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Watching the traffic flow with an eye in the sky

Traffic around campus and the county may begin to lessen within the next year if all goes according to plan for the USF civil engineering department.

Students have begun to work in conjunction with Hillsborough County Traffic Engineering on a project that will monitor traffic flow by way of video cameras attached to miniature helicopters. The first phase of the possible traffic data collection program began Wednesday afternoon outside of the USF Engineering building.

The Center for Urban Transportation and USF’s Unmanned Vehicle Systems Group launched small helicopters equipped with video recording devices designed to collect and analyze traffic flow on campus. With the video recorded, USF will transmit the data to Hillsborough County transportation officials in real-time so the county can design more efficient and safe traffic management schemes, according to Pei-Sung Lin, program director of ITS, Traffic Operations and Safety at USF.

“The project we are doing right now is monitoring and collecting video tape data at the intersection outside the Engineering Building,” Linn said. “Hillsborough County is interested in exploring possible vehicles to monitor traffic and emergency situations. The data will be used to help deploy needs to emergency locations and also is a good way to monitor traffic flow.”

According to Lin, data will be collected in a series of daily flights until December, when USF will invite Hillsborough County traffic officials and administration directors, along with University faculty, to view a demonstration of the data collected and the vehicle’s capabilities. If the program is successful, it will enter its next phase of data collection – where the usage of the small helicopter units will expand from campus locations to specific locations around the county.

“The basis of this first contract was to see if they (USF) could come up with a device that could record at high altitudes,” said Peter Brett, manager of Traffic Engineering for Hillsborough County. “It may turn out to be an efficient method for traffic counting data and for managing traffic systems.

“Possibly these devices could go up and count more than one intersection at a time – which would be very useful for modifying traffic light cycles and signal times.”

According to Brett, the usefulness of the work being done by USF engineering is well documented and can make a significant difference in traffic flow.

“The ITE (Institute of Traffic Engineering) – who create standards in the field – have published that this kind of research could make a 17-20 percent increase in progress of signal times,” Brett said. “Our analysis has shown even more positive numbers within two-mile corridors.”

The units selected for collecting data will be a Raptor 90 SE and a Maxi Joker 2 Electric equipped with cameras. In order to remain under FAA regulations, the vehicles will remain within 100 feet of ground level and also will not fly over roadways.

Each flight will last approximately 10-20 minutes, according to Lin. The monitoring will be conducted in five-minute intervals at various intersections on campus, with a maximum of two flights per day.