Innovation

Will traffic signs disappear altogether one day?

The international European Corridor project has focused on connecting vehicles and infrastructure since 2013. The first cooperative transportation systems will be installed along the corridor from Rotterdam to Vienna. Kapsch is involved in this as a project partner.

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Maybe this has happened to you: You see a traffic sign posting a speed limit before road work begins, and then after several kilometers, you wonder if the speed limit still applies. In the future, such information and more will be available at any time on a display in the vehicle. This is only one application to be realized under the European Corridor project. The transport ministers of Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands drafted a vision statement at the project’s official launch in 2013: Noticing traffic jams before you see them. Detecting risks before they become a threat. Arriving at your destination safe and sound. (See here.) Cooperative Intelligent Transportation Systems (C-ITS) are the foundation for wireless communication between vehicles and with the roadside infrastructure.

Project definition will be completed this year

Something that sounds so simple actually requires intensive preparation and coordination, reports Martin Linauer, who is responsible for research partnerships at Kapsch TrafficCom. He represents Kapsch in the major project, the first phase of which will be completed this year. In this phase, applications were defined for implementation along the entire corridor and the technical and organizational conditions necessary to achieve this in accordance with a uniform set of criteria were drafted. After all, the communication network is intended to integrate vehicles of all manufacturers and infrastructure elements of different road operators. 

Road work warnings and intelligent transport management

Applications which will be installed along the entire corridor as of 2016 include information on construction work transmitted directly to the cars by radio and an enhanced transport management system relying on data provided by the connected cars. When the risk of a traffic jam is identified in a timely manner and speed can be reduced accordingly, an uninterrupted flow of traffic can be maintained. Here, Martin Linauer refers to traffic research findings. The fundamental diagram of traffic flow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_diagram_of_traffic_flow) states that the flow capacity is greatest at a speed of approximately 50 to 60 km/h. In other words, in the event of an impending traffic jam, the greatest number of vehicles can be accommodated when the speed limit is reduced accordingly. Previous methods for measuring the flow of traffic were limited only to individual parameters due to the high cost of the sensor technology required. If more vehicles contribute to the measurement in the future, transport management can be implemented with a great deal more precision. 

The Austrian contribution

In addition to the two main applications, further services are being tested under the Austrian sub-project ECo-AT (European Corridor – Austrian Testbed for Cooperative Systems) led by ASFINAG. The freeways in the greater Vienna area (A23, S1, airport freeway) as well as those within the city limits and around the trade fair center serve as test areas for these so-called living labs. In particular, the goal is to provide third-party suppliers with the opportunity to offer additional services within the newly established ecosystem.

Will traffic signs really disappear?

The information that cooperative systems can provide to drivers in their cars is highly valuable because it reflects current traffic conditions. Still, it will be some time before such information can entirely replace traffic signs. As a first step, all vehicles will have to be equipped with the technology. Then, corresponding legal regulations would need to be put in place. Hence, for the time being, drivers participating in these systems have added value in the form of better information. And yet all other road users also benefit from the information used in the electronically controlled traffic signs. Last but not least, the environment benefits as well due to the fact that free-flowing traffic generates significantly fewer emissions than do vehicles in a traffic jam. 

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