Happy, and Safe, Motoring!
Safety Warning System will undergo field tests
By Jane M. Sanders
The nation's highways could become safer and more efficient within the next few years as more motorists and public agencies begin using a commercially available traffic hazard warning system developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1996.
photo by Joann Vitelli GTRI researcher Gene Greneker is refining and field testing a device he developed called the Safety Warning System (SWS). On the market since 1996, SWS is a microwave-based communications system that gives motorists a 25- to 30-second warning of hazardous traffic and highway conditions ahead.
The Safety Warning System (SWS), a microwave-based communications system, gives motorists a 25- to 30-second warning of hazardous traffic and highway conditions ahead. Messages are delivered via automated mobile or fixed-site transmitters and received by either advanced, in-vehicle receivers or older model radar detectors in individual vehicles.
Available on the market since 1996, SWS is now being refined and field tested by the Georgia Tech researchers who first developed it at the request of a consortium of radar detector manufacturers. New capabilities under study may allow traffic managers to transmit specific details on traffic problems just ahead. The three-year project, which started in October 1998, is being funded by a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
"SWS is an inexpensive, functional and available in-vehicle safety system that fits the concept of an intelligent transportation system," says SWS inventor and senior research engineer Gene Greneker of the Georgia Tech Research Institute. "But we want to make it do even smarter things."
SWS is now part of more than four million advanced radar detectors in use in the United States today, and its signal can be picked up by about 15 million older model detectors, as well. Its manufacturers are BEL-Tronics, Santeca, Uniden and Whistler. SWS has received preliminary approval and is awaiting final approval from the Federal Communications Commission, and a patent is pending. The current model sells for about $200, but manufacturers are developing an SWS-only detector that will sell for about $100.
SWS alerts drivers to real-time hazards, dangerous weather and other traffic conditions with an audible alarm, one of 64 pre-programmed text messages shown to drivers on a light-emitting diode display (LED) and/or synthesized voice message. Five categories of messages are incorporated in the SWS messaging system. They are: warnings for highway construction or maintenance zones; weather-related hazard messages; highway hazard advisories; travel and convenience information; and fast/slow-moving vehicle warnings.
photo by Joann Vitelli The Safety Warning System is now part of more than four million advanced radar detectors in use in the United States today, and its signal can be picked up by about 15 million older model detectors, as well.
The DOT grant for refining and testing SWS was part of an allocation Congress approved last summer. It also provides DOT funds for grants to state and local governments to purchase SWS and study its efficacy. Greneker will use his grant to conduct extensive field tests of SWS fixed-site and mobile-unit transmitters. He also plans to investigate the feasibility of adding variable text messaging to SWS fixed- site transmitters. That would allow public safety and highway officials to program the transmitters with specific messages.
Greneker is collaborating with Dr. John Leonard, a Tech assistant professor of civil engineering, in conducting a one-year SWS fixed-site transmitter test in metro Atlanta. It will involve as many as 500 participants and be the largest scale test to date.
"We will also be testing the SWS transmitters mounted on police cars," Greneker says. "We want to see how durable and reliable the signal strength is under a variety of conditions."
The other part of the DOT-funded study will add modem, and thus variable text messaging, capability to fixed-site SWS transmitters, Greneker says. A two-way modem link between the transmitter and an Advanced Traffic Management Center could deliver a traffic manager's alternate route messages to motorists in urban areas. In rural areas, fixed site transmitters could be equipped with microprocessors and smart software. The system would collect radar-derived speed data to determine the speed of the traffic flow, then analyze it and decide if a traffic advisory message should be sent to motorists alerting them to problems ahead.
SWS L.C., the organization licensing the technology, has placed SWS transmitters in 26 states with school buses, trains, police departments and departments of transportation since 1997. These transmitters have a 1.5-mile range and cost about $900 each. By the end of 1999, the consortium expects to have "a significant infrastructure in place," a spokesman says. SWS L.C. estimates that the sale of SWS products will grow by more than two million each year as transmitter installations become more widespread.
For more information, you may contact Gene Greneker, Sensors and Electromagnetic Applications Laboratory, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Atlanta, GA, 30332-0856. (Telephone: 770/528-7744) (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). You may also visit the SWS L.C. Web site at www.swslc.com.
Last updated: January 14, 1999
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