Getting out of a jam

Traffic, the bane of any driver’s life, could be about to be made easier in the Gulf, thanks to new solutions from local IT companies.

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By  Daniel Stanton Published  April 23, 2006

|~|trafficbox200.gif|~|Dalili: Its dynamic navigation system can help drivers to avoid traffic hotspots.|~|Even with greater connectivity and the notion of the virtual office, people still need to drive once in a while, and in the Middle East that is not always a pleasant or productive experience.

Research firm ACNielsen found that the UAE has the joint highest level of car ownership in the world, with 93% of households owning at least one vehicle. In Dubai in particular, traffic jams are seemingly unavoidable, but IT firms in the Middle East are hoping to improve the situation with new solutions.

Traffic Tech, a company specialising in road traffic management technology and founded in Jordan, has installed traffic management systems in Amman and Doha, Qatar. The system detects the volume of traffic by means of inductive loops positioned beneath the road surface. These are wires which detect changes in the magnetic field to identify when a vehicle passes overhead, and so calculate the volume of traffic at any particular intersection and the speed at which it is moving.

“We’re testing now with video cameras,” says Husam Masharbash, general manager of Traffic Tech. “We can draw a virtual loop with a video camera and it gives an output similar to the inductive loop, but without having to cut a loop in the road. We just install a camera on a gantry. The camera will look at the intersection, we draw virtual loops on the computer and whenever a car passes through that area it’s detected as a vehicle.” Traffic signals and timings can then be altered in busy areas to reduce congestion.

Traffic Tech installed a traffic management system covering 13 intersections in Doha two and a half years ago, and will be expanding the scheme to cover more than 50 intersections by November. It has installed the system in Amman, covering 32 intersections, and will be overseeing central traffic management within the next six months. The Qatar branch has installed signalling in Bahrain, and some of Traffic Tech’s other products, solar powered message and arrow boards, are being used in the UAE.

Masharbash believes that traffic management has improved road journeys. “We did some before and after studies and found that the traffic times are much less, the number of stops is much less,” Masharbash says. “Eventually, the time spent by drivers on the road is less and the pollution is less, so whenever you manage the traffic adaptively as much as possible you get much better results.”

The other option is to know where the traffic jams are occurring and avoid them. The Roads & Transport Authority of Dubai (RTA) is currently working on the Intelligent Transport System (ITS). In March, it announced the launch of 'Dalili' – a dynamic integrated navigation system to give drivers in Dubai real time road and traffic information while they are driving.

'Dalili', which in English translates to 'My Guide', works through a simple screen-based device which can be installed in any car. On simply downloading the software, the user will be equipped with up-to-date traffic information anytime and anywhere in the city.

The system was designed and supplied by a Dubai firm, Scientechnic, which also maintains many of the traffic controllers and signal lights in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. American company Intergraph provided applications tools, while the hardware comes from Siemens AG and the map data was collected by CEDA (the Central European Data Agency).

Scientechnic has deployed around 500 sensors, covering around 70% of Dubai, which can relay traffic information by radio frequency, while positioning and map data is delivered by GPS (Global Positioning System). Map data will be updated twice a year to cope with Dubai’s changing road network, and the number of sensors will be increased to 2,000 within a couple of months.

“These sensors provide data such as stop time delay and volume of queuing traffic. This is relayed to a traffic information centre through Etisalat leased lines, fibre optics, and then the main server which talks to the Dubai FM server to broadcast traffic updates,” says Griffin Pereira, sales and marketing manager, Scientechnic.

Dalili provides many benefits to users, such as the ability to plan a route according to traffic information and updates received in real time, integration with intelligent parking facilities and navigation to various points of interest in Dubai.

It differs from static navigation systems in that the route can be updated in response to changing traffic conditions. “If you’re travelling from point A to point B it will choose the fastest possible route, depending on traffic conditions, to your destination,” says Perreira. “Should there be an incident that takes place en route to your destination, it will reroute you.”

As part of ITS, Wilbur Smith Associates (WSA) are currently implementing a new traffic management system in Dubai, the core Freeway and Local Coordinated Operations Network, or FALCON. Expected to be operational in June, the system will provide traffic information via the internet, WAP phones, SMS, and touch-screen kiosks in public places such as malls. It will also provide information to Dalili-enabled systems.

The system uses microwave radar and, in some places, video image processing, to detect traffic, and the existing CCTV cameras to monitor traffic progress. Users would be able to identify traffic hotspots before they set out, and some roads would feature signs that update to show new speed limits and direct vehicles away from routes that are congested or are blocked by an accident.

Studies in America have found that similar systems can cut each journey time by five to 10 minutes and reduce the amount of time it takes to clear traffic. “However, the emphasis nowadays is less on congestion benefits, since it is hard to control travel demand as we see in Dubai, and more on safety benefits, where there can be some major influence,” says Glenn Havinoviski, vice president and head of ITS for WSA.

Systems in Europe that provide lane and speed control have achieved up to a 30% reduction in the number of accidents, while also reducing the time it takes to detect and clear accidents. In Dubai, which has averaged more than one fatality per day on its roads this year so far, that can only be a good thing.
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