Connecting state and local government leaders
Integrating both cars and pedestrians into an internet-of-things ecosystem ensures vulnerable road users are seen and drivers are alerted to their presence.
Peachtree Corners, Georgia, is testing the first connected internet-of-things ecosystem for vulnerable road users (VRUs), or people on the street without a vehicle, such as pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.
In an April 21 announcement, the smart city said that its Curiosity Lab, a publicly funded real-world test environment for next-generation intelligent mobility and smart city tech, is collaborating with Spoke, a maker of cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) and modem-based solutions. The partners will provide contextual awareness to drivers by connecting sensor-carrying VRUs to its mobility ecosystem. This will enable drivers to become aware of VRUs’ presence before they are visible to the naked eye.
Currently, only some Audi vehicles have integrated Spoke’s equipment for the test.
The city has been studying C-V2X for transportation management and safety improvements since 2020, but it hadn’t factored in VRUs, said Brandon Branham, Peachtree Corners’ chief technology officer and assistant city manager. With nearly 1,000 bicyclists killed and 130,000 injured in roadway incidents each year in the United States, “it’s a great opportunity to drive safety for all,” Branham said.
Spoke will test its C-V2X and VRU2X technology, which provides high location accuracy with an anonymous connection 10 times per second, using some Peachtree Corners municipal vehicles and highway workers in hopes of improving safety for roadside employees.
“Our guys are out mowing the grass on medians that cars are going [by at] 55-60 miles an hour,” Branham said. “Let’s put a device on [them] that broadcasts out that safety-zone/worker-ahead message so that drivers are more aware.”
The idea is that alerts will pop up on the vehicle’s dashboard when a VRU is nearby. Similarly, VRUs carrying the sensor get alerts about potential problems up ahead.
For instance, a common cause of accidents is drivers turning right without realizing that a cyclist is coming up behind them. If cyclists have a VRU2X device on their bikes, drivers would be alerted “so they know not to turn right in front of that cyclist,” Branham said. “Or we can detect cyclists on our roadway infrastructure and send that to the car as well."
The communication goes the other way, too. “For the cyclists, most of them have a device that is on their handlebars … so they would get that alert that there’s a car behind them or in front,” he added. “You’re really starting to see fluid communication processes.”
Another potential use for the sensors is to protect children who need to cross streets on the way to school. “You can drop it right in a backpack and then geolocate the school zone areas so that when they crossed those streets, they would be recognized by those vehicles” that are equipped to read the sensors, Branham said, adding that the sensors are about the size of an Apple iPhone 12 Mini.
Additionally, the city is building an 11.5-mile trail system to encourage the 1,000 residents and 7,500 who work in Peachtree Corners to get out and walk, run or bike. In some parts of town, that means they’ll need to use crosswalks to traverse a busy road. Although the crosswalks are lighted when occupied, drivers don’t always pay attention, Branham said, so the city is integrating the sensors into the lights so that they broadcast an alert when they’re actuated.
The pilot will use Commsignia’s C-V2X central system to measure the effectiveness of the solutions. Spoke will integrate its technologies into Curiosity Lab’s existing infrastructure to develop new standards for C-V2X messaging and expand the city’s C-V2X ecosystem.
“All of the infrastructure pieces are attached to the central system,” Branham said. “I can see all the connected devices…. We can see if there’s any messaging from like a hard brake or a near-miss scenario,” he said. The data generated from that system will show where safety improvements can be made.
Spoke’s system uses three levels of connectivity with Curiosity Lab’s roadside units, including C-V2X to provide direct and immediate communication between cars and VRUs, LTE/5G cellular communications for advanced contextual awareness alerts and a camera/radar system for vehicle identification and visualization.
The next phase involves working with Spoke, Audi and T-Mobile on integrating the alerts with LTE, Branham said. “Most people are not going to go buy a device and put it in their car, but we’re all carrying phones [and] a lot of the cars are already integrated with LTE service. Can we start to send these safety awareness messages over LTE? Then you have a broader reach.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.