Joint SwRI and UTSA research project to develop self-powered intersection safety system


The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) will work together on a project to develop an ‘off-grid’ traffic management system for deployment at rural intersections.

Texas road fatalities in rural areas reached a record high in 2016, about 2.4 times greater than fatality rates in urban areas, and a potential cause may be the lack of traffic signals at intersections. The joint project will investigate the development of a traffic management system that will be powered using sustainable thermal energy, such as solar or ground-heat, for use in areas beyond the affordable reach of mains electricity.

For the project, SwRI and UTSA propose developing a novel traffic system that would harvest ambient energy as a power source for sensors that would detect traffic and activate warning signage. SwRI’s Dr Jerome Helffrich, an Institute scientist in the Applied Physics Division, and UTSA’s Dr Samer Dessouky, an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will collaborate on the project entitled, ‘Promoting Sustainability and Safety for Texas Rural Roadways through Self-Powered Sensing and Detection Systems’.

“We are excited about collaborating with UTSA to improve Texas roadways,” Helffrich said. “Our work endeavors to combine SwRI’s expertise in sensors and electronics with UTSA’s expertise in electronics, highway construction and management. We plan to develop a traffic sensor that is cheaper and less complex than those typically used.

“This sensor-based system can be implemented in rural areas where costs have discouraged the use of traffic control systems. This idea, if successful, will bring high-tech sensors and warning signage to dangerous intersections in rural areas to reduce crashes, fatalities and operational costs.”

The project will receive US$125,000 in funding through the universities’ mutual Connecting through Research Partnerships (Connect) Program, which enhances scientific collaboration between SwRI and UTSA and increases their research funding base. Since 2010, the joint SwRI-UTSA Connect Program has funded 13 projects.

Dr Bernard Arulanandam, interim vice president for research at UTSA, noted, “This chosen project also fits within our developing Smart Cities and Sustainable Communities/Critical Infrastructure research portfolio and will benefit all citizens of Texas and beyond. Open collaboration within our network of research institutions here in San Antonio is key in developing practical solutions to address critical resources and assets.”

SwRI’s executive vice president and COO, Walt Downing, added, “UTSA faculty and graduate students working together with SwRI scientists and engineers will develop innovative technologies to increase public safety.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).