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Traffic Control Boxes to Help Road Monitoring

rectly determined that an incident had happened.

On average, the controller boxes in this simulation sent fewer than 10 signals a day -- 200 times less than they would normally send.

The engineers also looked at dozens of detector stations over an entire month. Even using fewer than 10 signals a day, the software was able to accurately calculate traffic speeds with greater than 90 percent accuracy, compared to situations when all the data were sent.

"We found that, even though we were sending a lot less information, we could still get the same picture of what was happening on the road," Coifman said.

In Columbus, his communication scheme would pay off the most for data gathered from rural areas.

That's because the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has already reduced its ongoing data transmission costs within Columbus by purchasing its own communication lines; ODOT-owned fiber optic cable now connects most loop detector stations inside the city limits. So the city has virtually unlimited bandwidth to capture data from the most congested areas.

But ODOT doesn't own data lines outside the city proper, where burgeoning suburbs are pushing out into once-rural areas. There, just as residents have to pay for phone and Internet service to their homes, ODOT has to pay for the use of pre-existing communications lines to get data from its loop detectors.

"Under the current practice of sending all of the data back to the traffic management center, it does not make sense to place instruments at locations that only occasionally see congestion," Coifman said. But if these distant detector stations sent data to ODOT headquarters only when necessary, communications costs would likely drop.

"When an incident occurs, the authorities could know much quicker, and ODOT would have a more complete picture," he added. "The same strategy would work in any city."


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