How Nevada is driving smart traffic innovation in Sin City (and beyond)
A six-month trial between an Israeli startup and Las Vegas will use artificial intelligence to predict traffic accidents, allowing first responders to help drivers on U.S. 95 and Interstate 15 faster than ever before.
The startup, WayCare, uses historical and real-time data from freeway sensors, traffic lights, smartphones and vehicles equipped with certain onboard data systems. The data in WayCare’s predictive analytics platform includes vehicle speeds, counts and occupancies, traffic light timing and weather conditions. WayCare’s system, in addition to predicting traffic and traffic accidents, can also automatically identify incidents — like vehicles stopped on the side of the road — and act before the incident develops into anything more serious.
"We’re bringing data into the city," said Noam Maital, WayCare’s chief executive officer.
According to Maital, one connected car could provide 200 times more data than Las Vegas has with all of its current road sensors. The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada could use the predictions from WayCare to improve traffic flow through the pilot corridors. With Nevada dubbed the nation’s second-fastest growing state, managing traffic is only going to get more important.
But WayCare isn’t Las Vegas’s first traffic innovation rodeo. Las Vegas and the region of Southern Nevada are among leaders in the country when it comes to smart traffic projects. Audi, Nexar (another Israeli traffic startup) and GENIVI (a non-profit alliance working on traffic software) are all running pilots in the Silver state. Plus, there’s the autonomous bus testing and Cisco’s Smart+Connected Digital Platform pilot.
Driving smart traffic in Nevada
Nevada was the first state to put autonomous vehicle (AV) legislation on the books. Last month, new legislation that further promotes research and testing on Nevada roads was signed into law. In fact, the laws in Nevada are so AV-friendly that Dan Langford, the director of the Nevada Center for Advanced Mobility (NCAM), said if you could buy a fleet of autonomous vehicles, you could have them on Nevada roads today.
Previous autonomous testing showed that Las Vegas is ready for the technology. The downtown bus shuttle pilot had 10,000 riders in 10 days, and the city is already considering a second round.
“It was a very big success,” David Bowers, the director of Las Vegas Public Works told Smart Cities Dive in May. “There was a lot of excitement about it.”
But many of the projects in the works now are happening before widespread AV deployment. The city’s partnership with Cisco has deployed technology at 10 intersections to track lighting, traffic, crowd measurement, environmental and waste management.
"What we are able to do with the technology now is bring in better types of data,” said Brian Hoeft, director of traffic management at RTC of Southern Nevada. This data is good, Hoeft said, for current drivers — but is also setting up for the roads of the future.
At the Consumer Electronics Show's (CES) Smart Cities Hackathon, Las Vegas offered city data for teams to use. One team developed an app for Amazon’s Alexa that can tell if street lights are working correctly using historical data. The city has been in touch with the team to try out the technology since the hackathon.
Outside of apps and sensor pilots, Audi has a project that is car-based. Certain models with the technology can get data from a connected traffic light system, with drivers getting sneak-previews of upcoming red lights and countdown timers displayed on their dashboard. Drivers also need an Audi connect PRIME subscription, with updates via the cars’ 4G LTE connections. RTC provides traffic signal data to Traffic Technology Services (TTS), an independent telematics company that sends the data to Audi. It’s available in Las Vegas first because of the city’s half-million dollar upgrades to its traffic lights.
Nexar’s vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) network turns smartphones into smart dashboard cameras. Using the phone’s camera, accelerometer and gyroscope, Nexar collects data and sends it to the cloud and other drivers using the Nexar app. Drivers using state vehicles will get the app first in the first statewide vehicle-to-vehicle network. Nexar’s network has reported a 24% reduction in accidents in smaller pilots they have already been tried out.
The GENIVI Alliance is working on a connected vehicle pilot project with NCAM aimed at reducing traffic and improving pedestrian safety. GENIVI is developing open software that will send alerts to drivers for upcoming bus stops, crosswalks, changes in speed limits and traffic congestion based on local data. The pilot project will be in approximately 100 vehicles monitored by the City of Las Vegas and RTC.
With all the projects, the potential for duplicative and wasteful data collection is there, but it’s a problem that Langford said has not happened with the pilots.
“There’s a perception of overlap but there isn’t,” he said. “They all contribute to making our roads more efficient.”
But, he said, overlap could eventually happen internally. Langford said one of the big projects they are working on is a common data exchange. Having multiple devices in a single vehicle is not efficient.
“That’s an incredible waste of hardware when you multiply it by thousands,” he said.
Las Vegas and Southern Nevada work so well for these types of pilots partially because of the way the governmental departments deal with traffic regionally. RTC is a one-stop shop for startups and companies with ideas to improve traffic, wheras going to other cities might mean talking with a dozen departments, according to Hoeft. NCAM — which describes its work as being the contact point for industry, government and academia to bring together police, standards and tech that includes electric, connected and autonomous vehicles and other infrastructure — is also a boon for the regional government.
“The collaboration cuts out a lot of the lost of momentum," Hoeft said.
Recent legislation has empowered RTC even more for now and the future. RTC now has authority to utilize public-private partnerships or the State Infrastructure Banks as a funding source and better positions RTC to get federal funding. Ideally, even with all these car-focused pilots, Hoeft said they are working on public transit and projects like bike shares. Indeed, one of the recent bills passed was to explore a light rail system, faster buses and a streetcar for Las Vegas.
“You shouldn’t have to necessarily rely on your vehicle,” Hoeft said.