Intelligent transportation systems are embarking on a new era with vehicles communicating with each other directly or through a central infrastructure. “When a delivery truck detects black ice on a road, for example, it would be able to automatically transmit such information to a central infrastructure and/or to all of the vehicles within a fleet,” says Michael De Santis, Chair of Intelligent Transporta tion Systems (ITS) Canada.

Communication systems between a central dispatch centre and individual vehicles have existed since the early-1980s with OnStar, for example, now being commonplace. All the major courier and shipping companies also use in-vehicle equipment to follow pickups and deliveries in real time. The next step is having data-connected vehicles instantly sharing a lot more information, such as where roads are congested or border crossings are busy.

A large-scale demonstration of connected vehicles is planned for the ITS World Congress in Detroit next September. “The goal is to have these systems become factory-built components within new vehicles,” Mr. De Santis says. “We already have factory-built GPS and other features such as auto-park and anti-collision cruise control in high-end vehicles, but that’s been solely for individual cars or trucks rather than a system that links vehicles directly with each other or through a central infrastructure.”

One of the major debates is focusing on who should own and operate infrastructures. If existing cellular networks are used to share data, one or more infrastructures could remain very accessible and affordable. “Such an infrastructure wouldn’t have to be owned by a single entity,” De Santis says. “However, there are concerns about whether a cellular network can be sufficiently robust and secure to ensure that the services dependent on it would be fail-safe,” Mr. De Santis adds. “If it’s being used to avoid vehicles colliding with each other, for example, you don’t want that service cutting out or for there to be any opportunity for someone to tamper with it.”

Standardization is another priority. “If we can standardize a weigh-in-motion system for all trucks that works at all weigh stations, for example, it would dramatically improve the flow of goods,” Mr. De Santis says. “If it also worked at all border crossings, it would be even better.

The positive difference made by weigh-in-motion systems has already been noted at the weigh stations to and from Prince Edward Island over the Confederation Bridge. The Weigh-In-Motion (WIM) Sorter installed by International Road Dynamics Inc. (IRD) requires only those vehicles in potential violation of length, height and weight compliance limits to report to the weigh station. Each WIM Sorter uses a road-embedded scale along with cameras and sensors to send each vehicle’s license number and the other pertinent data to a com puter set up inside the weigh house. If it detects a potential violation, two bilingual and changeable message boards located before the weigh station’s entrance ramp instructs the driver to report to the scale house. “We’ve had a 70 to 80-per-cent reduction in the number of trucks that need to enter the scale house on the New Brunswick side of the bridge as a result of this system,” says Darrell Evans, Assis tant Director of Capital Projects at PEI Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

The system has solved an even bigger problem on the PEI side. There could often be 300 to 400 trucks lined up to enter that weigh station after high or gusty winds caused bridge officials to delay the crossing of high-sided vehicles for safety reasons. Along with the long delays that caused for truckers, it presented a safety hazard to other motorists once the numerous trucks started to leave the weigh station one after another to merge onto the regular bridge traffic.

IRD’s WIM Sorter has dramatically reduced the queues after wind delays, as well as the number of large vehicles that need to merge back into traffic from the weigh station. The system has also significantly decreased truck idling and its related noise and pollution, as well as freed more government employees to do truck inspections on roads elsewhere.

An international technical committee is currently investigating the possibilities for worldwide standardization of these kinds of sys tems. It hopes to present its recommendations for discussion when Montreal hosts the ITS World Congress in 2017.

A shift towards global standards would mark a big change among system developers. “It was only a few years ago that most of the system providers favoured platforms that were closed and proprietary,” says De Santis. “We have now made a significant move towards establishing standardized open platforms and, while there are some who aren’t happy about this, everyone is pretty much on board with the idea.” Figuring out all the logistics for standardization will be the next big challenge.