In the world of intelligent transportation systems (ITS), drivers can currently find out information about the road ahead through variable message signs (VMS) or their smartphones. Recent testing by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) has demonstrated innovative technology that can enhance everyday traffic signs and deliver the same types of valuable information to road users.
The catalyst that sparked this testing was provided during a keynote address given by Robert Anderson, vice president of 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’s (TxDOT) director of strategy and innovation, Darran Anderson. Following the 3M presentation, the agency approached TTI with an interest to explore the innovative signing technology.
The TTI research team demonstrated scenarios involving a machine-readable code that is embedded into traffic signs that are invisible to a human driver. The road signs do not look different or perform differently to existing signage, as they are still optimized for human vision, however they now have an invisible layer of information that machines can read. The test equipment was installed on a TTI vehicle that can detect a machine-readable code embedded on a traffic sign. The technology also allows for an assessment of the condition of the sign, which provides DOTs with an automatic asset management system that would give a more accurate means of tracking the state of roadway signs.
“The TxDOT’s interest coincided with the execution of a new research master agreement between 3M and Texas A&M University, focused on developing and testing new highway infrastructure to support advanced vehicle technologies that enable connected vehicles and autonomous driving,” explained TTI senior research engineer, Paul Carlson.
“The information the signs provide could be anything from the date the sign was installed or the type of material. 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.”
“We (TTI) have a lot of knowledge to bring to this, such as the I-35 end-of-queue warning system that provides real-time traveler information,” added Carlson. “It adds a new layer of information to the assets that are on the road today, which enhances the value of what we have out there, rather than adding new equipment.”