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Seeing Promise in Data, Utah to Expand Connected Vehicle Work

The Utah Department of Transportation will continue its partnership with Panasonic on deploying connected vehicle technology. It intends to add more vehicles to the project and make collected data actionable.

Highway 15 in Provo, Utah, with Mt. Timpanogos in background
Adobe Stock/Bob
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with new title information for Kjeld Lindsted.

More data coming from more vehicles is giving the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) deeper insight into how its mobility network is operating, and helping to improve safety — endeavors it will expand this year.

The end goal, said Blaine Leonard, transportation technology engineer at UDOT, “is to provide data that we can push back into the vehicles to prevent crashes. That’s our endgame. Safety is our endgame.”

Leonard was discussing a years-long connected vehicle program the state has been developing. It deploys a mixture of hardware and software across its roadways with the aim of collecting data, analyzing it, and then producing actionable steps officials can take to better inform drivers, traffic engineers and others. These moves are aimed at making the roadways both more efficient and safer.

UDOT has been in a nearly five-year connected vehicle program with Panasonic. The project has deployed about 490 “roadside units” (RSUs), which communicate with onboard units — technology installed on public-sector vehicles, which can vary from light-duty cars and trucks to city buses and snowplows. About 190 vehicles are part of the connected vehicle program.

Other vehicles from around the state are being considered for inclusion, which should increase the number of connected vehicles in the program to 256 during the next few months, Panasonic officials said. That expansion, to be complete by the end of the year, will ultimately add another 300 roadside units, with a long-term goal of having an RSU “on every traffic signal in the state,” Leonard said.

The effort to expand connected vehicle technology is being aided by improvements and upgrades in the Panasonic system, which the company calls Cirrus 2.0. These are designed to handle the increasing levels of data collected and sorted by transportation systems.

Today, said Kjeld Lindsted, group lead, Cirrus for Panasonic Smart Mobility, “we have a lot more devices online in some of these states, a lot more vehicles sharing a lot more messages, which all adds up to a ton of data.”

If transportation departments were going to make sense of the data and apply it toward decision-making, the Panasonic architecture needed to be upgraded to handle increasing levels of data, Lindsted explained.

The other aspect is, “how do we connect that data to other things. It’s one thing to have kind of this data lake, and we’re able to extract some insights from it to help us understand traffic,” he said. “But what we found is, what do you do with those insights to make sure that they’re actionable.”

The Cirrus system, which collects and analyzes connected vehicle data, looks for trends and areas that might raise concern.

“Are there areas where you have a lot of hard braking happening?” Leonard said. “Are there places where multiple vehicles have their flashers turned on? That’s indicative to us of some kind of a traffic problem.”

Panasonic and UDOT are working toward providing a central system to manage traffic incidents. The system uses data gathered from connected vehicles — information related to icy roads, hard braking or other data points — “in a way that makes it actionable for traditional operators,” Lindsted said.

In other words, the idea is to take this data and be able to use it to intervene, potentially altering a snow-plow route as needed, or updating messages on digital highway signage.

“The system is working for us, and we have optimistic hopes for what we can achieve,” Leonard said.
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 Yreka, Calif.