The Operating System of your Work Zone

I've found that it helps to view computers as a metaphor for Smarter Work Zones. Traffic sensors are your input devices, like a keyboard or touchscreen. You have output devices, like a display or printer, with portable changeable message signs. You have popup messages (alert emails), telling you something important that needs your attention (which can be annoying if not done properly...just like popups on your computer). You have reports acting like a anti-virus checker, ensuring your system is working correctly. Carrying this analogy forward, the software that runs your Smarter Work Zone, is the operating system. But unlike the computer on your desk or in your pocket, the computer that is your Smarter Work zone, hasn't been upgraded in a while. We aim to change that. Let's dig in.

The Hardware:

ITS Hardware has been trudging forward at a glacial pace. I would venture that much of this has to do with the costs associated with R&D. While the smartphone supply chain will inevitably change this, thus far things have been slow to improve. Doppler radars have been detecting traffic speeds since 1947. Both microwave sensors and LED portable message signs have been around since the late 90's. Really the only new entrant into the hardware space of smarter work zones was bluetooth and wifi detectors, which have been on the market since 2008.

None of this is really a problem. With NTCIP standards, a sign is a sign is a sign. Doppler radars have been in use for almost 70 years, because they work great! All sensor types have readily-available public protocols so they are easy to integrate. The fact that these technologies have been around so long is a boon to agencies and the motoring public. They are commoditized, off the shelf, and readily available. Just like keyboards and mice.

The Software

So if the sensors are the keyboard and mouse, the message boards are the display, the software is what ties all the inputs and outputs together. It is the operating system. There are a number of smart work zone software providers out there, but like the hardware, not much has been changed. There been no bar-raising, no real innovation. We're seeing presentations made by the FHWA about system designs that are 10 years old!

The computer on your desk might not look much different than the one you had that ran Windows95, but the software sure has changed. The smartphone is still a slab of glass, the same as it was in 2007 when the first iPhone came out. Hardware is hard to change. Once you have your sunk costs in the R&D, and once you have a good design, you don't want to rush to change it. Makes sense. But software is easily changed. Just like you update your Android or iOS every year or so, so to should you smart work zone operating system update its features and capabilities. We've got a bajillion ideas of how it can be improved, such as new logic for automation, new output formats. Also how to strengthen your decision making with key metrics from great increase of data the Internet of Things is bringing us. We're excited to make some announcements along these lines soon, so stay tuned to the Salander Blog!