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Getting Intelligent on Transportation

Cars that talk to each other, buses that see in the snow, and cameras that help move accidents-these are just some of the ideas being discussed at the Intelligent Transportation Society Annual Conference in Houston this week. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez reports on how technology helps us move.


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“I’m going to take my hands off of the wheel, and you can see if it drifts too far to one side or the other, the steering wheel will turn, I’m still in control of the vehicle as the driver, but I’m getting a little suggestion.”

Mike Abegg, a transportation planner from Minnesota, is not letting go of the actual steering wheel-just a mock up, behind the real driver. We’re in a bus driving down the shoulder of Hwy 288-that’s the rumble strips you hear. This bus uses GPS to detect the road’s boundaries, and alert the driver if he starts to drift. In Minnesota, buses use this technology to stay on the shoulder in snowy winters. They want to be on the shoulder because that acts as a kind of HOV lane-relieving lots of congestion.

“We’re at a time in our cities when we can’t build our way out of congestion, don’t have enough money, and we don’t have enough space.”

That’s Scott Belcher, the president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, which promotes the use of technology to reduce congestion, emissions, and accidents. Belcher says that small changes to the traffic system can have a huge impact:

“Some of those technologies are as simple as traffic light synchronization. So that when you come to a traffic light you don’t sit and wait. If you synchronize the traffic  lights, you can reduce congestion by 20%. You can reduce emissions by an equal amount.”

You can also reduce accidents, because cars aren’t stopping and starting as much. Houston has implemented this technology downtown and on Westheimer.  And it’s just one of the reasons why the ITSA brought their conference to Houston this year:

“One of the things that makes Houston a real leader, and one of the reasons why we’re here, is because the Houston Galveston area, their governments work so closely together through what’s called TransStar.”

You may know TransStar from their traffic map.  But they also have over 600 cameras, which they use as a part of the SafeClear towing program, simulated here:

“The only thing that you see right now is a vehicle up here that’s stalled, and it’s apparent that it’s out of gas.”

TransStar’s Dinah Massie says the agency is now using Bluetooth technology to track traffic speeds:

“Each phone has a Bluetooth number that’s anonymous. And we would capture that number and use that information to say, OK, there’s 50 cars on Westheimer, they’re all going about 37 miles an hour, we average those together and post that speed.”

The most futuristic idea at the conference was that of a driverless car which avoids crashes on its own.  ITSA President Scott Belcher says the technology could be ready within 10 to 15 years.  He cautions, though, that we might not be ready to give up our control.