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Smart Transportation: The Way of the Future

UBC and Rogers are paving the way for safer roads and better traffic management

The power of IoT and 5G capabilities is revolutionizing how we conduct business; how we socialize; how our homes function; how we move from place to place. As a progressive, innovative organization, Rogers is proud to play a significant role. We have made a multi-million-dollar investment in research and development, forming strategic partnerships with the brightest minds in the country to accelerate the evolution of applications that benefit industry, commerce and everyday living.

One of the first 5G partnerships Rogers signed was with The University of British Columbia, which became the first campus in Canada to be fully equipped with 5G wireless technology. Among the key projects explored through their research labs is an initiative designed to make city intersections safer through advanced technology.

A smart solution

Why is it important to change the way intersections operate? Their activity has generally been monitored by timers, or through sensors under the road, with push-button controls for pedestrians. But these methods cannot identify the volume or direction of traffic over specific time periods … and the system is vulnerable to human error. Distracted drivers may run a red light; pedestrians may forget to signal their intent; cyclists may be injured because of blind spots.

The ultimate goal of the project is to reduce traffic congestion, improve commercial vehicle efficiencies and make roads safer for everyone. Dr. David Michelson, Associate Professor in UBC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, explains the advantages of 5G connectivity in transportation management. “Traditional methods for visualizing turn indications and other activity at an intersection are designed to be printed on paper and visualized later. We’re looking for a technique designed for real-time applications [when] decisions can be made in instantaneous time by automated algorithms.”

Using the Rogers 5G network, UBC researchers have created a testbed for signal control and prioritization, with visualization of data from LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors.  The all-weather LiDAR sensors emit pulsed light waves which bounce off objects and return to the sensor, enabling a calculation of distance travelled based on the time it takes for each pulse to return—much in the same way as sonar and radar.

A big advantage in using LiDAR is its intrinsic privacy. Unlike a camera, the sensors cannot capture identifiable images, such as individuals or licence plates; instead, they simply track the movement of vehicles and pedestrians.

Traffic congestion could be mitigated by gauging how many cars are waiting and making the appropriate adjustments; and signals can be activated to clear the way for emergency response vehicles. Drivers can use an app which works much like those used for navigation. It indicates the colour of the light at upcoming intersections and issues an audio alert if the vehicle gets too close to a pedestrian or cyclist.

How it works … and why it matters

The 5G technology supplies high-speed, low-latency communication capability, while the availability of IoT devices provides affordable sensors and controllers. Cameras and LiDAR sensors are installed at an intersection, and a roadside cabinet houses signal controllers which are managed by a Raspberry Pi computer connected via an ethernet switch.  The meters monitor and analyze the patterns in real time, transporting the data to the multi-access edge computer (MEC). The system assesses both traffic volume and directional flow for inbound and outbound vehicles.

How does smart transportation affect our lives? Primarily, it reduces traffic jams and makes roads safer for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians by helping to reduce collisions. “One of the big outcomes for the [UBC] partnership is creating something that’s really going to help with public safety related to 5G,” says Rick Sellers, President of B.C. Region Rogers Communications. “That, to us, is very important.”

With the ability to react to real-time situations, signal control can enhance commercial vehicle effectiveness and facilitate rapid emergency response. “There’s a number of ways that you can pre-empt traffic signals for the purposes of either transit vehicles or emergency vehicles,” says Dr. Michelson. “The advantage of 5G is that you can get the intersections to send signals back. If we have LiDAR sensors at the intersection, they can assure [us] that the intersection is clear.” 

Comprehensive data collection also benefits the government, informing wise city planning and investment. Transportation administrators can monitor operations and maintenance, keeping the infrastructure in good order and highlighting areas where efficiencies could be improved.

And smart transportation through 5G connectivity opens up interesting possibilities for the future. The lab’s research includes testing metering devices installed in cars that transmit data to the city meters, aiding in traffic navigation and setting the stage for autonomous vehicles.

The road ahead

Rogers and the UBC researchers share great enthusiasm for the project and its potential. “What we’re trying to do,’ says Neel Dayal, Senior Director of Innovation and Partnerships at Rogers Communications, “is get cities prepared so that they’re in a position to take advantage of those technologies that are on the horizon.” Dr. Michelson agrees: “I’ve been working in intelligent transportation for almost 10 years, and I’m really excited about the opportunities that we’re having by working with Rogers … it’s been a breakthrough that people have been talking about for 20 years.”

The efficacy of the technology’s practical application has already been demonstrated through a pilot program. The City of Kelowna in British Columbia was experiencing increased traffic congestion, resulting in more collisions; and they engaged with Rogers to implement a smart city initiative to make their downtown core safer. Rogers and UBC partnered with Microsoft to host a virtual hackathon to seek solutions and build out different use cases. using LiDAR sensors produced by Montreal’s Bluecity. The successful outcome included the development of algorithms to detect collisions, dispatch fire services and identify near misses at intersections.  

Rogers is teaming up with academic and industry partners to break down the barriers and leverage the power of 5G to encourage Smart City planning throughout Canada. A future fuelled by innovation; collaborative relationships that support progress; a world made better through advanced technology: this is the next generation of possible with Rogers 5G.

Find out more about the future of 5G, including our partnership work on early earthquake detection and smart mining as well as our 5G work with the University of Waterloo.

Learn more about Rogers and 5G.