Three-year study funded by National Science Foundation aims to integrate today’s largely disconnected traffic management systems

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant worth nearly $2 million to Rutgers and UCLA to develop intelligent metropolitan traffic management technology that reduces urban traffic congestion and air pollution.

Using wireless computer networking, the technology will monitor traffic flow and air quality, and then in response, recommend alternate routes to drivers via on-board navigation devices. The technology could also offer drivers incentives to follow different routings that balance overall flow and temper pollution hot-spots.

The technology, to be developed by experts in computer science, urban planning, atmospheric sciences and environmental health sciences at both universities, aims to enhance and integrate traffic management ideas now being implemented by metropolitan transportation agencies.

“Existing solutions for traffic management are largely disconnected,” said Liviu Iftode, professor of computer science in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers. “We not only have to make smarter systems – such as traffic lights that sense and respond to traffic flow and on-board navigators that receive information about delays – we also need to make it possible for them to share information directly so they can immediately react to changing conditions.”

Iftode, a principal investigator on the three-year, $1.94 million collaborative grant, said the research is both a computer science challenge – collecting and sharing data over Wi-Fi or 3G wireless networks between thousands of sensors and vehicles – and a modeling problem – analyzing air pollution and traffic flow profiles for real-time traffic control.

“We expect our work to be particularly relevant to New York City and Los Angeles, where traffic congestion is the major pollution factor and increasing walkability is desired,” said Mario Gerla, professor of computer science at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and also principal investigator on the collaborative grant. “For the first time, thanks to wireless technology, we can close the loop between centralized traffic management, on-board navigators and drivers. This is our chance to bring congestion and pollution under control and make our cities livable again.”

The researchers will test concepts they develop on UCLA’s Campus Vehicular Testbed, a fleet of several university cars, vans and buses equipped with wireless networking technologies.

“For these technologies to be adopted, they would need to be unobtrusive for the driver,” said Iftode, particularly when it comes to proposing routes that charge premiums or offer credits to control congestion and pollution. “Drivers should be allowed to set upper bounds for the congestion/pollution fees they are willing to pay in advance, then on-board navigators can offer shortest-time routes that fit their budget.”

Gerla and Iftode have  previously collaborated on traffic management research, such as their highway with lane reservation concept that would allow drivers to pay to reserve a time slot in a designated lane that is guaranteed to flow without congestion. Born in Italy and Romania, respectively, the researchers also expect European cities to show interest in the research because of Europe’s environmental focus.

Four years ago, Iftode worked with the Technical University of Bucharest in his home country to evaluate the impact of using wireless commmunication between vehicles and traffic lights to adjust traffic light timing and cut emissions. This collaboration continues with new vehicular applications and studies of how interaction with on-board navigation systems affects driving. Gerla has collaborated with Politecnico di Milano, Italy, to develop the Mobile Mesh Network (MobiMesh), now a key component of the UCLA vehicle testbed. In turn, Italian researchers are now examining the UCLA testbed for future use in Italian urban scenarios.

Joining them on the project are computer science professor Badri Nath of Rutgers and research scientist Giovanni Pau of UCLA Engineering. Also participating from UCLA are atmospheric sciences professor Suzanne Paulson, urban planning professor Brian Taylor, and environmental health sciences professor Arthur Winer.

Established in 1766, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and one of the nation’s premier public research universities.  Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Camden, Newark and New Brunswick, Rutgers offers more than 280 bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and professional degree programs. The university is home to 28 degree-granting schools and colleges, and 180 research centers and institutes.  (www.rutgers.edu, www.cs.rutgers.edu)