The Annual Advisory Board Meeting was held on
Thursday, April 29, 2010, coinciding with the
University of Idaho College of Engineering's annual Engineering Exposition
On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, a banquet was held
to welcome the board members and other guests.
Howard Cooley, NIATT's 2009 Student-of-the Year and
PhD candidate in civil engineering, and Randy Maglinao, PhD candidate in
engineering, made presentations on their experiences
working in NIATT and their current project work.
On Thursday, the meeting was in full swing with
presentations throughout the day by NIATT
researchers seeking funding for the 2010 academic
year. The board members interacted with presenters
and made recommendations for funding for the next
How many cars can make it through an intersection
before the light turns yellow? Why did that green
light only last 10 seconds? And why do people
sometimes hit every red light on the way home?
Traffic system engineers have asked many of the
same questions. And educators have struggled to help
engineering students visualize the complex systems
for managing traffic flow and safety.
"The industry has been struggling with how to
train students to have one eye on traffic and one
eye on the traffic controller," said Michael Kyte,
professor of civil engineering at the University of
Idaho. "Traffic engineers need to see – to visualize
– complex processes to understand the myriad
components and design a system more effectively."
Kyte is principal investigator on MOST, a project
to develop curriculum materials and a simulation
environment for traffic signal timing, which is
funded by the Federal Highway Administration and
administered by the National Institute for Advanced
Transportation Technology. MOST enables engineering
students to directly observe how the signal timing
parameters that they select affect the quality of
traffic operations at a signalized intersection.
While the simulation is helpful, it was missing a
key component: more direct visualization of the
processes that go on in the traffic controller
"We can't just take our students to an
intersection and allow them to change traffic
signals for practice," said Kyte. "We needed
something that allows us to get as close as we can
to the real world environment without screwing
Kyte raised the issue with John Anderson,
assistant professor of virtual technology and design
(VTD) in the College of Art and Architecture.
Anderson's junior-level design class agreed to
create an enhanced simulation environment that would
work Kyte's existing simulation program, but create
"Virtual Technology and Design emphasizes the use
of visual environments to help solve real world
problems," said Bryan Foutch, a junior in VTD from
Spokane, Wash. "For our particular project, we
wanted to create interactive technologies aimed at
education. Traditional teaching mediums are static
and good for basic information, but when you factor
in complex, simultaneous systems, you need
The VTD students worked with graduate-level civil
engineering students, who have questions associated
with the beginning learning process.
"It's difficult to take years of experience and
give that information to someone else. The current
tools don't allow that experience to be
transferred," said Foutch. "The engineering grad
students understand the issues facing people new to
the discipline. They're the ones with trouble
understanding the current simulation, so their
feedback helps us make this tool more effective."
Working together, the designers and engineers
were able to address basic issues.
Kyte is pleased with the progress this year. "The
Virtual Technology and Design students developed a
tool that takes some of the data from the initial
simulation tool and adds in a cool and informative
look at timing process. It allows engineers to make
connections between looking at traffic and looking
at the timing process," he noted.
Another bonus is that the virtual tool is
scalable. In the works is the ability to add in a
railway, pedestrians, multiple intersections or
other factors to make the system more complex.
"Observing these factors at work at the same time
helps our engineering students understand it
better," said Kyte.
Foutch noted that the tool doesn't replace the
expert educators, but complements their teaching.
"It's a flexible tool that allows the expert to
expand on a concept and show significance. At the
same time, it allows the expert to pick apart the
layers, addressing one thing at a time," he said.
In July, the VTD and engineering team will
present the simulation to the Traffic Signal Systems
Committee from the Transportation Research Board, a
part of the National Academy of Engineering.
"We're excited to receive feedback from experts
in the industry," said Kyte. "This is a simulation
we hope to provide to educators across the nation.
Anything we can do to improve the learning
experience is valuable."
Kyte is seeking funding to continue the
simulation development next year. "We want to be
able to work on a traffic system in real time," he
said. "We're just scratching the surface of what we
Join us this summer for the Transportation Research
Board (TRB) Traffic Signal Systems Committee
meetings to be held on the University of Idaho
campus July 18 through July 20, 2010. One full day
of the meeting will be devoted to current best
practices and innovations in traffic signal
education and training, including: