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New 'Fog Pilot' system may save countless lives

 

Last updated 3/12/2009 at Noon



The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and California Highway Patrol (CHP) are utilizing the “Fog Pilot,” a new system designed to reduce the frequency and severity of car crashes caused by fog and extreme weather.

The Fog Pilot system was created by Proxim Wireless Corporation and ICx Technologies, companies that develop and integrate advanced sensor technologies for Homeland Security, force protection and commercial applications and provide end-to-end broadband wireless systems that deliver the quadruple play of voice, video, data and mobility.

When fog conditions worsen, drivers typically lessen their speed. Combined with the decreased visibility because of the fog, this raises the chances of faster traffic colliding with slower traffic that they cannot see.

With the Fog Pilot system in place, drivers are updated on upcoming speed and visibility conditions in advance, allowing drivers to adjust their driving speed accordingly.

The Fog Pilot system was installed and completed in December on a 12-mile stretch of the California Central Valley’s SR99, known for being particularly dangerous in foggy conditions.

In November 2007, this particular stretch of road was the site of a deadly 86-car collision that was a result of harsh driving conditions caused by dense fog and irresponsible driving.

The Fog Pilot system is made up of 21 weather sensors, traffic sensors placed at every quarter-mile, a series of closed circuit television cameras, visibility sensors and changeable message signs.

These components are connected wirelessly with 5,054 base stations and 5,012 subscriber units, which utilize WiMax technology to transmit the data generated to the ICx’s Cameleon ITS Transportation Management Software, tying everything together into one integrated system.

The information is then fed back to the Cameleon software via Proxim’s wireless radios, which are centrally managed via Proxim’s network management system, ProximVision ES.

The Cameleon software then utilizes the data to create the warnings and updates that are communicated to drivers via the large changeable message signs, which are placed every half-mile.

“This system will play a key role in identifying and alerting drivers to dangerous conditions, empowering them with the information necessary to take precaution and, ultimately, to save lives,” said Central Division CHP Chief Jim Abrames.

But what saves drivers from collisions in bad weather is the speed in which these alerts are delivered to drivers on the road.

The Fog Pilot uses advanced automation technology that can process weather warning alerts to drivers in under 30 seconds.

“We have complete confidence that this system will both reduce accidents and save lives during the winter fog season,” said CalTrans District 6 Director Malcolm Dougherty. “Our $12 million investment in this system will be well worth it if it can help save even one life.”

The Fog Pilot has been fully operational since December, and even though this time of the year is considered to be “trouble season” by CalTrans and the CHP, no major collisions have occurred since the system was enabled.

According to Robb Henshaw, senior manager of corporate communications for Proxim Wireless, the $12 million invested will be a “minor investment” when the cost of a life, freeway cleanup, tow trucks and detours after a crash are considered.

Prior to CalTrans and the CHP using elements of the system, such as the weather detection systems and the speed monitoring systems, they had no unifying system to track and monitor the incoming information, said Henshaw.

Before implementing Proxim Wireless’ system, an individual in a command center would have to take in all the information and project the information onto the message boards along the freeway within several minutes.

However, Henshaw said the information needs to be put up instantaneously; otherwise, a speeding driver will have passed the information sign before being able to read about the upcoming danger.

“If a driver is going 75 mph and traffic is going 25 mph two miles down the road, the driver will not know the speed conditions and will

  • collide with other vehicles,” said Henshaw.

    The Fog Pilot’s speed and weather monitors are the size of laptops, said Henshaw, and since they are all wireless, are able to be placed on already existing infrastructure.

    For more information on ICx Technologies, go to http://www.icxt.com; for more information on Proxim Wireless, go to http://www.proxim.com.

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