Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Sept. 4, 2000

Hwy 7 technology receiving international attention

By Gail Lipe

The three-year field operations test of the intelligent transportation systems (ITS) applications along Highway 7 between Hutchinson and Highway 494 is receiving national and international attention.

Bill Gardner, planning director of the Minnesota Department of Transportation office of advanced transportation systems, told elected officials that in Hutchinson at a news conference on Monday, Aug. 21.

"And the great thing about the technology is that it is Minnesota home grown," he said.

The ITS technology that is under evaluation during the test is designed to provide a driver the ability to stay in the appropriate road lane and avoid collisions with other vehicles or obstacles along the road during inclement weather conditions.

It includes the integration of global positioning satellite technology, magnetic tape and sensors, digital mapping, forward and rear radar sensors and strobes, a heads-up display for the driver, a haptic steering wheel and a vibratory seat.

The technology is being designed and researched by the University of Minnesota, and 3M is responsible for the magnetic tape technology.

Gardner said the study will be watched in Hutchinson and McLeod County because the goal is to decrease vehicle crashes.

In Minnesota there were 93,000 vehicle crashes last year resulting in over 650 deaths. Gardner said there were 43,000 more people injured, which caused $1.6 billion in economic loss in the state.

Dr. Max Donath, the director of the ITS Institute, said after the field operations test of the technology the goal is to try to get the costs down so businesses can use it, and eventually drive the price down to the point where it will be affordable in cars.

Using the digital mapping and global positioning satellite technology is already happening in McLeod County. Rick Kjonaas, McLeod County engineer, has been spearheading the project for several years.

Donath said the digital mapping integrated with the global positioning satellite technology will more accurately keep the emergency vehicles in the appropriate position on the road.

The global positioning satellite technology utilizes 24 satellites in the sky that transmit signals. Donath said a receiver can triangulate its position anywhere on the globe within 40 meters.

He said it is not more accurate because of the distortion of the satellite signals as they go through the atmosphere.

If a correction signal is used, which adjusts for the distortion, the position can be triangulated within two centimeters.

Donath said three transmitters will be deployed along Highway 7 to do the adjustments.

"It is not enough to know where you are on the globe, you need to know where you are on the road," said Donath.

That is where the digital mapping comes in. Information is being gathered to accurately identify the center line of roads around the state. It also identifies permanent obstacles along the roads. Donath said data is even being collected from a transmitter that is placed on road paint striping equipment.

The heads-up display is a clear screen that uses icons and imagery to help the driver see the road, other vehicles and obstacles along the road. It uses the same type of technology used in special effects for movies, Donath said.

The display is designed for the driver to look through it at the road. It enhances the center lines and side lines, and uses an icon for the cars in front of the vehicle. Donath said the icons move with the vehicles so the driver knows where they are at all times.

Other types of technology include a haptic steering wheel, which vibrates if the driver moves out of the appropriate driving lane. Donath said there also is a vibration in the seat on either the left or right if the vehicle is too far one way or the other.

There also will be a road weather information system that will provide different weather information, including pavement temperature, pavement condition and subsurface soil temperatures.

The reason the technology is being used primarily in snow plows for testing is that driving a snowplow in inclement weather conditions is probably one of the most complex stressful positions, Donath said. He said the drivers have to be on the roads, and they operate their vehicles for long hours, typically late at night.

Vehicles that are being outfitted with the technology for the study are three Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplows, one McLeod County snowplow, a Minnesota State Patrol vehicle and a Hutchinson ambulance.

Kjonaas said this is the first year in the three-year-long study. He said he is interested in permanent installation of the technology in Mcleod County after the study is completed.

Elected officials from McLeod and Carver counties took turns riding in a snowplow that is outfitted with the technology. U. S. Senator Rod Grams also checked out the technology while he was visiting the McLeod County Fair.

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