|Research & Technology
Communicating Federal Highway Administration research, developments, and technologies.
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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Transporter > June 2003|
Nano-Scale Technologies Offer Big Potential for Highways
Imagine a roadway that is aware of hazardous conditions or a bridge that inspects itself. What about a bridge coating that uses nature’s secrets to shed water and avoid corrosion? Over the next few years, nanotechnologies could revolutionize the highway industry by contributing to superior strength, energy efficiency, and durability.
Nanotechnology concerns products and devices on the minuscule scale of 0.1 to 100 of a nanometer, which is one-billionth of a meter. Presently, nanotechnology products are used in vehicle applications as impact detectors activating airbags and as nanocatalysts controlling air emissions. To identify research on potential applications in the highway industry, the Federal Highway Administration and Volpe Transportation Systems Center organized and sponsored a 2-day workshop in McLean, VA, in April 2003.
During the workshop, participants agreed that nanotechnologies might be able to produce stronger highway materials than those currently in use. Researchers first must develop reliable nanostructure models of existing materials such as portland cement and asphalt to create stronger materials. They will use advanced characterization methods, such as neutron scattering where neutrons are passed through a sample to determine its nanoscale properties, to collect the data necessary for the materials models. With an understanding of materials at the nanoscale, researchers can optimize factors such as mixing conditions and curing temperatures to control the development of the nanostructure, and therefore achieve better performance.
Workshop participants also discussed the potential for embedding nanosensors in road pavement to monitor the processes that contribute to deterioration and cracking. The data would be accumulated in a database for researchers to use for extending the service lives of pavements. Similar sensors on bridges might monitor vibrations and loads, enabling researchers to assess structural weaknesses and conditions and fix them long before they are even apparent to human inspectors.
Another application envisioned by the workshop participants would be to improve the collection of traffic data used by transportation managers. Networks of nanosensors embedded in roadways could provide real-time information to better manage congestion and incidents, or to detect and warn drivers about fast-changing environmental conditions, such as fog and ice.
The participants discussed using nanotechnologies to develop “self-healing” materials composed of molecules that are able to rejoin themselves after being “cut.” One possible application would be roadside structures, such as guardrails, which would be capable of recovering rapidly if struck by a vehicle. Other potential uses include swarms of tiny actuators to control wind- and rain-induced vibrations that could adjust in fine detail the structural shapes of bridges. For metal structures, researchers foresee using nanolayer coatings that are self-cleaning and water-repellent to reduce corrosion and prolong the metal’s life.
More than 40 people attended the workshop. Speakers and participants included representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, U.S. Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, several universities, and the European Center for Nanotechnology in Construction. To learn more about the future of nanotechnology, visit www.nano.gov.
Richard A. Livingston (202) 493-3063 email@example.com
FHWA Seeks Lateral Protection in Work Zones
When laying down new asphalt, patching potholes, or sealing joints along roadways, highway crews erect temporary traffic control devices for work zone control to help them perform their jobs safely. In most cases, crews use plastic cones or channelizing barrels to delineate the work zone, and dump trucks with impact attenuators to block the lanes in the construction zone and shield workers from hits from behind. None of these devices provides lateral protection for lateral intrusion along the work area.
To address this issue, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) WorkZone Safety and Integrated Products Team is developing a research contract for the development of a protection system or device that will prevent vehicles from entering work zones from the sides and thus protect workers and motorists themselves.
FHWA is looking to the private sector to create a highly mobile protection system that can be brought to short-term work zones, sets up quickly, and provides that split second protection needed to save lives. The system must be designed in accordance with the crash-test criteria described in Report 350 of the National Highway Cooperative Research Program, Recommended Procedures for the Safety Performance Evaluation of Highway Features. (See www.nationalacademies.org/trb/publications/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_350-a.pdf.)
Firms responding to the RFP must demonstrate a number of skills, including experience with developing new safety hardware and an understanding of the properties of current and emerging construction materials and their feasibility for use in mobile barriers.
During the development of the protection system, FHWA anticipates asking the selected firm to complete several tasks, including:
In the 1980s, the Texas Transportation Institute crash-tested hardware devices designed to provide lateral protection, including beams suspended between two dump trucks and “centipede” barriers composed of trains of old cars. However, these efforts did not result in the development of operational devices.
Firms interested in responding to the RFP should contact:
Scott Battles 202-366-4372 firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Newman 202-366-2023 Christopher.email@example.com
How Smooth Are Your ITS Deployments?
As transportation professionals plan, deploy, and operate intelligent transportation systems (ITS) nationwide, they may find that integrating hardware and software can be complicated, particularly for large-scale projects. By merging management and technical activities into a single logical work process, known as systems engineering, highway practitioners can ensure that all activities are conducted in a timely and economical manner. A new course, Introduction to Systems Engineering for Advanced Transportation (#137024A), offered through the Federal Highway Administration’s National Highway Institute (NHI), introduces transportation professionals to the benefits and applications of systems engineering.
Systems engineering is a step-by-step process for planning, designing, implementing, testing, and operating a project more effectively and efficiently. Originally developed by the U.S. Department of Defense as a methodology for managing projects, systems engineering was used in the design of countless products from compact disc players to the space shuttle. Because so many factors—including different types of hardware and software—are involved in cutting-edge ITS solutions, a process like systems engineering is important to ensuring successful completion of a project on time and within budget. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation now requires that all ITS projects that are federally funded go through a systems engineering process.
Instructors illustrate the basic concepts of systems engineering through a combination of lectures and classroom exercises with examples derived from real-life transportation systems. The 2-day course covers technical practices—such as modeling, prototyping, trade-off analysis, and testing—and management practices, such as risk assessment and mitigation, that constitute best practices in systems engineering.
Upon completing the course, participants will be able to:
Geared toward individuals involved in implementing advanced technologies ranging from traffic signal systems to electronic toll-collection systems, the course will benefit engineers, project managers, technical team members, contractors, and other staff who deal with ITS technologies at any level of government or in the private sector.
The course is part of the core curriculum established by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Professional Capacity Building Program. For more information on the curriculum, visit www.pcb.its.dot.gov/Catalogs/ITSCurriculum.htm#section2. To learn more about the course, consult the course catalog on NHI’s Web site at www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov. For scheduling, contact Danielle Mathis-Lee at 703–235–0528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For technical information, contact Ron Giguere at 202–366–2203 or email@example.com.
Budd Cribbs 703-235-0526 firstname.lastname@example.org
Conference Showcases Latest ITS Research and Technologies
In metropolitan areas, where heavy traffic volumes lead to long travel delays and increase the likelihood of incidents, transportation engineers and planners are turning to intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to relieve congestion and improve safety. ITS technologies, such as advanced traffic surveillance, signal control systems, and ramp metering, have reduced travel times by up to 25 percent and crashes by as much as 50 percent.
On May 19–22, 2003, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) convened its 13th annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN. The 4-day conference and exposition showcased the latest ITS technologies for improving mobility and safety. Sessions covered various ITS topics, including intermodal freight technology, intelligent vehicles, and the role of public-private partnerships in deploying ITS. Attendees at the conference included transportation and traffic engineers, policy planners, educators and telecommunications specialists from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), State departments of transportation (DOTs), local transportation agencies, and the private sector.
Representatives from FHWA participated in several sessions. Vince Pearce, public safety and security team leader with the Office of Transportation Operations, discussed the role of FHWA and ITS technologies in improving homeland security. Pearce described ongoing work at FHWA and the Transportation Security Administration to incorporate the latest ITS technologies into emergency planning. He also noted that FHWA is performing several studies involving ITS applications in emergency management. One study, for example, analyzes surveillance systems to investigate and document the cost, effectiveness, design, and applicability of state-of-the-art technologies for protecting bridges, such as closed-circuit television cameras, security patrols, and electronic detection, monitoring, tracking, and alarm systems.
Joseph Peters, manager of program assessments in the ITS Joint Program Office, moderated a session on the importance of assessing the benefits of ITS technologies. One session presenter explained that project designers and managers who understand the costs and benefits of these technologies are better equipped to select technologies that will be effective in solving transportation problems. Another speaker described how an evaluation of dynamic message signs in San Antonio, TX, showed that many drivers distrusted the information displayed on the signs. In addition, drivers did not value the system because the screens were blank most of the time. As a result, local transportation officials began displaying data on travel times during periods when there were no incidents to report.
In a special award ceremony, ITS America recognized several transportation agencies and organizations for representing the “Best of ITS.” Indiana DOT received an award for its Hoosier Helper Service Patrol, which is a program in Gary, IN, that uses specialized vehicles to patrol the Boorman Expressway and respond to incidents. Because each patrol vehicle is linked to ITS technologies, responders can access video monitors showing where incidents occur on the roadway and alert drivers about incidents and travel conditions using dynamic message signs.
The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) received an award for its outreach and education program. Each year, ITE and its partners hold training sessions around the country to assist State and local agencies in coordinating and operating ITS technologies. In 2002, ITE conducted 29 sessions. Topics for ITE’s 2003 sessions include standards for dynamic message signs and coordinating communications between various centers for traffic management and transportation operations.
Susan Slye 202-366-1068 email@example.com
Learning from a Distance
Due to busy schedules, many transportation professionals are demanding shorter, more conveniently located training sessions that will help them develop professionally, while reducing the time that they spend away from the office for training. To meet these requests, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) National Highway Institute (NHI) is developing live, interactive training sessions that can be delivered via the Internet. Known as “Web conferences,” this cyber-training will enable geographically dispersed professionals to participate in short training sessions, generally less than 2 hours in length, without leaving their offices or work sites.
FHWA and NHI plan to use Web conferences to conduct both internal and external training, supplementing the training already being held at the division offices. Internally, FHWA would like to develop Web conferences on work benefits for use during new employee orientations. In addition, FHWA wants to conduct Web conferences to alert employees about policy changes within the Agency and to show employees new ways to use the Internet for library searches.
For external training, NHI is looking to partner with FHWA’s Resource Center locations, division offices, program offices, and other transportation organizations and agencies, to develop Web conferences on technical topics. Potential subjects would be the development of new highway structures or the deployment of intelligent transportation systems. All Web conferences would be based on the currents needs of the organizations and agencies and on the general needs of transportation professionals.
In February 2003, NHI partnered with the FHWA’s Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty to hold a Web conference on the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).
To conduct a Web conference, instructors present visuals—typically Microsoft® PowerPoint® slides—to students located at registrant sites equipped with computers and Internet connectivity. No special software or equipment is required. The audio portion of the training is delivered simultaneously via teleconference over a standard phone line.
During a session, participants can ask questions over the phone or they can submit questions over the Internet. In addition, instructors can poll participants on any given topic and see the tallied results instantaneously using a real-time voting feature. The Web conference also includes mood indicators that enable participants to alert the instructor if he or she is moving too quickly or slowly. Participants can communicate with one another during the session using a chat function, which is a beneficial feature when instructors want to break up sessions into group discussions or projects. To conduct a course, NHI recommends that no more than two students share a computer during technical training sessions. Larger groups can be accommodated if the session is dissemination of policy or guidance.
For more information about Web conferences or to find out about hosting a Web conference with NHI, contact:
Deborah Gwaltney 703-235-1199 firstname.lastname@example.org
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