x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New system could avoid traffic jams

Student works on new computer system where 'mobile agents' software would collect data and warn motorists about road conditions.

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Abu Dhabi / Imagine knowing if a crash, construction project or sandstorm has caused a traffic jam so you would know not to drive into it. Imagine if traffic signals changed themselves to make it easier for you to go a different way. It may sound too good to be true, but a student at Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (Kustar) is working on a computer program that could do just that.

Fatima Alqayedi's thesis for her master's degree in computer engineering proposes using bits of software called mobile agents that would share such information with planners and motorists almost instantly. These bits of software can literally jump from computer to computer, gathering new information without forgetting what they already know. If such a system were put into place here, the capital would first be divided into zones. Each zone would then be equipped with either cameras or sensors in the road to measure traffic. That information would then be sent to a local computer server that could pass it on to motorists so they could make informed choices about their speed and route based on real-time data.

"Take the cameras, for instance, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi," said Ms Alqayedi, 24. "Using a camera, we can catch the movement in the street and analyse this to get some information where there is an accident, or there are crowded streets. Then we can distribute this information." Her work could also be used to create an intelligent traffic signal, which would change automatically based on the same kind of data.

"We can benefit from the information that we gather to organise the signals in the road to know which street needs more time, which signal needs five minutes to be red and another intersection needs three minutes to be red," she said. Ms Alqayedi, an Emirati who attends Kustar's Sharjah campus, took on the project about a year ago at the behest of her professors, after the Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority expressed "interest in such projects", said Mohammed al Mualla, the university's interim provost.

"This is one of the major problems in the UAE, especially with the growth happening in Abu Dhabi and Dubai," he said. But it could be some time before Ms Alqayedi's proposal can be applied to traffic. Her system focuses on using new technology for "efficiently collecting and disseminating information" said Hassan Barada, one of her thesis supervisors and programme manager of information and communication technology at Kustar.

Researchers around the globe are working to develop similar "intelligent" transportation systems that will see vehicles and infrastructure communicating with one another to relieve congestion and improve road safety. But a system such as Ms Alqayedi's faces hurdles. Common protocols for intelligent transportation systems will need to be agreed upon globally, Mr Labbett said. The technology's ability to track individuals has also generated privacy concerns in Europe, he said.

mchung@thenational.ae