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To make roads safer for drivers, emergency managers and maintenance crews, Federal Highway Administration wants states to use connected vehicle applications to take measurements of road and atmospheric conditions and merge that data with traditional weather information. The combined information from fleets of maintenance vehicles would improve predictions about pavement conditions and be used to create road and atmospheric hazard products for a variety of users, according to a paper presented at the American Meteorological Society.

The FHWA developed two apps that it has been testing with transportation departments in Minnesota, Michigan and Nevada. A maintenance support application called the Enhanced Maintenance Decision Support System that provides fleet managers with mile-by-mile forecasts of weather and road conditions along with suggested road treatments. The Motorist Advisories and Warnings app provides mile-by-mile weather assessments and road condition forecasts for the purpose of route planning and driver advisories, according to a description of the program. A phone application with audio alerts allows a driver en route to be alerted to approaching road weather hazards.

The applications blend traditional weather data coming from radar and surface stations —  like humidity, air temperature, and pavement temperature and surface conditions —  with data from the vehicles, such as temperature, yaw rate and headlight status, to diagnose current weather conditions.

“To us, mobile data also includes the data coming in from sensor suites that are mounted on vehicles, particularly on state fleets,” Gabriel Guevara, FHWA program transportation specialist, told GCN. “The snowplows that are out and about in the winter, they become roving weather stations.”

The data collected by the fleet vehicles is then sent to a Vehicle Data Translator to verify its quality and to calculate pavement and atmospheric conditions. According to a FWHA paper, the translator extracts data elements it needs to determine weather and road conditions. It filters the data, checks the quality against local surface observations and related datasets and generates statistical output for specific road segments. The quality-checked and statistically processed data is then disseminated to subscribers.

Guevara said the pilots capitalized on the technologies already in or added to fleet vehicles, like global positioning systems and radio and cellular communication equipment for transmitting data. States that do not have a way to transmit data from maintenance vehicles can upload collected data via modem once the vehicle returns.

“What we’re trying to do is to streamline the incorporation of these technologies in the DOTs, and help them to any extent that we can,” Guevara said. This upcoming winter will be the last for the pilot programs, and by summer 2017, the states will provide reports summarizing lessons learned and benefits of the program.

The three states testing the technology “all show very promising results,” Guevara said, both in terms data collection and usage, though they faced challenges with data management, interface design and coordination with legacy systems and operations. So as part of this initiative, Guevara and his team will spend the next two years promoting the technology, doing peer exchanges and helping state DOTs better understand the benefits – one of which is saving money. A rough study conducted by Minnesota estimated the state saved about $1 million in a single winter season.

Some states are even developing their own applications and tools that supplement those provided by FHWA. Nevada’s DOT, for example, incorporated the data into its own vehicle diagnostic program to identify if and when a vehicle needed to be serviced. Minnesota developed an automated end-of-shift report for snowplow operators so they wouldn’t have to spend time in the office after hours on the road, and some states are incorporating the data into their 511 systems.

The FHWA is also in the process of developing the Road Weather Performance Tool, which would provide an interface for mobile communication devices and smartphones so citizens can receive real-time roadway condition information. According to Guevara, the tool’s code will be available as open source.

The overall goal of the pilot is to get states excited about using this technology, but Guevara said states must properly budget for it, identify a purpose, understand how they intend to use the data and establish a proper mechanism to manage it. “The data by itself doesn’t usually help much. They need to transform it into actionable information,” Guevara said.

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