Traffic takes its toll on major city streets

New congestion management technology could ease urban gridlock

The streets of New York are among the most congested in the country. According to federal transportation data, Big Apple traffic is slow for about six hours every weekday between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

To get things moving, New York is looking to follow the lead of cities like Singapore, London and Milan, which have used "congestion pricing" toll systems to encourage mass transit, bicycles, walking and other alternatives to cars. Many North American cities are expected to follow suit.

Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a business of Raytheon Technologies, has created a system that's well suited for unclogging streets in large metro areas. The Optical Detection Intelligent Network, or ODIN, does the work of a traditional overhead gantry in a more compact package you can mount on existing infrastructure. 

“With a traditional gantry, there is a camera and an illuminator for front plates and the same for rear plates, ODIN rolls all of those together into a single camera and sensor with the goal of making it unobtrusive,” said Jay Farmer, RI&S Transportation, Technology & Tolling Solutions chief engineer. “For example, on a narrow city street, instead of having a regular street light, we will replace the luminaire with this new camera system so it blends in with the urban landscape.”

Raytheon Intelligence & Space has operated in the open-road tolling market since 1997, installing its first system in Toronto. Similar systems are up and running in Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, and Virginia, as well as in Israel and Chile. Raytheon Technologies does not have access to or maintain any driver data. 

Until now, all-electronic toll collection typically used gantries with about seven sensors, including smart sensors in the pavement that detect vehicles coming and going, lasers or laser curtains, multiple cameras, transponder antennas, roadside cabinets, and transformers, among other devices.

“When entering a city’s central business district, it needs to be aesthetically pleasing,” said Rich Dunne, RI&S Transportation, Technology & Tolling Solutions product support business development director. “ODIN can be installed and deployed without the requirement of a full-up gantry like you might see on some interstates across the country.”

The ODIN system, using a very wide-angle lens but without the “fisheye” distortion, takes multiple high-resolution images per second at very fast capture rates to prevent motion blur. The result is incredibly sharp images of vehicles from all angles, including their front and back license plates.

“The camera’s flash is, likewise, extremely fast so there’s no annoying flicker to distract drivers and individuals especially in an urban environment like New York City,” said Paul Moosie, Raytheon Intelligence & Space ODIN development engineer, in Woodbridge, Canada.

The ODIN system will take advantage of advancements in image and video processing as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“The inference engine analyzes each image as it passes across in this real-time stream so it can make very quick decisions right there on the side of the road – ‘Is this an object I care about or can I throw that data away?’” Farmer said. “If it cares about it, it retains the high-resolution slices that it needs for follow-on processing. With ODIN, we no longer need server rooms dedicated for this task.”

Some of the follow-on processing will count axles and determine whether it’s a motorcycle, car, truck or tractor-trailer, for example, so the tolling authority can bill drivers accordingly. And since the physical infrastructure, footprint, and number of sensors are greatly reduced and the processing power is embedded, the cost of installation and upkeep will shrink.

ODIN could also offer savings to customers wishing to modernize and upgrade their older highway tolling gantries and express-lane technology.

“This will result in life-cycle savings and prevent many of the lane closures that are seen when crews are performing maintenance on current electronic-tolling technology like digging up pavement to replace sensors or repairing equipment on gantries,” said Colleen Murphy-Vincent, RI&S Transportation, Technology & Tolling Solutions senior program manager. “Additionally, we’ll be able to add new capabilities as they’re fielded, almost like updating your iPhone.”

The company has developed a prototype of the system, and validated that the system works in extreme weather, and during day and night at locations in Canada and Massachusetts.

“We proved the technology works,” Murphy-Vincent said. “Now, we’re going to get feedback from our customer community at some upcoming events, and we’ll be ready for deployment by the end of 2021.”