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By studying swerving, USF research could lead to cleaner, safer roads

Researchers were recently awarded a patent for a system that allows crews to clear dangerous debris faster
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Posted at 7:43 AM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 07:43:20-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Researchers at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) believe an algorithm they helped develop could make roadways across the country safer.

Earlier this month, they were awarded a U.S. patent for a system they developed with the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) that detects roadway debris more efficiently by gauging when and where traffic is swerving to avoid it.

According to a previous study by AAA, road debris was a factor in “an estimated average of 50,658 police-reported crashes which resulted in 9,805 injuries and 125 deaths annually in the United States” between 2011 and 2014.

Similarly, Bob Frey, the Director of Planning and Innovation with THEA, says road debris is a frequent issue on Tampa Bay roadways.

During the first three months of 2017, for instance, crews cleaned up more than 42 tons of debris on state highways in the Tampa Bay area.

“We do have debris every day on the roadway,” Frey said. “It is more than a once in a while occurrence.”

Dr. Sisinnio Concas, program director of Autonomous-Connected Mobility Evaluation at USF, worked with Frey and THEA to develop the now-patented solution in a project that launched in 2015.

In the $22 million project, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 1,000 drivers agreed to have their cars retrofitted with connected vehicle (CV) technology. A wireless transmitter included in that technology allowed the vehicles to communicate a continuous stream of real-time data to researchers. The data helped them pinpoint and map where drivers were swerving to avoid debris.

During the experimentation, Concas said researchers were able to identify blockages on a then-closed portion of the Selmon Expressway with a margin of error of only a couple feet.

“Some swerving at a certain speed might be an indicator there’s something going on. It could be an object, it could actually be a stopped vehicle on the lane, or all of the above together,” Concas explained. “You have an onboard computer that is collecting and transmitting this information. You don’t have to interact with an interface. You’re just transmitting this important data — the data captured by using this algorithm.”

Concas and Frey believe the technology, if implemented on a wider scale, could reduce the rate of accidents and help traffic flow more efficiently.

“It provides actionable data. We get information that there’s a potential hazard in the roadway, we’re able to send people out to get it taken care of and removed and keep the road operating safer,” said Frey.

Now, he and Concas hope the auto manufacturers will consider incorporating the patented algorithm into their future vehicle designs. The researchers have been working with Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda to test how the technology would work with their hardware systems.

“It provides the ability for a safer, more efficient drive for people, and that’s the whole reason we’re in it,” Frey continued.

When asked about privacy concerns, Concas said the technology would not be able to identify a specific driver and track his or her movements.