SwRI researchers develop software to detect weather, traffic conditions

SAN ANTONIO – Local researchers are developing software that transportation agencies can use to detect and report traffic condition changes and information on weather conditions.

Tropical Storm Imelda served as an opportunity for the Southwest Research Institute. A team used Houston traffic data during the storm to train its new software to recognize different weather patterns.

“While that tropical depression was occurring, we had a live map of Houston pulled up, and basically what we were doing is looking at all the locations where we were detecting weather anomalies, in this case, storms,” said Dan Rossiter, a research analyst with the Southwest Research Institute.

Rossiter is part of the team that created ActiveVision. He said math equations take what the camera sees and turn it into information on weather conditions and information on traffic congestion.

“It looks at things like I've got a dark sky up above. I've got this glinting, shimmering look on the ground that looks like maybe there's rain on the ground. It takes all those individual bits that on their own maybe won't tell you the whole picture. It pieces them together,” Rossiter said.

He said the idea began about three years ago when he went to New Mexico.

“One of the big problems New Mexico has is dust storms. So, there are these big clouds that come up. They hide visible. They impede visibility, and they make it real hard for drivers to be safe,” Rossiter said. “There was a collision that was about 30 vehicles involved in it, and it was along the I-10 corridor in that state, and there were many fatalities involved. … It kind of spawned from that event. We decided we wanted to look into what options there were to kind of think out of the box when it comes to detecting these incidents."

Rossiter said ActiveVision’s weather-sensing capabilities are already available. Phase two isn’t ready yet, but it will include vehicle counts, vehicle classification and wrong-way driver detection.

“Our goal is to provide a vision solution that will work for these agencies, whether it be a small municipality that may be more focused on intersections, whether it be a large Department of Transportation that's looking at highways,” Rossiter said.

He said what each city does with the data collected is up to them. The Southwest Research Institute said the data can be used to notify drivers of potential traffic alerts on digital signs over the highways or be sent to their cars as an alert.

“I've had close connections with transportation agencies in different states over my time here, and I know with all of them, they have these kinds of challenges, and being able to craft a solution that's going to help them solve those is really exciting,” Rossiter said.

Rossiter said the solution is cost-effective. The cameras, in most cases, are already in place, and it’s more costly to maintain weather sensors.

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