Multi-Modal Sensor Data for Urban Traffic Control (UTC)

The Problem

Threatening the environment and posing risks to physical and mental health, traffic congestion is one of the most pressing issues facing local authorities. In terms of carbon emissions, transport is the worst-performing sector of the UK, and the UN predicts that over 68% of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050.

This statistic, coupled with the Paris Agreement goal to live in a climate neutral world by the middle of the century, means there is huge pressure on highway authorities to improve the reliability of the road network, incentivise active travel and improve air quality. For this to be realised, urban congestion must be addressed and journey quality and safety for pedestrians and cyclists must be improved.

 The [Vivacity] Solution

Councils are constrained by existing junction layouts that were not built for the level of population growth urban areas have experienced. To reduce congestion, effective Urban Traffic Control (UTC) is vital, and data here is key. Our sensors gather accurate, detailed and anonymous data 24/7 on transport modes, traffic flow and travel patterns, supporting strategic decisions to help optimise the transport network and improve urban infrastructure.

Urban Traffic Control
Effective Urban Traffic Control is vital, and data is key.

By integrating Vivacity sensors with existing UTC systems, either by direct local integration (live data is fed into the controller at the junction for onsite decisions), or real-time data streaming (data is fed to the instation of a UTC system for data analysis), this invaluable, comprehensive, data-led insight can be used to optimise network performance.

It makes economic, environmental and societal sense to tackle congestion with an Intelligent Transport System rather than just relying on outdated technology, building new roads or imposing traffic bans. Reduced congestion greatly benefits the reliability of public transport, especially buses, making it a more attractive option and thereby reducing the number of private vehicles and associated vehicular emissions.

Part of the London Mayor’s Transport Strategy is for 80% of journeys to be made on foot, cycle or public transport, by 2041. As well as reducing congestion, optimised UTC systems can incentivise active travel uptake, helping to improve road safety and reduce collisions. Active travel is not only good for our physical and mental health, but helps to decarbonise roads, improving air quality and reducing noise pollution.

The necessity for better UTC performance was further evidenced by the Signals Maintenance Fund, launched in April 2021 by LCRIG and the Department of Transport, which awarded 39 councils a total of over £15 million to repair and upgrade traffic signals.

Why Choose Vivacity Sensor Control Rather than Traditional Detection Methods?

We provide much more comprehensive datasets than traditional detection methods. As well as a broader range of datasets, including GPS locations, speed, journey times and turning counts, Vivacity junction data is hyperlocalised and in real-time. In addition, unlike incumbent above and below ground detection methods, our AI technology offers accurate multi-modal detection of 13 main road user classes. For example, limited to the detection of metallic road users, induction loops do not detect pedestrians and cyclists, and cannot easily differentiate between a car and a van.

Urban Traffic Control
Cyclist paths captured by our sensors.

If they are optimised to count cyclists this is at a trade-off in their ability to classify other vehicle types. Above ground detectors, such as infrared transmitters, are limited to ‘single lane’ detection, compared to Vivacity’s 110° field of vision across multiple lanes, and are unable to identify pedestrians and cyclists.

Another important advantage of our sensors over traditional alternatives is their night time detection capability, which outperforms other above ground detectors. This is especially important when it comes to road safety, particularly for active travel modes.

Despite our solution’s advanced capabilities, integrating your UTC system with Vivacity sensor data is a more economical choice, being both more reliable and cheaper to install and maintain than induction loops and other traditional detector technology.

As the variety of vehicle types in urban traffic landscape increases, access to real-time multimodal insights, and the ability to identify transport mode movement patterns and behavioural shifts, is more important than ever. In the coming months we will be adding new-mobility classes, such as e-scooters, to our road user classifications.

How Vivacity Sensor UTC Integration Works

Installed near the junction, Vivacity sensors gather anonymous, real-time, multimodal traffic data and send these datasets to the existing Controller Cabinet via 4G or ethernet. This data can be used by the existing system to optimise signalling, depending on the junction’s specific design and requirements.

Urban Traffic Control
Vivacity sensor UTC integration.

Sensor Data for UTC in Action: Toucan Crossing

Vivacity Sensors for UTC were chosen for a toucan crossing renovation due to their ability to detect vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians over a wide area. The sensors are used for advanced cyclist detection on the approach paths to the crossing, as well as pedestrian “on-crossing” and waiting area occupancy data.

Our sensors were locally integrated with the existing Dynniq signal controller via Dynniq’s PTC-Connect interface. Classified zonal occupancy data is communicated in real-time, along with a heartbeat signal for error checking. This data is used to call the crossing stage upon detection of cyclist approach, or to request the extension of the pedestrian stage based on occupancy of pedestrians in the on-crossing area.

UTC Is Just the Start of the Journey

Vivacity’s vision is to make cities smarter, safer and more sustainable. Since 2016 we’ve been leading development of the most innovative traffic monitoring AI technology. Sensor data for UTC is just the first step in revolutionising urban traffic management, fit for the future. We’re already looking ahead to Smart Junctions, our full AI signal control solution that is enriched with Reinforcement Learning capabilities and offers reduced congestion and increased network capacity.

We have successfully piloted this Smart Junctions technology in Greater Manchester, working with Transport for Greater Manchester, where we have demonstrated a 23% improvement in journey times and will be rolling this out more widely in Cambridge and Peterborough in the coming months.

This article was originally published by Vivacity Labs Limited.


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