Saving lives at rail crossings
23 Jul 2010
New technology by La Trobe University to have cars and trains 'talking' to each other could save an average of 37 lives every year and an estimated 100 million dollars, by eliminating rail crossing collisions, especially in rural and regional Australia.
The La Trobe system – which will extend driver ‘vision’ up to one kilometre in all directions – will be trialled in 100 vehicles, the largest known rail crossing safety study of its kind in the world.
A $4 million project by the University’s Centre for Technology Infusion, in partnership with the Australian Automotive Co-operative Research Centre, the Victorian Department of Transport and Queensland University of Technology, intends to have the technology up and running in three years.
It was launched today by the State Government on the University’s Melbourne campus.
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Johnson said La Trobe was extremely enthusiastic in its support for this project. ‘The outcome promises to benefit greatly driving safety in Australia, with the added potential of being able to export leading-edge Australian technology design and expertise,’ he said.
The project is headed by Professor Jugdutt (Jack) Singh, Director of the Centre for Technology Infusion. He says the venture is at the fore-front of a global move to ‘intelligent’ transport systems and ‘smart cars’ of the future.
It involves dedicated mobile-phone-style wireless networks, integrated with GPS. These will run on an international standard of 5.9 gigaherz.
Professor Singh expects new vehicles will be able to adopt the technology once this spectrum is allocated in Australia. It can also be retrofitted to cars already on the road.
There are about nine and a half thousand level crossings on Australian public roads. About 2,000 are in Victoria.
Professor Singh says drivers make a staggering number of decisions, often in split seconds, so project design also includes University psychologists for human factors research.
Department of Transport Senior Manager Railway Crossing Safety, Mr Terry Spicer, says the partnership with La Trobe is helping meet recommendations made by the Parliamentary Road safety Committee inquiry into improving level crossings.
‘This technology has the potential to significantly reduce and ultimately eliminate collisions, injuries and fatalities at level crossings,’ Mr Spicer said.
The La Trobe Centre for Technology Infusion has an international reputation for leading-edge R&D in micro-technology, nano-electronics, wireless systems and sensors.*
Professor Singh says traditional sensors, like radar, have limitations for advanced transport management systems. They have a directional field of view and can not see very far into cross roads; and they are very expensive.
‘By using the latest in wireless technology we can create 360 degree driver awareness over a longer range at far cheaper costs – and at vehicle speeds of up to 200 kilometres per hour.’
In May, La Trobe University and the Australian AutoCRC signed a $260,000 agreement for research and training in advanced automotive technology and transport engineering with two of China’s leading universities – Tongji University in Shanghai and Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Tim Brown, says Intelligent Transport Systems are a high priority world wide. Estimates are that by 2015 these systems could lead to cost savings of more than 40 per cent by reducing accidents and travel time. They will also cut emission, fuel and vehicle operating costs.
These two agreements, says Professor Brown, are also the first step in plans for closer research collaboration with Australian and Chinese universities and automotive companies. 'The Chinese automotive industry is expanding rapidly and seeking new technology to underpin its growth and boost exports for its products.'
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View a videocast of the project launch.
- Professor Singh is the key designer of the new system. The psychological research is being carried out by Dr Wendy Macdonald, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Centre for Ergonomics and Human Factors.
- Core research partners are the AutoCRC, Victorian Department of Transport, La Trobe University, and Queensland University of Technology. Collaborating partners are the Rail Co-operative Research Centre, NICTA (National ICT Australia), the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing, and Embedded Systems Technology.
*La Trobe technology was recently chosen for the ‘smart’ management system of Australia’s first Zero Emission House, opened recently north of Melbourne. And the La Trobe Centre is also helping build one of the smallest, most advanced radio receiver microchips, a contender for inclusion in the world’s largest radio telescope - the $1.8billion SKA project.