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Colorado Pushes for Early-Stage Vehicle-to-Vehicle, Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Test on Mountain Highways

Working with a private company, the Colorado Department of Transportation's RoadX program will test out a pilot project that will deliver early alerts to drivers on Interstate 70.

As the federal government pushes toward a future where all new vehicles talk not only to each other but also to infrastructure, Colorado has decided to get a head start on finding out what that reality would look like using existing technology.

The Colorado Department of Transportation, working through its tech-focused RoadX program, intends to start piloting a program next year with the private company HERE to test connected vehicle concepts along one of its most challenging traffic corridors: Interstate 70. As Colorado’s only state-spanning east-west highway, I-70 serves as the main route for people heading from Denver to the ski resorts of Vail and Aspen. It hooks through snowy mountain passes where drivers get in hundreds of accidents each year.

The pilot project will involve HERE setting up a smart phone application that will push out information to drivers about imminent hazards and road alerts — bad weather and accidents, for instance. The information will come over the existing LTE network, so it won’t require any sort of additional infrastructure investment on the part of the state.

Much of the information will come from HERE’s existing operations, which involve a data collection program using LIDAR-equipped vehicles, but the company also plans on collecting data from 1,000 vehicle owners who choose to participate in the pilot. HERE already has those vehicles on the roads, partially as part of its operations supporting applications like Yahoo and Bing's mapping services.

“[Drivers will] get that information before they approach that condition, so they can make a decision and say either, ‘I need to start slowing down’ or, ‘I want to take a different route,’ or maybe even, ‘I don’t want to get on the road right now,’” said Monali Shah, HERE’s director of intelligent transportation.

In the future, the U.S. Department of Transportation wants to make a more sophisticated version of that system a reality — only instead of sending it through an LTE network, it will come through dedicated short-range communication devices that operate on an exclusive 5.9 GHz band the Federal Communications Commission set aside for that purpose in 2004. And it will involve cars communicating with each other, with infrastructure and with central databases instead of just smart phones.

And while the federal DOT is trying to accelerate that concept’s transition into reality — in the form of an advanced rulemaking proposal and a just-announced push for $4 billion in research funding in that area — it isn’t happening right now, as people continue to get into car accidents. The Colorado DOT thinks it can get a head start on the technology.

“Our feeling is that many of these challenges, the vehicle-to-infrastructure [V2I] challenges, we can solve a lot of those by using the existing infrastructure,” Shah said.

In the future, she said, the information might feed into a car dashboard in a manner more in tune with what the U.S. DOT is talking about.

But even the current form of the project, which may end up becoming permanent after the test phase according to RoadX Program Director Peter Kozinski, may support more widespread vehicle-to-vehicle and V2I implementation in the future.

“We would love to see that this is well-received by the traveling public, that we can point to statistical information to show that accidents have been averted, that we’re seeing less delays on the corridor, a safer environment along the corridor and reliability,” Kozinski said.

If the pilot project can help drivers get more comfortable with the connected-vehicle concept, that could smooth the transition to widespread deployment in the future, he said.

And really, that’s the whole point behind RoadX. The state DOT launched the program in October 2015 promising to seek rapid deployment of cutting-edge technology to try to solve traffic problems sooner rather than later. That means doing things nobody has done before — in the U.S., at least.

The pilot project with HERE is actually the second project RoadX has taken on involving technology being tested outside the U.S. HERE is conducting a similar pilot test for vehicle connection in Finland, and RoadX is also working on implementing a traffic control program that has been used in Melbourne, Australia. That one involves replacing highway on-ramp meters with “smart meters” that coordinate with each other to ease congestion by adapting how frequently they let cars through onto the highway.

“You might wait a minute or two longer at the ramp to get on, but once you’re on, you move much faster,” he said.

The goal is to get the technologies tested and on their way to deployment in the U.S., Kozinski said, and to do it as quickly as possible. With the on-ramp project, Colorado DOT hopes to begin construction in six months.

“For us, it’s all about the speed of deployment,” he said.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.