Skip to contentUnited States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration FHWA Home
Research Home
Public Roads
Featuring developments in Federal highway policies, programs, and research and technology.
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 64 · No. 4 > Center for Excellence in Advanced Traffic and Logistics Algorithms and Systems (ATLAS)

Jan/Feb 2001
Vol. 64 · No. 4

Center for Excellence in Advanced Traffic and Logistics Algorithms and Systems (ATLAS)

by David Gibson, Alan Hansen, and Pitu Mirchandani

Two major factors in the economic competitiveness of a country and the quality of life of its people are the ease with which people move between home and workplace and other destinations, minimizing the attendant impact on clean air, and the efficient movement of goods from point of origin to destination. Thus, economic competitiveness and the people's quality of life can be considerably enhanced by better management of vehicular traffic on the road network. Economic competitiveness can also be enhanced by better management of logistics to improve the efficiency and cost of the movement of goods. Recognizing the pivotal role of research in discovering new efficiencies to enhance economic competitiveness and quality of life, the University of Arizona with the support of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) established a center of excellence for the research and development of algorithms, software, and systems to advance the state of the art and the state of the practice in traffic management systems and logistics management systems.

Guide through ATLAS laboratory
ATLAS Director Pitu Mirchandani (second from left) and University of Arizona doctoral student, Dave Lucas (far right), guide ADOT's Steve Owen (far left) and Tim Wolfe through the ATLAS laboratory.
The University of Arizona has a solid background in transportation research. Since 1991, the College of Engineering and Mines has been conducting research in the area of Intelligent Traffic Control Systems, funded continuously through grants and contracts from FHWA, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), the Maricopa Association of Governments, the Pima Association of Governments, and the cities of Tucson and Tempe. In addition, members of the faculty of the college have developed software tools to manage emergency response systems for the Tucson Fire Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Also, along with the university's Office of Economic Development and the National Law Center for Inter-American Trade, the faculty has been studying technologies and systems to improve traffic and the movement of goods across the border. Lastly, through contracts and grants with other agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, and with firms, such as Modular Mining and AT&T, or simply through internal project assignment, faculty members have developed innovative methods for logistics management, such as scheduling resources (trucks, cranes, containers, storage space, etc.), designing networks, siting facilities, routing and scheduling vehicles (trucks, buses, cargo ships, etc.), and designing decision-support systems. In the advanced traffic management area, the university's showpiece research is the development and deployment of RHODES (Real-Time Hierarchical Optimized Distributed Effective System), an innovative computer-based system for traffic-adaptive signal control. In laboratory testing, RHODES, which is the first system of its type developed in the United States, proved to be among the most effective traffic control systems dealing with congestion and widely varying traffic conditions. Various state and federal agencies have recognized the potential of RHODES and have scheduled field operational testing in Tucson, Tempe, Santa Clara, and Seattle. It is quite likely that some cities in Canada will also field test RHODES in the near future. Also, agencies in China, Italy, and Singapore have expressed interest in a modification of RHODES for their environment. Successes in research in traffic and logistics management have not gone unnoticed. The city of Tucson helped to establish the Living Laboratory for Transportation Technologies to implement and test off-the-shelf equipment for traffic management. The Systems and Industrial Engineering Department of the College of Engineering and Mines established a Program on Research in Emerging Technologies for Transportation Engineering. The university envisions that, within the next few years, the Center for Advanced Traffic and Logistics Algorithms and Systems (ATLAS) will be an internationally recognized resource for excellence in the research and learning of technologies, algorithms, and systems for efficient and effective traffic and logistics management. Public agencies and private firms will seek out ATLAS for assistance in assessing research needs and conducting research and development projects. ATLAS will be a continuing source of talented researchers and graduates who are engaged in researching, developing, and deploying the state-of-the-art traffic and logistics management systems. ATLAS is building research and educational partnerships with the private sector; federal, state, and local government agencies; and other academic institutions and is seeking opportunities to collaborate with national and international experts. This will enable faculty associated with ATLAS to work together with faculty and staff from other universities and research organizations, as well as work on joint projects sponsored by firms and agencies throughout the world. Also, the center will provide opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to spend extended periods of time at U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) agencies to conduct specialized research or studies. And the staff of USDOT, other public sector organizations, and industry are welcome to study and/or perform research at ATLAS. Specifically, the missions of ATLAS are to:
  • Conduct basic and applied research on technologies (including communications and computer technologies) and methods (including algorithms and software) for traffic and logistics management with the goal of making the implementation of systems for this purpose effective, efficient, and economical.
  • Enhance, through course and curricular development, the current traffic- and logistics-related teaching activities at the University of Arizona. For traffic engineers, logistics managers and planners, transportation practitioners, shippers, cargo carriers, system operators, and other related decision-makers, it will provide an education that is related to the understanding of technologies, methods, and systems and to their implementation.
  • Assist in the effective transfer of Intelligent Transportation Systems and other computer/communications technologies and traffic/logistics management software to the transportation industry - including operators of roads, ports, and border crossings and including private companies and public agencies - through seminars, short courses, and participation in operational tests and demonstration projects.

In the area of advanced traffic management, which includes the projects that receive the majority of the research funding from USDOT, ATLAS investigates and develops appropriate algorithms, software, and systems in:

  • Traffic-adaptive signal control.
  • Traffic-adaptive ramp-metering.
  • Automated detection and characterization of traffic flows.
  • Speed control and route advisories through variable message signing.
  • Demand management through congestion pricing.
  • Real-time dynamic network load prediction and control.
  • Incident detection and management.
  • Region-wide dynamic traffic management.
  • Simulation modeling for traffic management.
  • Decision-support systems for traffic management.
  • Variable speed limits based on a fuzzy logic expert system.

Research in advanced logistics management, includes the study and the development of appropriate algorithms, software, and systems in:

  • Scheduling of resources (trucks, cranes, containers, warehouses, etc.) for intermodal facilities.
  • Electronic clearance at border crossings.
  • Methods for routing and scheduling carriers (trucks, cargo ships, airplanes, etc.).
  • Simulation modeling for logistics management.
  • Decision-support systems for designing distribution networks.
  • Global distribution of goods, with consideration of worldwide shipping and supply-chain management.

Current projects of ATLAS are funded by the USDOT/FHWA earmarks, FHWA contracts, ADOT contracts, the cities of Tucson and Tempe, and other public and private sector partners. The research, development, and deployment are being led by the ATLAS team at the University of Arizona in collaboration with Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and private/public sector partners. To ensure the applicability of ATLAS research to the real world, ATLAS has a steering committee consisting of state and federal DOT employees and university researchers. The steering committee reviews research proposals and research in progress. Planned traffic management projects include the development and integration of a real-time traffic-prediction method for traveler information systems, the deployment and integration of transit signal priority for an arterial, and the deployment and integration of route advisory and limited traffic signal coordination/preemption for emergency vehicles. In addition, several new initiatives are being developed, including investigation and development of approaches for remote sensing of transportation flows and development of a client/server architecture for the RHODES algorithms so that external entities outside the ATLAS facilities may test real-time traffic control on a simulation model. Researchers hope to develop a predictive system to anticipate train and light rail transit crossings at grade highway-rail intersections for the purposes of traveler information and traffic signal adjustment. In logistics management, a project to develop and evaluate a user-friendly tool for constructing simulation models of intermodal transfer facilities has been initiated. A workshop on Advanced Intermodal Logistics Management will be coordinated to review the state of the art and the state of the practice in this area. In addition to the projects in traffic management and logistics management, three projects on intelligent vehicles have been conducted. The VISTA (Vehicles with Intelligent Systems for Transport Automation) project developed a design of an intelligent, affordable vehicle that could be deployed within the next five to 10 years. A project that analyzed and developed preliminary design alternatives for Tucson-Phoenix Intelligent Lanes for Intelligent Vehicles, including the analysis of traffic management benefits and associated costs, was conducted. A Summer Engineering Academy was held that demonstrated the viability of electric vehicle conversion and provided hands-on experience for high school students. ATLAS has a unique way to assure that its research and educational activities are both innovative and relevant. The principal investigator of each project is required to: (1) clearly delineate the expected contributions of the project, (2) identify a champion in an agency or a firm that will find these contributions highly useful, and (3) deliver a report that includes results that either have scholarly value (e.g., are published or disseminated by the appropriate media) or are useful for advanced education (e.g., are presented in academic courses and/or workshops). The principal investigator is expected to work closely with the agency or firm that champions the project and to properly manage the project. The primary source of support for ATLAS comes from FHWA and is administered through ADOT. In addition, there are two other categories of external funding - contract funding and corporate/agency memberships. Currently, there is significant support through contracts from FHWA, ADOT, and the city of Tucson for real-time control of traffic. The second category, corporate/agency memberships, enables firms and agencies to join the center for a nominal fee so that they may participate in workshops and have access to reports and publications. Also, it will allow faculty and students access to the operations of member firms and agencies so that the faculty and students may direct their research on relevant traffic and logistics management issues that will have far-ranging impacts. ATLAS is an outstanding example of university-state-city-federal cooperation in the conduct of transportation research.

David Gibson is a highway research engineer on the Enabling Technologies Team of FHWA's Office of Operations Research and Development. He is a registered professional traffic engineer and has a master's degree in transportation from Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University. His areas of interests include traffic sensor technology, traffic control hardware, traffic modeling, computers, and traffic engineering education (specifically, how applying advanced technologies can simplify an engineer's daily work). He worked with Milton K. (Pete) Mills to develop the first two editions of the Traffic Detector Handbook and to develop the original type 170 traffic signal controller system.

Alan Hansen is the assistant planning and research engineer for the Arizona Division of FHWA. He has managed the research and intelligent transportation systems programs for the Arizona Division since May 1997. He serves on a number of FHWA task forces including, the ITS Program Assessment Working Group, Operations Council, 511 Task Force, and the Linking Planning and Operations Working Group. Hansen joined FHWA in 1987, and his career has included assignments in federal-aid, design, construction, intelligent transportation systems, planning, and research. He has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from California State University-Fresno, and he is a registered professional engineer in Arizona.

Dr. Pitu Mirchandani, Salt River Project Professor of Technology, Public Policy, and Markets, has joint appointments in the Department of Systems and Industrial Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Arizona. He is also the director of the ATLAS Research Center. He served as department head of Systems and Industrial Engineering from 1990 to 1998. Dr. Mirchandani's expertise includes the logistics (scheduling, location, and routing), games and equilibria, and design of real-time decision/control systems and their application in transportation and the spatial distribution of services and goods. He has written more than 70 publications, including two books on location theory. He received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in engineering from the University of California-Los Angeles and both a master's degree in aeronautics and astronautics and a doctorate in operations research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

ResearchFHWA
FHWA
United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration