Of Interest...

Researchers to Design 'Smart' Street Signs

Jan 7, 2008
A Minnesota team is working on "smart" street signs they say will interact with cutting-edge car software to stave off crashes in dangerous intersections. Nearly 43,000 people died in traffic accidents nationwide in 2006.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) have joined forces with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to develop new technology to make dangerous intersections safer.  Some 600 traffic fatalities occur on Minnesota roads each year, of which about a third take place in intersections.  Max Donath, director of the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute within CTS, says that those accidents are avoidable.

“There is absolutely no reason why that has to happen; that driver could have seen a sign that could have warned them,” he says. The sign Donath envisions is a hi-tech interactive “talking” street sign that will beam information to drivers approaching an intersection.

“Cars will get smarter,” he says. “They will be wirelessly communicating information to the intersection. They will be collecting data from the intersection. They will communicate vehicle to vehicle.”

Ginny Crowson, a project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, says that the project will lead not only to the building safer roads nationwide, but to car companies building smarter, safer cars. Refinements will include a steering wheel that vibrates when the car starts to veer off the road and a special dashboard light to warn drivers of oncoming vehicles. 

The research is sponsored by Cooperative Intersection Collision Avoidance Systems (CICAS), a four-year Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) program partnership between the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), automobile manufacturers and State and local departments of transportation. Its purpose is to develop cooperative vehicle/infrastructure systems to address intersection crash problems related to stop sign and traffic signal violations, stop sign movements and unprotected left turns.

Some of the technology- including advanced traffic sensor networks and an advanced vehicle trajectory measurement and recording system - could be ready within the next few years, the researchers say.



Stop signs originated in Michigan in 1915. The first ones had black letters on a white background and were 24 by 24 inches, somewhat smaller than the current. As they became more widespread, a committee supported by the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) met in 1922 to standardize them. They selected the octagonal shape that has been used in the United States ever since. The unique eight-sided shape allows drivers facing it's back to identify it. Also that oncoming drivers have a stop and prevent confusion with other traffic. It was also chosen so that it could be identified easily at night. Since the originals were not reflective. The National Conference on Street and Highway Safety (NCSHS), a group competing with AASHTO, advocated a smaller red-on-yellow one. These two organizations eventually merged. They formed the Joint Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. In 1935 published the first Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) detailing the stop sign's specifications.



The Original Street Sign

The original Street Sign - "Milestones" were originally stone obelisks – made from granite, marble, or whatever local stone was available.  Later concrete posts. They were widely used by Roman Empire road builders and were an important part of any Roman road network.  The distance travelled per day was only a few miles in some cases. Many Roman milestones only record the name of the reigning emperor without giving any placena mes or distances. The first Roman milestones appeared on the Appian way. At the centre of Rome, the "Golden Milestone" was erected to mark the presumed centre of the empire.  This milestone has since been lost. The Golden Milestone inspired the Zero Milestone in Washington, D.C., intended as the point from which all road distances in the United States should be reckoned.