WayCare, the startup that wants to use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict traffic accidents and congestion, has scored its first U.S. pilot project with the city of Las Vegas.
The six-month paid pilot, which should officially begin in September, will see a coalition of city, state and county agencies test out a new way of doing things. Where a typical traffic center might rely on calls to send out responders to an accident, the idea behind WayCare is to anticipate when and where those accidents might happen — so that agencies like Nevada Highway Patrol can put resources in place beforehand.
If it’s successful, that means that at the very least those responders can be onsite, helping people and cleaning up the mess, more quickly. The city and state’s hope is that the presence of those resources might even prevent accidents.
“They can know where they should place their vehicles, visibly, within the next two hours,” said Noam Maital, WayCare’s chief executive officer.
The pilot project’s cost is in the tens of thousands of dollars, Maital said, though he declined to name a specific number. It will run on two corridors along U.S. 95 and Interstate 15.
In totality, the project is about more than traffic prediction — it’s about data analytics and situational awareness. It’s not news to traffic management officials and highway patrol officers that accidents are more likely to happen when a vehicle is parked on a highway shoulder or debris is cluttering up a lane.
But it’s one thing for a veteran police officer to know from experience, and another entirely to pull diverse data streams into a central location and analyze them.
“There will be an overlap — like, yes, the highway patrolman was right, but why was he right?” said Dan Langford, director of the Nevada Center for Advanced Mobility.
The purpose of the program will be to crunch large data sets to find relationships where humans might not think to look. Perhaps it’s not just cars swerving to avoid a blown-out tire in the passing lane — maybe it’s the angle of the sun in the sky, or a dust cloud floating across the highway. Maybe it’s something else.
“With the rich analytics … you see the correlation between those types of events and the situation on the roadways,” said Brian Hoeft, director of traffic management for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.
In the longer term, the use of learning algorithms to understand congestion might help the city better focus its efforts and funding to accommodate more traffic.
And at the moment, a looming increase in traffic is very much on the minds of southern Nevada’s government officials. Following the development of a long-standing notoriety among sports fans for lacking professional teams despite its size, Las Vegas has attracted two teams in one fell swoop — the National Hockey League expansion Golden Knights and the National Football League’s Raiders, formerly of Oakland, Calif. The latter is getting a brand-new stadium. Then there’s the two new casinos, the W Las Vegas and Lucky Dragon, along with Resorts World Las Vegas aiming for a 2020 grand opening.
The project is forward-looking in another way: It anticipates a future of connected and autonomous vehicles. The city is placing more than one bet on that future; it created an “innovation district” last year as a means of testing out new transportation technologies, and early this year it pilot-tested a self-driving shuttle on Fremont Street.
“Connected and autonomous vehicles become a source of data that can be used in WayCare’s solution,” Langford said. “So an example would be if an autonomous vehicle sees a vehicle on the side of the roadway, it can report that.”
WayCare is also having talks with Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa, Fla., to potentially set up pilot projects. Maital said there are other cities considering pilots as well.
“What we’re looking at," Maital said, "is first to really establish the relationship with the city of Las Vegas to show that this is something they’re going to need on a day-to-day basis in terms of managing incidents, taking proactive measures and [enabling cooperation] between all the agencies."