How Technology Mega Trends are Impacting Traffic Control

Miovision’s CEO, Kurtis McBride, recently attended the Canadian Institute of Transportation Engineers (CITE) and the Texas Institute of Transportation Engineers (TexITE) meetings where he spoke at both shows.
Currently there are four mega trends in technology that impact traffic control:

  • Changes in computing power, cloud computing
  • Changes in wireless communications
  • Increase in mobile devices
  • NTCIP standards – their adoption is opening new opportunities

All four of these trends have either started to impact traffic control or are currently being developed to be utilized in the future.

Changes in Computing Power and Cloud Computing

Moore’s law is a great example of how computing power is expanding. It states that the power of computing doubles every two years.

To put that into perspective, the Apollo Guidance Computer for the Apollo Mission was running at 43 kHz. A computer chip costing $50 from Texas Instruments is 10 GHz, which is 250,000 times more powerful that the AGC. The chip is as powerful as 50 desktop computers. What does this mean for new detection devices and control devices? There is an awesome amount of power in chips in the market that can and will be utilized in future solutions.

cloud_computing

Evolution of Computing vs. Traffic Control

Manual Traffic Light

Decades ago there were computers the size of a room that used punch cards. From there, Apple created the desktop computer, which wasn’t connected to anything but allowed you to complete word processing and utilize spreadsheets. Then along came Client Server Architecture which allowed you to connect all the computers in an office and share files all on one server.

Now the next generation of computing is utilizing the cloud. Cloud computing allows users to utilize computing resources in a remote location and access them over a network. An example of this is Google’s office suite using apps similar to Microsoft Office but allows people can collaborate using the cloud through google apps.

This progression is similar to the evolution of traffic control. Initially there was a person on the side of the road, manually changing the traffic lights. After that, there were physical ring barrier systems and electronic ring barrier systems for managing traffic. Increasingly those systems are being connected to one another through companies like RuggedCom and other telecommunication companies. However, we haven’t entered the cloud phase in terms of traffic control.

What is the cloud anyway? There is a company where 5% of the internet runs off their infrastructure, but you would most likely associate it with books. It’s Amazon. To give perspective to the magnitude of Amazon’s infrastructure, all NetFlix movies are streamed from Amazon and run off their cloud infrastructure. The previous method to utilizing the cloud for movies was retail locations such as Blockbuster. Now with progressions in technology, Netflix is providing you all the movies you want for $8/month.

In the transportation industry, you see companies like ESRI starting to offer cloud based systems for managing GIS information. Over time, you’ll see traditional traffic control companies moving to the cloud as well.

 

Changes in Wireless Communications

In the wireless space, there is a similar trend. When you think about the first cell phone you’ve owned compared to all of the many 4G options available now, it has completely changed. There has been a million fold increase in the bandwidth availability. This trend in wireless is similar to Moore’s law where technologies within wireless are rapidly developing.

One trend that is really picking up steam is machine-to-machine (M2M). Traditionally cell phone networks have been used for talking/browsing, but devices are now connected through M2M. It started on a smaller scale with fleet management through broadcasting the location of a UPS truck to a central system where it can be managed. Now, you’re starting to see more sophisticated devices such as traffic control and detection devices.

M2M

We’re at a threshold where the number of M2M devices is about to go through rapid growth, which will propel the concept of the internet of things. The internet of things refers to a dramatic development in the internet’s function: the fact that, even more than among people, it now enables communication among physical objects. Ultimately the implications of this will eliminate silos and bring together various types of collaborations, even outside of the transportation industry.

 

Check back for our next blog to review Kurtis’ perspective on the last two mega trends, mobile devices and NTCIP, and how they will impact the future of traffic control.