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How AI Is Making America’s Roads Safer

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Read more about author Jeff Price.

The future of cities will center around mobility, especially intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies. But to keep the flow of traffic smooth, municipalities and transit systems must employ a more integrated and data-driven approach, one that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Across the globe, AI-based cameras have been installed in intersections and roadways, leveraging traditional computer vision and newer AI-based techniques to detect, track, and classify all the moving objects in its view. According to recent research, more than 155,000 AI-based cameras will be in use for traffic management by 2025. 

Cities like Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco, and Reno have adopted ITS technologies to improve traffic flow. Minnesota’s Department of Transportation’s use of ITS spans the entire state via my own company’s technology, which provides horizon-to-horizon computer vision tracking to actuate intersections and help solve complex problems such as adaptive traffic signal control, as well as vulnerable road user protection and safety analytics. Minnesota’s DoT has seen great advantages in the technology’s detection capabilities, as it captures data on vehicle counts and classifications, as well as identifying driver patterns to improve congestion and road safety. 

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Another recent ITS implementation can be seen in the extensive traffic signal and mobility modernization efforts underway at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego). To address traffic congestion, UC San Diego invested nearly $2 million to implement adaptive traffic signal controls at 26 intersections along five miles of roadway surrounding the campus. The University, Linscott, Law, & Greenspan (LLG) Engineers, and my company teamed up to make these upgrades, paving the way for San Diego’s smart city future with integrated transit. The three organizations are in the near-deployment stage for one of San Diego’s most extensive ITS projects to date. 

Expansions like UC San Diego’s ITS project are necessary across cities and regions in order to reach full integration. Other cities in Southern California have made progress. Sacramento, San Jose, Carlsbad, and Oceanside will install adaptive signals in the next 24 months. Adaptive signals will become commonplace in the future. Adding or widening roads is seldom a feasible option in many places, so municipalities must consider integrated mobility and leverage technology to their advantage. Adaptive systems lay the groundwork for connected vehicles. Once vehicles can communicate to the grid, the adaptive system, and even other cars, congestion can be even further reduced by using the improved data about what to expect. 

With the transformation of transit on the rise, American cities will see more ITS technologies in place to create operational efficiencies on their roads and transit systems. As part of that tech ecosystem, applications equipped with automatic incident detection or stopped vehicle detection systems are available, as well as advanced applications that integrate live data and feedback from sources such as parking guidance and information systems or weather data. 

This year, my company also launched a solution to improve safety for vulnerable road users (VRUs) such as pedestrians or bicyclists at intersections that may have existing approach-only detection. It leverages computer vision and enhanced AI capability, some of which has been developed to detect, classify, and track VRUs as they enter, travel through, and exit the intersection. To protect VRUs while maintaining vehicle travel efficiency, agencies should continue to make the investment in technology.

The possibility of more AI-enabled transportation systems in the U.S. is greater now with the passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Under this act, America’s roads and bridges will receive much-need renovations, and communities can achieve a better quality of life as municipalities leverage the latest technology in their master plans moving forward. The time is now to seize this once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity to fully modernize America’s transportation infrastructure. Let us use the tools at our disposal to revitalize our roads.

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