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Utah Expands Connected Vehicle Project to Include More Autos

A connected vehicle partnership project between the Utah Department of Transportation and Panasonic is moving into phase two, which includes more vehicles, roadside units and expanded data sharing.

An employee with the Utah Department of Transportation installs a roadside unit along a highway in the state to enable the smooth transfer of highway, weather, vehicle operation and other data.
Submitted Photo/ Utah Department of Transportation
A connected vehicle pilot project in Utah is expanding in order to gather more data and insights into what’s happening on the roadways.

The Utah Department of Transportation, in partnership with Panasonic Corp. of North America, plans to move into the second phase of a connected vehicle study. The goal is to explore how the technology can improve highway safety by gathering data generated by vehicles, as well as putting in place a system to better communicate road, weather and other conditions with drivers.

The project will involve outfitting more vehicles — namely UDOT fleets, but also other vehicles from other public-sector agencies — with onboard technology that can connect to roadside units.

The first phase of the five-year, $50 million project began last summer. In that phase, 35 UDOT vehicles were equipped with the connected vehicle technology, which was able to communicate with roadside units along a stretch of highway between Salt Lake City and Park City. The first phase was strongly focused on data collection, from the vehicle, to the roadside units, to the cloud, said Chris Armstrong, a vice president for Panasonic USA’s “vehicle-to-everything” (V2X) business efforts.

“We showed that these vehicles can really serve, almost like a sensing tool, for what’s happening on the roadway, whether it’s related to crashes, whether it’s related to weather, we used those as our two primary use cases. And we showed that when a crash might occur, in one of those vehicles, or when the hazard lights might be on, we can detect that, in just a few seconds,” Armstrong explained.

The project is now moving forward with developing applications to provide warnings to the driver. The warnings can be weather-related, with information around, say, icy roads. Another application in development is a curve speed warning where drivers are alerted about upcoming curves.

“If Phase I was really about getting data from the vehicle, into our system to gain insights about what’s going on along the roadway, Phase II is now focused on putting data back in the cars,” said Blaine Leonard, a technology and innovation engineer at the Utah Department of Transportation.

A second piece of the new phase will be to expand the deployment of connected vehicles to add about 50 roadside units and equip another 100 vehicles. The idea is to concentrate the additional roadside units in a single geographical area.

“We’re excited about this technology. We’re excited about this partnership. We think this is a gamechanger for us. We think it’s really going to help bring about some innovation, in safety and other ways,” said Leonard. “There’s a lot of change happening in transportation today, with connected vehicles, automated vehicles, mobility-as-a-service, electric vehicles, all kinds of things going on. And we just think it’s really important that we, as an agency, are proactive and innovative, and creative and get out there and put these new technologies to use to help the public.”

Another piece of the project is the data sharing element. Some 60 or more organizations have been identified as those that may be interested in the data, and the project is involved with building tools to allow them to access it, said Leonard.

“We’re really trying to be inclusive of all kinds of other innovative minds,” he added. “UDOT believes that the data we have, and collected, and bought was purchased with public funds and belongs to the public.” 

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.