The State of Florida will soon begin using RFID transponders currently in the cars of some Floridians for automatic toll collections to monitor commute times and traffic patterns with an eye towards improving the road system and providing accurate trip time information. And the state has tapped a Canadian-based company (with offices in the U.S.) to help with this project.
This contract, worth about $820,000 (U.S.) to Ontario, Canada-based SIRIT, “represents an important step in our efforts to expand across the United States and to build on our leading position in this innovative, high-growth application,” said John Freund, SIRIT’s vice president, Automatic Vehicle Identification. “The superior technical performance of our readers was a key factor in winning this procurement and we see excellent opportunities to build on this initial order.”
SIRIT’s Traffic Management System (TMS), which has also been deployed in Colorado and California, monitors commute time and traffic patterns. With SIRIT TMS readers deployed at multiple points along designated intervals of a toll highway or freeway and connecting those points by wire or wirelessly to a central host, travel time and traffic flow can be closely monitored in real-time, accumulating traffic management data or safety engineering. In addition, driving time estimates can be displayed to commuters through automated traffic service lines, said Mr. Freund.
“The system utilizes AVI (automatic vehicle identification) technology incorporating transponders currently in the cars and roadside probes or readers,” he added. “The readers are able to capture a unique random number for each car that hosts a transponder.”
The transponder/probes deployment is part of a larger program known as iFlorida. In March 2003, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) was selected to participate in a model deployment with the Federal Highway Administration. This project is commonly called the “infostructure” because it will provide an information infrastructure, and thus explains the “I” before Florida. The objective of the iFlorida model deployment is to demonstrate the variety of operational functions that are enabled or enhanced by a surface transportation security and information system.
One of the goals, according to iFlorida (and certainly high on everyone’s radar screen after four hurricanes this year) is to show how transportation, hurricane evacuation, weather information and security management can be integrated from both technical and organizational perspectives.
Meanwhile, SIRIT’s TMS involvement hasn’t actually begun yet.
“At this time we are still deploying the field equipment and system software,” said Jerry Woods, traffic Operations for FDOT. “We should begin gathering data this spring.” The Expressway Authority uses a similar system to report travel times, he said.
The ultimate goal for iFlorida and the deployed RFID technology, added Mr. Woods, is “to provide information to motorists from before they leave their houses and during their trips. We want to give motorists reliable travel information so that they can complete their trip on time.”
The RFID components involved in the SIRIT portion of the project are the existing transponders in the cars (currently there for electronic toll collection) and roadside probes or readers,” said Mr.Freund.
Concerning the privacy issue, which is likely to come up since tracking vehicles on the road isn’t exactly part of an automatic fare collection system, Mr. Woods commented: “This allowance for the gathering of data is in the original agreement for the toll device. All information is truncated and encrypted so that there is not any identifiable user information.”
Added Mr. Freund: “The reader is not able to track the vehicle back to a user thereby avoiding any privacy concerns. Any two readers are able to read the same tag traveling over a fixed distance. That information is sent to a host system that calculates travel times. Ultimately the customer will better understand how they will use the information they derive from the probes. Travel time information would be the primary objective “
And to make sure there is no misunderstanding, drivers with the fare collection transponders in their vehicles will be notified. “We will have public information roll outs prior to the project being brought online,” said Mr. Woods. “The Expressway Authority already uses this method to generate travel times on their roads.”
How long will this project last? “The demonstration/evaluation phase of iFlorida deployment is for two years after the project is brought online,” said Mr. Woods. “We are planning to continue to provide a high level of information to the traveling public after iFlorida evaluation is completed.”
But FDOT thinks this system will expand. “These devices should be very valuable in generating travel times on other roads in an area with a large deployment of the technology,” said Mr. Woods.
SIRIT’s TMS solution has also been deployed in Colorado and California, said Mr. Freund.
The California installation “is in the Bay Area. PBFaradyne developed the backoffice system to provide travel time calculations. This information is provided for the 511 Service to all road users/travelers based on probes provided by SIRIT,” said Mr. Freund. (The 511 service is a federally-designated toll-free phone number that, in areas which have implemented it, provides transportation-related information, such as up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions and incidents, details on public transportation routes and fares, and travel time from Point A to Point B.)
“In Colorado,” added Mr. Freund, “we have provided probe technology for proof of concept.”
Founded in 1993, SIRIT, also with offices in Carrollton, Texas, designs, manufactures, integrates and sells RFID solutions with an emphasis in several vertical markets including supply chain management, product authentication, asset tracking, security and access control and automatic vehicle identification.