Each of the 27 intersections in Marysville with streetlights will soon be equipped with Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) towers. The small white boxes, will allow the city infrastructure to communicate with vehicles equipped with similar, on-board units. While some communities have isolated sections of connected infrastructure, Marysville will be the first, fully-connected city in the world.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Mac Cordell)
Officials are working to make Marysville the first fully connected city in the world.
“This doesn’t mean you are going to see cars driving themselves tomorrow,” Mike Andrako, Director of Public Service for Marysville, assured residents.
City Manager Terry Emery said the city is working with Honda and the Ohio Department of Transportation to install Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) towers at 27 intersections in the city. (The city currently has 26 intersections with traffic signals, but has another planned before the towers will be installed). The DSRC radios, small white boxes made by tech company Savari, will be attached to the traffic signal arm suspended over the intersection. They will be connected to the cabinet that controls and powers the traffic signal.
Emery said the towers will collect data like the use of signal phasing and timing and “other safety messages.”
Additionally, he said the DSRC will be able to communicate with on-board units (OBU) installed on vehicles. City officials said they will be working to saturate the community with cars that have the units.
“We will be attempting to equip 1,200 vehicles that regularly drive the streets in the city with these OBUs,” Emery said.
He said he would like to use a combination of county, city, school and private vehicles to get to the 1,200 number. Andrako said the 1,200 vehicles would represent about 10 percent of all the vehicles in Marysville. The towers will be able to give drivers useful information such as traffic issues ahead, construction detours even the timing of signal lights.
“You have a smarter system in your car now,” Andrako said. “Your car will be able to tell you information — safety information, signal phase and timing data (similar to walk or don’t walk alerts given to pedestrians in the crosswalk), things that are going to help you as a driver.”
Andrako said right now, the city can post a message on a board and put that board at an intersection so drivers can see it. If the driver doesn’t go past the board or doesn’t see the board, the message isn’t received.
“With this technology, we could, from a piece of infrastructure, tell it to a car which could tell it to another car and another car and that car can tell it to another car and another car and it will spread so quickly… and we will be able to spread that safety message very quickly,” the public service director said.
He explained that to really make the project worth doing, there needs to be enough cars and a high enough saturation of vehicles to give value to the information researchers glean from the city.
“They are trying to get a certain percentage of the cars at any one time that have the ability, that have these on-board units that speak back and forth with each other,” Andrako said. “So the vehicle-to-vehicle technology is also being tested. They are not just looking to interact with the traffic signals, they are looking to interact with other connected vehicle.”
He explained the OBU will communicate with an app, likely on a cellphone, to give the driver the message.
“This will provide information to the user in a more organized format,” Andrako said. “It will improve the user’s experience.”
How do you get the message to the user without distracting them?
“That’s for the software developers to figure out,” Andrako said.
Emery said there is already a DSRC unit in place at the intersection of Fifth and Main streets in the city.
“We have it connected and it is sending out messages,” Andrako said.
He said some vehicles in the city have OBU’s, but there is no app or any way for the information to get from the OBU computer to the driver. Andrako said that part is coming but it is still under development.
The city has time before the units spread out through the city. He said Honda and others were eager to get the first DSRC installed.
“I think next summer would be a pretty reasonable timeframe for the rest of the signals in the city,” Andrako said. “There is a lot of work that needs done.”
He said all of the towers need programs and that takes nearly a day for each of them.
Additionally, there is the cost.
“We know the grant is paying for a majority of the work,” Andrako said.
Officials explained that a $5.9-million federal transportation grant is paying for all the towers and the programming. The federal grant is part of a larger project to install a fiber loop and DSRC towers along U.S. 33 from Dublin to the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty.
“There are some costs the city has to incur,” Andrako said, specifically mentioning running fiber in the city.
Emery said the grant has a matching funds component, but the city will leverage projects already planned to meet the criteria.
He said Honda has really pushed the issue locally.
“It was really kind of a vision of Honda,” Emery said. “They really wanted a community application. Honda felt Marysville is about the right size community to look at from a connectivity stand point on this technology,” Emery said.
He said some communities have isolated sections of streets that have connection capabilities and some freeways have the technology, but Marysville will be the first city to have every intersection connected.
“The goal is to create an environment, where companies can develop and test vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology throughout the entire city in kind of a small town environment,” Emery said. “Basically, this type of technology has been tested on certain streets in areas around the country, but not in a full city environment and we will be the first fully connected city in the world.”
He said the world will be watching.
“We are kind of a pilot so they will be watching the data that’s being collected and watching this information for modifications or things they want to do in the future,” Emery said.
He said the “they” can be anyone from automotive suppliers, to vehicle manufacturers, to transportation researchers and safety officials.
“To me, it positions us in an area where we can see job growth in this sector,” Andrako said, explaining that mobility and connectivity research is one of the fastest growing industries in the world.
What will the DSRC’s, along with the research being done, mean for the 90 percent of vehicles without the OBUs? None directly, officials said. The radio waves will not interfere with cellphone coverage or commercial and satellite radio reception and the cars will simply travel through the intersection.
Emery said the technology will impact residents. He said city managers from other areas have expressed interest in coming to Marysville to look at what is happening, as have investors.
“As a direct result of that, obviously what’s happening is, we are getting a lot of development inquiries and a lot of things that are before us even right now,” Emery said.
He added, “this whole 35-mile stretch is going to be very appealing to not only connected vehicles and autonomous vehicles, but transportation research.”
City officials said that researchers, developers and manufacturers are going to want to locate in and around the city as it becomes ground zero for connected vehicle technology.
“Eventually, connected vehicle technology will start to intermingle with autonomous vehicle technology, so we can use it for crash avoidance,” Andrako said.
He stressed that while the autonomous part is exciting and coming, it is the connected aspect that he sees as important.
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