Denver Plows Ahead with Connected Vehicle Tech Deployments

The city continues to move ahead with the deployment of new connected vehicle technologies, which officials hope can offer safer and more efficient traffic operations.

by / May 29, 2019
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Connected vehicle technologies in Denver could send snow treatment teams to the precise locations where the pavement is icing over.

This is part of a range of connected vehicle technologies being explored in the city as transportation officials continue to deploy tech in fleet vehicles and traffic signals. The move will provide a more data-rich view of current conditions and the actions needed to operate a more efficient and safer transportation system.

“If we have 10 vehicles on the road that are all saying this road is getting icy, and we can infer that from the data coming in, we can dispatch a snowplow or truck to lay down sand,” said Matthew McAllister, smart city project manager for the city and county of Denver, speaking earlier this month at the Internet of Things World conference in Santa Clara, Calif. 

“While that snowplow is heading out, we can make its route a lot more efficient by giving it an extended green [light] time,” he added. “So, rather than coming to an unnecessary stop … we can hold that green, for say three more seconds, to make sure that the vehicle gets through.” 

The intelligent transportation network developments are part of the city’s participation in a federal smart cities grant program known as Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment, (ATCMTD.) The city was awarded the $6 million grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2016 to explore the deployment of “dedicated short range communications,” the technology used by connected vehicles and intelligent traffic signals.

The federal transportation grant opened the door for Denver to have access to open-source technology that allowed the easy interoperability between the older and newer traffic signal infrastructure, which allows for easy communication between the signals and the connected vehicles. McAllister described it as the “Rosetta Stone for connected vehicles.”

A few factors made Denver a good candidate for the grant. For one, there are more than 300 miles of city-owned fiber-optic network able to support the technologies and connect intersections. The city also has a test lab for transportation technologies. And a traffic management center collects all of the data from the field and is able to analyze and process it, said McAllister.

This summer, Denver plans to deploy the signal priority feature — which could speed up the response of snowplows — and “pre-emption,” which refers to technologies that can detect pedestrians.

“In addition to connected vehicle technology, the city of Denver is very interested in detection. So, how do we really, really accurately detect when pedestrians are crossing the street?” McAllister told the conference attendees during one of the connected vehicle sessions. “This can be with a camera or some other type of technology. And what we want to be able to do is wirelessly send that signal out, that there is affirmatively a pedestrian crossing.”

Denver is considering deploying the pedestrian-crossing technology at four locations. A camera or other detection device will “see” a person and then send that signal to the traffic management system, which will then wirelessly broadcast this information to connected vehicles in the area.

“We recognize that there’s a pretty low market penetration of vehicles with this already equipped, unless they have an aftermarket device, so we’re also wirelessly sending that signal to an advance warning sign that’s ahead of the driver. And that sign will light up when it receives the signal as well,” said McAllister. 

The city is working with other transportation officials in Utah, Arizona, Nebraska and New Hampshire as they develop similar projects.

“All of this technology is still maturing and growing,” McAllister remarked.

“The flexibility, as that market is changing, is very important,” he added. “So we think investing in an open-source solution and working with other cities and states, on how do we build up that ecosystem so that we can all pivot, this helps.”

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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