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02
Sep

Reroute traffic to get emergency vehicles through

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Reroute traffic to get emergency vehicles through

2 September 2013

Ambulances could get to the scene of traffic accidents twice as fast if cities decide to adopt emerging intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technology. So say researchers in Spain who have used algorithms that mimic evolution to reduce response times for emergency vehicles. The faster response could save lives, the team says, with very little impact on overall traffic speeds.

ITS involves using both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastucture links to improve both road safety and traffic flow. The idea is to use signals from Wi-Fi routers mounted along roads to communicate with vehicles and keep track of their location. Combined with communications between cars, this could help avoid collisions, for instance, by sending signals that automatically apply brakes if a crash is imminent. And traffic jams could be alleviated by the infrastructure's smart use of traffic-light phasing.

While such scenarios remain in the future for now – most vehicles and cities aren't yet equipped with such technology – Francisco Martinez and colleagues at the University of Zaragoza in Spain wondered what effect ITS systems could have on emergency vehicle response times. If they can alleviate traffic jams, they reasoned, how much quicker could police, paramedics and firefighters get through to the scene of an incident?

Clear a path

To find out, they simulated how ITS infrastructure software might be set up in New York City, San Francisco and Rome, using mapping data for those cities from the open source Open Street Map. They then analysed how traffic built up when an accident blocked a road and nearby junctions, and developed a host of software routines designed to get emergency vehicles to the scene the fastest.

They found that their best solution used a genetic algorithm – which mimics the process of natural selection to evolve the fittest solution to a problem – to work out the best route for the emergency vehicle to take. At the same time, it searched for the best way to reroute other traffic to give the emergency vehicle the room on the roads that it needed.

They found that an ITS system using their software could reduce the emergency services' arrival time by an average of 48 per cent, and with a 14 per cent hike in travel time for the civilian vehicles that were rerouted. The researchers say their evolutionary software could be vital in ensuring car-accident victims are on the operating table within the "golden hour" – the time after which surgical intervention has a markedly lower chance of saving lives.

It would certainly appear to offer a leap above what most emergency services enjoy today. "We don't have the ability to control the traffic lights – we rely on the lights and sirens on our vehicles to get through traffic," says Jenny Round of the London Ambulance Service.

Journal reference: Expert Systems and Applications, doi.org/nmv

This article was written and published by New Scientist. Read the original here.

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