In the world of intelligent transportation systems, drivers may find out information about the roadway through changeable message signs or their smartphones. But what about everyday traffic signs that deliver this, and other valuable information as well? Recent testing by the Texas A&M Transportation (TTI) demonstrated that innovative technology is on the cusp of enhancing the most common traffic signs in Texas and beyond.
The catalyst that sparked this testing was provided during a keynote address given by Robert Anderson, Vice President Research and Development for 3M, during the Texas A&M Transportation Technology Conference in early May. The technology presentation caught the attention of Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Director of Strategy and Innovation Darran Anderson.
“After the 3M presentation, TxDOT approached TTI with an interest to explore the innovative signing technology,” explained TTI Senior Research Engineer Paul Carlson. “The interest coincided with the execution of a new research master agreement between 3M and Texas A&M University, focused on developing and testing advanced highway infrastructure to support advanced vehicle technologies that enable connected vehicles and autonomous driving.” (see related story)
The research team demonstrated scenarios involving a machine-readable code that is embedded into traffic signs that are invisible to a human driver. The signs do not look different or perform differently than they do today—in other words, they are still optimized for human vision, but they have an invisible layer of information that machines can read.
“The information the signs provide could be anything from the date the sign was installed or the type of material,” explained Carlson. “But they could also provide other information such as wrong-way detection. The driver may be incapacitated, and the vehicle would know the driver is going the wrong way because it would read the sign and that could initiate activities such as breaking or an automatic 911 call. There are many capabilities to explore.”
The other thing the technology allows for is an assessment of the condition of the sign. This provides state DOTs an automatic asset management that would give a more accurate means of tracking the condition of roadway signs.
Carlson’s research team showcased this technology at the National Symposium on the Barriers and Opportunities for Infrastructure Renewal in mid-September. During the 2017 Transportation Short Course, he invited key TxDOT personnel to experience the technology and discuss the next steps in deploying signs in Texas and eventually throughout the world.
“We (TTI) have a lot of knowledge to bring to this such as the I-35 end of queue warning that provides real-time traveler information,” said Carlson. “It adds a new layer of information to the assets that are on the road today that enhances the value of what we have out there rather than adding new equipment.”