Skycomp Newsletter - January 2012
Skycomp will be at TRB, in Booth #3700 in the Exhibit Hall
Please visit us or forward this message to anyone in your firm or organization who will be headed for next week's annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board. (We have a few free passes into the exhibit hall, too, for anyone living nearby who is not planning to register.) For those able to hunt down our booth way in the back of the smaller exhibit hall on the right, a treat is in store! We will demonstrate wide-area video (WAV) coverage of all of downtown Atlanta at once, captured by a pair of hovering helicopters. Small movie clips will play showing ramp meters in action, queuing and flow through recurring bottlenecks, and a bird's eye view of a neighborhood grid of streets as morning commuter traffic flows through.
SKYCOMP NEWS (5 items):
Imagine looking at an aerial image of, say, downtown Atlanta, and then zooming in to discover that you can trace any vehicle as it weaves through the city streets! Almost any flow parameter could then be extracted for your study, and you would have an unparalleled bird's eye view of how the system functions as an integrated network. That dream would be an ultimate data capture, analytic and public involvement tool -- and Skycomp has figured out just how to do it!
From the vantage point of a single helicopter, areas of up to 4.5 square miles can be imaged by our sensors at intervals as fast as one frame per second for up to 90 continuous minutes. The aligned imagery can be used to count or trace vehicles, or played back to audiences to show conditions across areas many times larger than can be captured by ordinary high-definition video. Compelling movie clips can also be cut out from anywhere in the captured area for playback in "YouTube" or other media (click on the video below to see WAV coverage of downtown Atlanta).
How can WAV make a difference?
-- Need a broad view? Get the big picture with video capture of 4+ square miles at a time.
-- Need model calibration data? Its all in there (queue lengths, turning movement counts, spot flow rates, classifications, LOS, actual O-D.)
-- Later you find that you missed something? Go back and get it since everything was recorded.
-- Data look questionable? Go back and verify it.
-- Stakeholders are skeptical? Show how your model duplicates the real world during the base line period.
-- Public doesn't understand the problem? Aerial photos and video are educational and can be compelling.
-- Your analysts aren't local? Give them local understanding so they can win over the locals.
-- Need to show accountability? Perform before- and after-imaging sessions, and post them side-by-side on the project web site.
2. Compelling new "fly-around" visualization tool:
What happens when you fuse WAV with GoogleEarth 3D? A new "fly-around" visualization tool that looks like the output of a microsimulation model -- but it is real-world video instead! Yes, any site from a WAV video (see above) can be cropped out, aligned, and projected in a browser window linked to the GoogleEarth image servers. Great way to help non-technical stakeholders visualize a problem, or show how your microsimulation model is true to the baseline conditions.
Remote electronic sensors are now delivering data so fast that the shear quantity threatens to overwhelm users. Translating these data streams into information and then into visuals that non-technical people will easily grasp is therefore the focus of important research today. Frequently recognized by peers and clients as a leader in the development of compelling visual displays in the transportation planning field, Skycomp is now introducing a new "fly-around" visualization tool that fuses its new wide-area video tool (WAV) with the GoogleEarth 3D plug-in for web browsers. WAV has such a wide field of view at such a high resolution that many movie clips at many different spots can be cropped out for playback on ordinary desktop viewers. Supported by partner Dinther Product Design Ltd (see "planetinaction.com"), Skycomp can now align and drape video clips over imagery from Google Earth, enabling users to rotate views and display traffic flow in the context of very high resolution GoogleEarth imagery.
To try this in your own browser, follow the link below. First you will be asked to load a browser plug-in called "GoogleEarth 3D", software that calls for the appropriate imagery layers from the Google servers (no need to actually load GoogleEarth). Once GE imagery appears inside your browser, the imagery will begin to load. When "Load Progress" indicates 100%, choose your playback speed. While the video plays, you can use the standard GE controls at the upper right corner to adjust the direction and elevation of your viewing angle. (There are also ways to record a "fly by" for later playback by movie viewers.)
One use of this visualization tool is to show actual baseline conditions to non-technical audiences. If the WAV video has also been used to calibrate a micro-simulation model, the two "output" videos -- virtual and real -- can be played side-by-side to show how well the model duplicates actual baseline conditions.
3. "Photo matrix" format for quick viewing or web retrieval of huge photo archives:
Imagine a matrix of hundreds (or even thousands) of Skycomp time-lapse aerial photographs, stored on the web and waiting for retrieval through your GIS or Google Earth interface. "Click" any dot on the map to open a stack of photos at that spot. Then drill through the stack to see how conditions changed between flyovers; or at any time switch modes and "walk" down the highway to inspect upstream or downstream conditions.
4. Can vehicle probe data from, say, INRIX, be used to find bottlenecked signals?
For our MPO clients with CMP's who are looking for more affordable ways to monitor mobility on huge regional highway systems, Skycomp went digging into the question of how well probe speed data (from vendors like INRIX) can be fused with smaller sets of time-lapse aerial photography to quantify and pinpoint bottlenecks on very large arterial systems.
The world of highway speed data collection is changing rapidly: GPS-equipped cell-phones now serve as probes within highway traffic streams, enabling private-sector vendors to offer affordable historical databases of vehicle speeds across even the largest highway networks. Skycomp is adjusting to this reality by exploring affordable ways to fuse the insights possible from time-lapse aerial photography (TLAP) and WAV with the rich speed databases gathered electronically.
The first step in this initiative was to understand exactly what the vendors are offering, and then seeing if aerial photography could be combined with the speed data to generate an affordable understanding that neither method could produce alone. Skycomp requested data from several vendors; however, only one (INRIX) was in a position to actually make data available. Skycomp decided to focus on interrupted-flow arterial highways (significant research had already been published about freeways), and then selected highways for which it already had extensive aerial photo archives. The assignment was to see how well the vehicle probe data from INRIX could be processed to flag segments where the aerial photography already showed that bottlenecks existed.
Skycomp found a better-than-expected correlation between bottlenecks found by aerial photography and those indicated by delay totals in the processed INRIX data. While not a perfect match (which was not expected even in the best of cases), it was clear that planners have different needs than operations personnel: the latter are more concerned about falsely-positive and falsely-negative reports of congestion, since warnings are being sent out in real-time. However, planners care most about average speed values (with the outliers discarded). It appears from Skycomp's research that the studied databases from INRIX were to a large degree delivering speed data that were consistent with what the aerial photography was finding.
Greg Jordan compiled these findings into a paper submitted to TRB for the 2012 annual meeting; he will be presenting those findings in a poster session (#594) in the Washington Hilton on Tuesday, January 24, from 2:00 to 3:45 p.m. (International Center).
5. Skycomp to be featured on a PBS television series to air this spring:
This spring PBS is scheduled to broadcast "America Revealed", a new four-part series exploring the processes America uses to make food, produce energy, manufacture goods, and transport people and goods. The theme was to "fly over" each of these under-appreciated but fundamentally important subjects, both figuratively and literally, by using extensive helicopter video footage and a parachute-jumping host. When the producers learned that there was a company that specializes in taking bird's-eye views of traffic flow, they sent the host to Dallas to fly with Skycomp and interview Greg Jordan.
"As anyone who’s ever flown in a commercial airplane knows, America looks very different from the skies. Plucked from their living rooms and transported above the clouds on an epic journey, viewers will discover a fascinating, new perspective on the hidden rhythms and patterns of American life in PBS’ "AMERICA REVEALED". Using aerial footage, high-definition video and real-time satellite data, this new miniseries traces the movements and communications that miraculously come together to manufacture goods, transport people and materials, grow tons of food and power our increasingly tech-savvy nation." (from the PBS website)
Having been assumed by the producers to be an expert given his extensive experience soaring above highways and taking pictures, Skycomp President Greg Jordan was interviewed for about three hours. Expecting that only perhaps a minute or two will make the cut, Greg is hoping that his views will come across as intelligently as he hopes he stated them. In any event, the adventure was fun and educational. The most memorable moment for Greg was when he asked the friendly young interviewer (named Yul Kwon) how he came to be selected to host this series. The answer was, "Well, a lot of doors opened up for me when I won "Survivor: Cook Island"! Which, of course, Greg never did watch…
The series was inspired by a similar program in the UK, the highly-regarded "Britain from Above" produced by the BBC. "America Revealed" is scheduled to premier on April 11, 2012.
Recap of 2011 Skycomp surveys
During the past year, Skycomp supplied data, visual documentation and website tools to help clients investigate the following issues:
- Are through-trucks really cutting across urban residential neighborhoods (as complaints indicate), or is that only the perception?
- After completion of a $150 million interchange upgrade project, why does morning traffic flow still become congested, and where exactly does it first break down?
- Where are mall patrons unable to find parking?
- Throughout the day, what is the availability of parking spaces for weekend visitors to a beach resort?
- Statewide, which commuter bus and rail parking lots fill to capacity on typical workdays?
- Does a missing movement need to be built into a new interchange design (or would nobody use it)?
- Can a short urban freeway in a northeast city be permanently removed?
- Is a new river crossing needed to serve the downtown area in a Great Lakes city?
- Are commuters cutting through a local town center in Virginia to avoid congestion on a parallel corridor?
- How will a large urban intermodal transportation center impact existing downtown traffic?
- Where do football stadium fans have trouble finding parking?
- Can a street be closed and an overpass removed across an interstate highway?
- For research, what are the traffic flow metrics of vehicles moving through two congested freeway zones?
- How has congestion across the region evolved as population has increased and development has spread?