While driving toward an intersection at night in a rural community, a stop sign may be difficult to spot. In fact, more than half of all roadway fatalities occur on rural roads, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
To alert drivers of potential dangers, engineers at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) have developed next-gen stop signs featuring a low-cost, self-powered, thermal intersection detection and warning system.
The stop signs utilize a passive, multi-pixel infrared sensor to detect approaching vehicles. As soon as a car enters the sensing window, a signal beacon prompts the sign to engage its flashing system. So, as cars approach an intersection, a large flashing light will help boost the stop sign’s presence.
“The sensor observes thermal signatures and processes them to detect passing vehicles,” says Zachary Balcar, a master’s student in the UTSA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “It distinguishes the vehicle’s direction of travel, estimates the velocity of its thermal signature, and determines the classification of the vehicle.”
Foregoing the utility power grid, the UTSA design runs on solar power.
“Our off-roadway system can be installed on urban or rural roads completely independent of the utility power grid, because it is powered by small solar panels and functions in all weather conditions,” Sara Ahmed, professor in the UTSA College of Engineering, says.
The design has a 90 percent vehicle detection rate, and a 72 percent vehicle classification accuracy rate. According to the UTSA, the system has superior accuracy and lower power consumption compared to existing traffic sensing technologies, including video image processors, microwave radar, and magnetic loop inductors. It also carries a cost benefit, ranging from $60-$100 per unit, with other safety systems reaching up to $5,000.
“The project team has filed an invention disclosure for the system, which was recently recognized nationally by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association,” according to the UTSA.
In addition to roadway safety, the detection system can help with border security and vehicle-to-vehicle infrastructure communication.
Watch the smart stop signs in action in the video below.