A Worker Proximity Warning System

Late last year a paper was published entitled, “A Low-Cost Mobile Proximity Warning System in Highway Work Zones” by Yong Cho of the Georgia Institute of Technology. It was funded by the NCHRP IDEA program. IDEA or Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis is intended to develop and test new, innovative concepts and this paper did just that.

This system is designed to protect workers from moving construction equipment in the work area. Too often we hear about workers killed or injured by a truck or roller backing up or by an excavator swinging around to drop a shovel full of dirt or rock.

The system includes three main components: BlueTooth beacons mounted at various locations on the construction equipment; a pedestrian worker’s PPU or personal protection unit; and the equipment operators PPU. These PPU’s are BlueTooth enabled smart phones with an application designed to “see” the beacons and warn the workers – both the equipment operator and the pedestrian worker when someone is dangerously close to equipment.

The PPU warns the pedestrian worker in one or more user-defined ways: a loud alarm, vibration, or even via a BlueTooth ear piece. They type of warning varies with distance from the equipment. The worker can also define the range at which they are warned since the definition of “too close” will vary with the work being done.

Another interesting feature is the ability of the system to collect data in the cloud for later analysis. It would be a big help when going back to study a close call. And it would help with future internal traffic control plan design for similar types of work.

Best of all, it is very inexpensive costing less than $200 assuming the workers already own smart phones. Tests showed the system worked. The workers who used it, liked it. And they appreciated that the PPU can be worn in a variety of locations and warn them in whichever way they prefer. It was suggested this system be integrated with an intrusion alarm system to offer even more protection.

Read the complete study at: http://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=4145


ATSSA Innovation Update



The American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) Midyear meetings were held this year in Chicago, August 24th through the 26th. The Innovation Council meeting was especially interesting. Council Chairman Scott Covington along with several council members continue to work to make our voice heard in the automated & autonomous vehicle world (see August 1st post).

This year’s meeting included two great presentations. The first was by Lee Cole of Oldcastle Materials. Oldcastle is a large road building contractor with operations throughout North America. They suffered a series of work zone crashes that injured and even killed their workers and Mr. Cole was charged with finding a way to mitigate work zone intrusions.

The result is a system they call AWARE: Advance Warning & Risk Evasion. It was developed by the military to reduce casualties from roadside bombs and shoulder fired rockets. But the same tracking software was adapted to track vehicles approaching the work zone and through several complicated algorithms, determine if those vehicles would pass by safely, or if they might travel into the work area.

They are testing the system with eight paving crews this summer and hope to expand the program soon.  The system appears to be very cost-effective. And it is designed to avoid false alarms while  still giving workers time to get out of the way when intrusions do occur.


The second presentation was made by Jon Kruger, District Construction Director for Indiana DOT. Mr. Kruger began by saying his focus is on building roads. He didn’t know anything about work zone ITS systems a couple of years ago. But when they began work on several miles of I-94 near Chicago, he was asked to look at ways to mitigate impacts to traffic. They chose a queue warning system and it has worked out very well.

He now requires these systems on most of his paving projects. He said they do so 70% for safety and 30% for the data they generate. He said queue lengths are very unpredictable. He saw a big discrepancy between predicted queue lengths and actual. Volumes varied widely and alternate routes played a big role in that by drawing traffic away from the affected areas. They have even adjusted work windows when their real time data shows it is justified.

Neil Boudreau, the state traffic engineer for Massachusetts DOT agreed with Jon saying that they use the data they collect on each project to build a database. Eventually they will learn what happens when a certain type of project is performed on a particular route, or in a particular area. They then hope to have a more precise idea of when lane closures should be allowed and when they should not.


If you are involved in traffic engineering or with autonomous and automated vehicles, consider becoming involved with the ATSSA Innovation Council. They have become the point at which those two worlds interact with our work zone communityto make our roads safer.