How will Millennials Develop and Manage Our Road System?
Vaisala News (VN): Bert, thank you for chatting with me today. Can you share a little about your role at Vaisala?
Bert Murillo (BM): Hi, Melanie. Sure. I am an account manager at Vaisala in the U.S. I interact with our customers, helping to develop their RWIS networks. I provide both technical and commercial information, as we work through their specific weather needs and vision for their programs.
VN: Sounds like you are a great resource for the customer. Can you describe a customer application that sticks out in your mind? What was one of the most interesting projects you've helped a customer with?
BM: Every project has its own unique goals and challenges, which keeps things interesting. A recent project that I would highlight would be a rather large RWIS expansion project. I wouldn't say the expansion part was unique, but rather how the project was designed. Of course, every agency has budget constraints, but on this particular project we worked with the client to utilize existing infrastructure in their expansion design. The project took advantage of existing signs, power, and communication equipment used for dynamic message signs (DMS) and closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) to expand their existing use for new RWIS equipment. This allowed the client to allocate more of their funds to the actual weather monitoring equipment.
VN: Creative way of working! I like that. What challenges are your customers coming to you about most often? What are they trying to solve while also balancing the budget?
BM: One of the biggest challenges that our customers see are most likely similar to what folks see across a wide variety of industries – the increasingly large amounts of big data being brought, and how to manage it. As we know, large amounts of data by itself doesn't make us any better at our jobs. It is finding a way to distill all that data down to a manageable view, to either make decisions or evaluate success or failure. The Vaisala Performance Index that was developed with the Idaho Transportation Department with that end goal in mind. It provides a view to evaluate on a storm-by-storm basis whether the snow/ice treatment plans put in place were successful or not. Successes can be used to try and replicate later, or less than optimal results can be used to go back and refine future treatment plans. Either way, it turns RWIS data from a subjective interpretation of success to something much more objective.
VN: Yes, roadway agencies have to manage "big data," today, and future generations will as well. Speaking of the future, how will a younger generation, let's say Millennials since there is a lot of talk about that group, develop and manage our transportation system in the next 20 years? Will they adopt new technologies, change it altogether, figure out big data, what do you think?
BM: Excellent question. I definitely think that Millennials will look to future technologies. Right now there are exciting things happening with connected vehicle projects. That could even expand to the possible use of drones to manage and evaluate road networks. This mobile technology will further expand the "touch points" that we have with road networks, but I think the thing to be cautious of is quality of the data and ensuring that decisions are being made off accurate data.
It will be interesting to see what else could be used. If "Back to the Future" was to be believed though, I was supposed to be driving/flying my vehicle last year, which would have gotten us all out of the roadway!
VN: Yes, sometimes I daydream about a flying car when I am stuck in traffic! The connected vehicles topic is interesting, and closer to becoming reality for more and more drivers. What role will weather data play in that space? And where will the data come from?
BM: There are a lot of moving parts here, and it seems to be an evolving discussion. Confining the discussion to state/city/county fleet vehicles, there are on-board vehicle sensors (air temp, abs, automatic windshield wipers, etc.), which are being considered, but there doesn't seem to be a standardization between different automakers. And the protocol for getting the data out from the vehicle seems to change year-on-year from even the same manufacturers. Then, of course, accuracy is to be considered. Right now separate, weather-specific mobile sensors are providing the most accurate data. There is also talk about ensuring that there are still enough static/fixed sites along major corridors to ensure that there is enough reference data to "normalize" mobile data. But expanding the question a bit: as more and more manufactures are working on automated vehicles, weather data must also be considered. Initial thoughts...changing weather conditions must be factored into the algorithms. Stopping distance needed alone could be a major safety consideration.
VN: I imagine fixed sites would still be an important part of the mix, especially when accuracy, reliability, and trust of the data would still matter to drivers. How does/will Vaisala contribute weather information to connected vehicles and managing roadways in the future?
BM: Exactly, I think that the fixed data will be as important as ever to be the so called "gold standard" for weather observations. When mobile sensors drive by fixed sites there can be a side-by-side comparison to help determine the accuracy and validity of the mobile data. Then some sort of "normalization" can be done, so that the data is weighted. Vaisala is also continuing our advancement on mobile weather sensors. This will ensure that accurate mobile data can be captured.
VN: Interesting stuff! I look forward to seeing how Vaisala develops weather systems for the future. Bert, thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts. Any last words about the weather?
BM: Nothing groundbreaking. Just as summer starts wrapping up – be safe out there!