; they need to restore that.”

And Congress, he said, needs to ensure that the 5.9 Gigahertz spectrum upon which the vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology is based “is not taken away from the industry or not shared without doing the proper due diligence….”

Among the companies and services on display at the ITSA showcase:

  • A Qualcomm-Honda vehicle-to-pedestrian pilot project which can warn the person who is about to cross a street if a car is on course to run him down.

“A warning would go off to the pedestrian and to the driver of the vehicle that they are about to collide,” explained Qualcomm vice president for public affairs Alice Tornquist. A honking sound would go off and lights would illuminate on the pedestrian’s cell phone. If V2V communications technology becomes a requirement for future cars, as the Obama administration intends, then the V2P might also become part of the “ecosystem,” Tornquist said.

Pedestrian fatalities were up more than 6 percent in 2012, totaling 4,743 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Urban Insights, a subsidiary of San Diego-based Cubic Transportation Systems, uses data analytics to help public transit agencies “become more efficient and better at what they do,” said Matthew Cole, Cubic Transportation’s executive vice president for strategy, business development, and diversification.

While transit agencies have plenty of entry-and-exit and fare-system data based on trips people take on the Washington, D.C., Metro or other transit systems, “most of the data exists in different data warehouses. Even one transit agency will have multiple databases, depending on the number of IT systems they have.” The public agencies lack the tools to integrate the data and the people who know how to analyze it, he said.

Urban Insights uses Apache Hadoop, an open-source framework designed to handle enormous amounts of data, to interpret the information.

For example, if a transit agency wants to examine what the effect on the travelling public would be if it changes or eliminates bus routes, Urban Insights can use data to predict the effects of those changes and what alternatives travelers would have.

  • Iteris, headquartered in Santa Ana, Calif., has a bicycle detection system called SmartCycle — developed only in the last year — that can tally the number of bicycles flowing through an intersection. Since bikes start more slowly at an intersection once the traffic light turns green and it takes them longer to get through an intersection, SmartCycle helps traffic engineers adjust traffic lights to give bicyclists time to go through.

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