SMART SIGNALS: Enabling Traffic Controller Technology Conference

NIATT held a workshop on November 2, 2006 about the application of state of the art plug- and-play distributed sensor network technology that can tap into the power of the modern traffic controller.

Conference Proceedings draft>

Conference Presentations online>

Proposed Test Site

The intersection of Sixth and Deakin Streets in Moscow, Idaho (below) is the proposed site for the first field implementation of Plug-and-Play Smart Traffic Signals. This isolated intersection is a major access point to the University of Idaho campus and carries passenger car, bus emergency vehicle traffic and is near a railroad crossing. Typical pedestrian/vehicle intersection

This site was selected because of the high volume of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, the close proximity to the UI campus, and the limited number of signal displays at the intersection. Of the three approaches to this intersection, pedestrians can only cross two, limiting the amount of equipment that will be required for this pilot test.

Sixth Street is the most common approach for emergency vehicles entering campus and is close to a railroad crossing. These situations give us an opportunity to investigate pedestrian signal operation during preemption.

What has already happened . . . 

The University of Idaho has developed a revolutionary technology to unshackle the power of modern traffic controllers locked inside the traffic controller cabinets. The result is safer access for all intersection users by providing better information for pedestrians and drivers. Based on state of the art plug and play smart sensor technology, intersections can be renovated to accommodate the smart signal technology with minimal cost and disruption to traffic. New detectors that can identify and communicate who is requesting service to the traffic controller can now be easily integrated into traffic operations. The purpose of this conference is to help direct the focus of transportation researchers and engineers on how best to use this enabling technology.

Countdown pedestrian signals in use today display the incorrect time every time the signal timing plans change. In 2006, a group of electrical and computer engineering students demonstrated a new countdown pedestrian signal that displays the correct remaining crossing time by providing real-time direct communications with the microprocessor inside the traffic controller. They also demonstrated pedestrian activation devices that acknowledge the pedestrianís request. The smart pedestrian button includes remote activation for low vision or mobility impaired pedestrians.

The group of students received awards at the University of Idaho 2006 Engineering Expo.

Why do things differently?

Existing traffic signal designs have grown out 1920ís technology that was based on electric motor timers and electro-mechanical relays. They used individual wires from the relay switches to control each signal light. In recent times, the timing plans are now controlled with microprocessor technology and the signals are switched using solid-state electronics. But the method using a plethora of conductors for distributing the signal and detector state around the intersection has changed little leading to high installation and maintenance costs. The bottom line is this: detectors canít be anymore sophisticated that a light switch and signals can be no smarter than a light bulb.

With existing technology, regardless of how smart detectors are, there is no way for the traffic controller to differentiate a truck carrying hazardous materials from a camper pulling a boat or a logging truck. There is no way for a blind or mobility impaired pedestrian to inform the traffic controller that he or she needs additional time to cross and intersection. Presently, there is no way to selective assist pedestrians like children of school age.


Read more about the research that has been done. Enter "plug" as a keyword in the NIATT research database.

National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology

University of Idaho
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Moscow, ID 83844-0901
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