Artificial Intelligence and Work Zone ITS

Wired magazine has an interesting article on artificial intelligence (AI) in its November 2014 issue. They feel that AI is the next big thing. It will soon be integrated in almost everything electronic for three reasons:

  1. Cheap parallel computation.
  2. Big data.
  3. Better algorithms.

AI will aid decision making as much or as little as we choose. We will decide what to automate and what to leave to the human interface. It will have an obvious application to work zone ITS. Take queue warning systems as an example.

Today we look at a proposed deployment and discuss what messages should be displayed on PCMS and what alarms should be sent if traffic slows at  a given location. We plug those pre-planned scenarios into the system and turn it on. The systems work but there are almost always small adjustments we can make so the system will work even better.

Those adjustments take time. We don’t want to over react so we watch traffic and go through the data to confirm our suspicions.

A well designed AI infused system would do that for us. It would watch traffic data in the area and adjust the timing, trigger speeds and perhaps even the wording of the messages until it reaches some optimal performance level.

Soon we may even be able to set the equipment out on the job, turn it on, and the system will create its own scenarios after watching traffic for a while.This would make our systems even less expensive to deploy and that much more responsive to changing conditions.

In fact, it would overcome one weakness in our current systems.Today we design for average conditions. But when a special event or incident significantly increases or decreases the numbers our systems cannot adapt.A well designed AI layer would do that automatically.

The permanent systems folks are already looking at AI for signal timing and similar applications. It is time we began thinking about it here in the work zone ITS world as well.

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