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Contact Debbie Caudle
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Fax: (208) 282-7929
Email: debrac@uidaho.edu

1776 Science Center Drive, Suite 306
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83402

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Smart Signal Team

Smart Signals Débuts in Minnesota

On February 16, 2010, at a temperature below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, a new Smart Signals technology design for accessible pedestrian signals was installed at a public intersection in a suburb of St. Paul, MN. A team of researchers from the University of Idaho that have been involved in the development of the new system were on hand to observe technicians with the Minnesota Department of Transportation install this system at two intersections. After the hardware installation, students demonstrated how each signal can be customized using a laptop computer and a conventional Web browser. To date, the Advanced Accessible Pedestrian Signals (AAPS) is still “chirping” away. The “chirp” is the locator tone that helps low-vision pedestrians to locate the pedestrian button.

Smarts Signals is an enabling technology initially conceived by Professor Richard Wall in 2004 as a means to improve the capability and safety of controlling traffic signals at intersections using distributed microprocessor-based controls that use critical safety network design methodologies. The focus has been placed on improving access and safety for low-vision and mobility impaired pedestrians. A partnership was developed with Campbell Company of Boise, Idaho who manufactures the AAPS systems.

AAPS is different from conventional pedestrian buttons in that information is exchanged between the Advanced Pedestrian Controller (APC) in the traffic controller cabinet and each individual Advanced Pedestrian Button (APB) at the rate of four times a second. Power and communications are distributed to the APBs by employing Ethernet over Power Line technology on an 18VAC power system. The Minnesota installation demonstrated that the AAPS can be easily retrofitted in existing intersection controls using the preexisting pedestrian button conductors. The Internet connectivity allows traffic agency technicians to view the AAPS system operations remotely to determine the current status of individual pedestrian buttons. The operational data that is logged by the APC can also be viewed over the Internet. This data includes hardware failures and the number of calls placed by individual APBs.

Feedback from the Minnesota installation was been very positive and constructive. Although the installed AAPS is fully functional, ideas for improvement were recorded and have already been integrated with the new design. Many ideas arise from the question “Since we have network communications, can we now . . .?” Because the new technology has vastly expanded capability, a tight rein on our imaginations is needed to allow us to take a product to market. One of the ideas recently implemented is the ability to update the application program remotely thus allowing the Campbell Company to update existing systems over the Internet. The Web interface reduces hardware costs and physical size by eliminating displays and keypads.

The step that takes a design out of the laboratory and deploys equipment on the street is important to the future of Smart Signal because it demonstrates that such systems are extensible by being capable of easily providing advanced features. The communications with the terminal devices (lights, detectors, pedestrian buttons, etc.) facilitate early failure detection. Future research will focus on further simplifying the system installation in order to make the system truly “plug and play.”

On April 30, 2010, the design team participated in the University of Idaho 2010 Engineering Design EXPO demonstrating a fully functional AAPS system. As enhancements to the AAPS continue during the 2010 summer, the updates to the APC Web server can be made remotely using an Internet connection. The AAPS carries a “made in the USA” tag with engineering design at the University of Idaho, electronics fabrication in Spokane, WA, and product assembly in Boise, Idaho.

Students observing the AAPS installation. After MIN DOT technicians finished wiring the APC into the traffic controller cabinet, the students then activated the system and conducted the functional tests.

Cody Browne testing an AAPS pedestrian button at a St. Paul, Minnesota intersection.

Relaxing after Cody's first roller coaster ride at the Mall of America before the flight back to Moscow.

Expo 2010 Excellence for Booth Presentation award winning team. From left to right, Cody Browne, Richard Wall, Craig Craviotto, Zane Sapp, and Mathew Stein.