Internet of Things on the Move - Intelligent Transportation Systems

Cordell Schachter, Chief Technology Officer, New York City Department of Transportation; Member of the Board of Directors, Intelligent Transportation Society of America
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Cordell Schachter, Chief Technology Officer, New York City Department of Transportation;  Member of the Board of Directors, Intelligent Transportation Society of America

Cordell Schachter, Chief Technology Officer, New York City Department of Transportation; Member of the Board of Directors, Intelligent Transportation Society of America

The New York City Department of Transportation has responsibility for a large number of physical and virtual resources. 1 million signs, 12,000 intersections with networked traffic signals, 6,000 miles of road, 2,000 miles of sidewalks, 700 bridges…and many more are under its jurisdiction. We also have 3,000 IT clients in 80 locations, 100 IT projects in progress, and 80 legacy custom software applications in production. They’re all served from a hybrid infrastructure combining assets maintained centrally by New York City, owned by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT), and provided commercially as Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Infrastructure as a Service. As a government agency we’re looking to return the best value to the tax-payers for their investments. We look for long lasting scalable technologies to support our infrastructure. That’s why we’ve diversified to create this hybrid infrastructure and we use commercial as well as Open Source software. The Internet of Things (IoT) offers us and other road managers the opportunity to improve safety using information from instrumentation dedicated to transportation, infrastructure networks, and the Internet.

Accessibility has become a goal common to all of NYCDOT's software development and among our requirements for the software we purchase. Our internal customers need to access their work systems in the field. Our external customers, businesses and the general public also expect to interact with us wherever they are, well beyond the confines of their offices and homes. Accessibility goals also drive our presence in the cloud. We’ve created geographic information systems there at the edge to efficiently serve map-related and other public information. Our commercial cloud infrastructures operate without the New York City-owned security overhead needed to access a government operated environment. We outsource to cloud providers the risk management and security responsibilities associated with public access. That allows us to focus on our core responsibility, the safety of all New Yorkers.

Accessibility commonly means accommodating people with disabilities. Only, it hasn’t been common among software and systems. We’ve embarked on projects to improve the accessibility of our New York City public transit web app and our teams work to develop features for people with vision and cognitive impairments and mobility limitations. Everyone deserves to freely and independently move around New York City.

We also want our systems and public information to be available everywhere, anytime, on any device. We've standardized on no standard for endpoints. We deploy responsive web apps using the HTML5 framework. They're coded to work on devices with any size screen. Our developers include in their single codebase directions for the app to present its menus and features on smart-phones, tablets, and desktop devices. As web apps, they're available to any device with Internet access and don't need a prior download from a store for initial use or later updates.

NYCDOT is developing Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) to increase the safety of pedestrians and vehicles. Under Vision Zero New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has set a goal of reducing to zero the number of fatalities and serious injuries due to traffic crashes. There are several flavors of ITS.

First, I to V - Infrastructure to Vehicle will utilize new means of communicating from our traffic signal network to cars, buses, trucks, and even bicycles to inform their operators about traffic conditions and the presence of pedestrians who are in their path of travel.

Second, V to V - Vehicle to Vehicle communications will create mutual awareness in the roadway to reduce the number and severity of crashes—V to V can also extend the traffic signal network's reach, using each vehicle as a repeater and as a client as well. That would create a meshed network along roadways that will communicate with vehicles that may not be able to receive the original signal from the infrastructure.

Third, X to X - Any to Any communications in an Intelligent Transportation System includes messaging to and from pedestrians and others to alert vehicles of their presence in the roadway and to give them information about the location of vehicles, other hazards, and traffic conditions. Information from other networks and the Internet can be accessed as needed and presented to vehicles, pedestrians, and other travelers. In this way ITS is an important component of the IoT.

Intelligent Transportation System development has suffered from paralysis deciding who needs to invest first: vehicle manufacturers or road managers. Vehicle manufactures have delayed installing ITS compatible equipment in their vehicles, which increases their price. They're waiting for road managers to install the infrastructure equipment that will communicate to and from the vehicles. Road managers are waiting for actionable standards, the availability of equipment, and equipped vehicles that will utilize the technology.

In the meantime, many manufacturers have installed road condition awareness equipment that can operate independently of network information. They can sense vehicles or other objects in their paths, or alongside them to improve safety. The federal government is holding grant competitions for pilot programs to fund ITS infrastructure investments. Everyone wants to make progress and many are doing what they can, even on their own.

Most recently, the US Congress has threatened the success of nationwide, ubiquitous Intelligent Transportation Systems. Spectrum allocated just for ITS is under consideration to be shared with commercial wireless carriers under license or unlicensed and directly used by wireless clients. The original exclusive dedication of the spectrum was to ensure that there would be no interference by all the other "things" in the IoT. It's unknown what risk the IoT will pose to ITS by having other "riders' in the same spectrum.

Intelligent Transportation Systems' potential to save lives makes it among the most compelling cases for the positive potential impact of the Internet of Things. Highway and local road vehicles are among our most important personal and business assets. And with instrumentation, they're IoT nodes. Vehicle use does come at a cost of lives and serious injuries. IoT and ITS have the potential to reduce the dangers of traffic crashes by communicating everyone's presence and intentions to improve everyone's safety.

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