Intelligent Transportation Systems

Technical Applications


Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) utilize advanced computers, sensors, electronics, communications, and other technologies to improve the safety and efficiency of all modes of surface transportation for people and goods, including intermodal transfers.


The following areas are currently being emphasized in ITS research: Travel and Transportation Management includes real time information about routes and services for motor vehicles operators, traffic control and management of highway incidents, and on-board emissions testing. Travel Demand Management includes travel information, ride matching and reservations, perhaps using interactive media-- to assist travelers to optimize their overall origin-to- destination journey in terms of time and cost, and across various transportation modalities and to assist transportation system operators to better tailor their services via demand matching. Public Transportation Operations include improved management of transit systems, en-route transit information for individual vehicles (vehicle locators), personalized public transit (dial-a-ride), and public travel security. The goals are to improve operational performance of transit systems and to improve the user-friendliness of public transit to attract non-traditional users. Commercial Vehicle Operations enhancements, such as electronic document clearance and fee payment, roadside and on-board safety and weight monitoring, vehicle locator systems, etc. would improve commercial fleet management of freight trucks and rail cars, and reduce administrative costs. Another safety related enhancement would be to develop systems to prevent collisions at highway-rail grade crossings. Emergency Management would involve detecting, predicting, and avoiding possible emergencies. Systems that trip an automatic distress alert when an airbag opens, that alert distracted or dozing drivers to their erratic driving behavior, that warn of imminent danger ahead, perhaps due to weather or other upcoming hazard, would be particularly useful by helping to prevent accidents and by reacting quickly to those that do occur. This is particularly important in rural settings where 60 percent of traffic fatalities occur. Several low technology approaches for assessing the utility of wireless or kiosk-based road and weather information delivery systems are under investigation in many states. Vehicle Control and Safety Systems that would eventually culminate in an automated highway system, include different types of collision avoidance systems, vision enhancement, improved safety readiness, and pre-crash restraint deployment. On some stretches of highway, automatic platooning of vehicles that are controlled electronically could increase lane capacity by factors of three or four.


In addition to these six major areas, electronic payment services would improve convenience and efficiency, for toll collection, personal vehicle use, interstate tracking, and for public transit users who might rely on "smart" fare cards. Some of these systems are already fielded around the country. Forecasts suggest that traffic fatalities, accidents and congestion would markedly decrease when ITS becomes operational. In fact, successful deployment of ITS has the potential to vastly improve surface transport in the U.S. while improving energy efficiency and reducing pollution from transportation. Although much of ITS progress thus far has targeted private and commercial motor vehicles, it is expected that rail system and public transportation operations will also benefit. Although the major benefits would promote health, safety, and economic security, important national security benefits would stem from more efficient use of existing highways in times of crisis or war.


There seems to be no clear leader in intelligent transportation systems technologies since the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan are all pursuing active programs involving both private and public resources.