Will Pokémon Go Kill DSRC?

PokemonIf you have been paying attention at all during the past few days you have heard about the new game Pokémon Go. It is what is called an augmented reality game. It is wildly popular. Tens of millions have already downloaded the game in its first week. They wander around looking at a Google Earth image of their location that allows them to see and perhaps capture mythical creatures known as Pokémon.

What I found interesting is that the game is written. It works fairly well and will only get better with time. It is available in both iOS and Android versions. This will be a huge boost for 4G/5G V2X communications and may be a nail in the coffin for DSRC.

Think about it! Instead of Zubats, Pidgey, or Paras (varieties of Pokémon), imagine placing work zone devices in this virtual reality. Virtual cones and arrow boards would mark the exact spot where a work zone taper begins. Message signs could display the messages currently displayed on the corresponding message signs in the real world. And all of that information could be displayed in real time in vehicles approaching that location.

This could also be done in what you might call the opposite direction. Augmented WorkzoneA traffic control technician could be sent into the field with his S7 Android phone. Once he gets to the work area he wakes up his phone, clicks on the work zone app, and a Google earth image of what he is looking at in the real world pops up. But that image shows the work zone already set up. It might show the messages for the message signs. It would be very easy to place each advance sign where it belongs. Just look at the buildings, trees, etc on the virtual display and place the ROAD WORK AHEAD sign in the real world where it shows on the virtual display.

Traffic control plans would become a virtual reality file that designers would use to fit their plans to the real world conditions. Once done, it should work perfectly in the real world. It is like Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing – what you draw is what you get!

But I digress from my earlier point and it is an important one. Augmented reality is here. It is working on digital phones on 4G networks. There is no reason to start over again and do the same thing for DSRC. Granted, there are some applications where latency is an issue, like warning the vehicle behind you that you are about to stop, where DSRC still has advantages. But, thanks to Pokémon Go, I don’t believe infrastructure features such as we will need for work zones, will be working through DSRC.

Why Aren’t Queue Warning Systems Used On Every Project?

Those of us that have been in the work zone ITS industry for several years understand that agencies don’t change quickly. New technology must be tested and evaluated before it is used on a more regular basis. We get that. But we are now at the point where queue warning systems should be included on every project where frequent and dynamic queuing is expected.

WZcrashesStudies by the Texas Transportation Institute have shown a reduction in rear end crashes of as much as 45%. Crash severity is reduced as well. Other states including Illinois have also seen a dramatic decrease in crash frequency and severity.

These systems are inexpensive and the benefits are substantial. Avoid just one lawsuit by using queue warning and that savings will more than pay for the cost of the system. So it does not matter how long the project lasts. Projects lasting only a few days could deploy a system for something like $700 per day.Projects months long would pay something like $10,000 per month. Those prices include the sensors, message signs, communications costs, design, set-up, etc.

One law suit will cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It really is that simple. And that doesn’t take into account all of the other benefits. Fewer crashes mean the project is completed faster. Motorists are happier with the DOT because they aren’t experiencing long delays. And you will have the data to meet the Federal Work Zone Safety & Mobility Rule requirements for work zone performance measurement.

There has been progress. Texas is moving toward statewide use of queue warning systems. Illinois is also. Several other states are working on following suit. But most states only use them on special high impact projects. Some don’t use them at all.

So, I really do want to know. What is holding you state folks back? Why don’t you use these everywhere? I sincerely want to know. Please comment on this post. Let’s talk about it. Perhaps as a group we can find ways around the road blocks you face. And together we can significantly reduce the single largest cause of work zone fatalities nationwide.