OREM Think "traffic" and "radar" and you'll likely envision a traffic cop pulling someone over. But an Orem company is using radar to help motorists get to their destinations in a quicker and smoother manner.
Wavetronix LLC's traffic monitoring devices use patented Digital Wave Radar to check traffic levels and flow to help traffic planners and traffic operations control centers get people from Point A to Point B efficiently. And it's doing it from Utah to points halfway around the world.
"It's a problem everywhere," said Michael Rose, director of sales and marketing. "That's a comment we joke about when we're doing testing in individual locations. It doesn't matter where you are, traffic all looks the same, and from our standpoint whatever we can do to improve that is obviously in our best interest."
The company's SmartSensors are notebook-computer-size sensors usually placed about halfway up camera poles along highways. The sensors take a cross-section look at traffic and are able to gauge counts, average speeds, congestion and the mix of large and small vehicles in each lane up to eight lanes for each sensor.
The data is used by traffic operations people who, based on the statistics, may implement ramp metering or other traffic flow devices or update information on 511 travel calling services, overhead message boards or the Internet.
"What you want to know as a driver is, 'Is the traffic I'm experiencing the usual traffic and congestion or due to an incident or some other situation?' " Rose said.
Although not used for speed enforcement by police, the sensors are as inconspicuous as a cop manning a speed trap. "As they are deployed along the interstates already, you would not know it's there unless you were looking for it," Rose said, noting that 10 sensors are used in Utah.
But more are on the way. Thirty-four soon will be installed in Utah County. "Currently, I-15 in Utah County has very limited forms of detection providing real-time feedback," he said.
Wavetronix has about 500 sensors in use in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan and China, and the company expects to have more than 1,000 units up and running by year-end.
Among the sites in the United States with installed or pending operations are New York; Las Vegas; Stockton, Calif.; and Des Moines, Iowa. One New York project features 85 SmartSensors along Grand Central Parkway, and another has 12 along the Whetstone Expressway.
On a Wavetronix DVD, Iowa transportation officials, in fact, speak in glowing terms about how Wavetronix technology will be beneficial. They particularly note how easy the sensors are to install and maintain and how they will improve safety conditions for workers who no longer have to shut down traffic or venture too close to heavy traffic to put in, configure or maintain traffic monitoring devices unlike some other traffic monitoring or traffic counting technologies.
Iowa is using 65 SmartSensors and more than 40 cameras to collect data.
"There's a serious safety aspect of maintaining those which you have eliminated by being off to the side of the road (with SmartSensors)," Rose said.
The ease of installation and maintenance is derived from a second patented technology the SmartSensor's auto configuration and auto-calibration capabilities. Once the sensor is physically installed, the push of a button instigates software that automatically defines lanes of traffic without requiring manual setup of lane boundaries.
In addition to the automated features, the SmartSensors have another advantage over some other technologies, which include infrared, processor packed cameras and acoustic devices that can "hear" traffic.
"The benefit of radar is it works in any condition," said Don Levant, communications director. "Cameras and acoustic devices are always going to be affected by what's going on around them weather, light, changes in temperature. . . . Radar, and especially the design we're working with, works in all conditions."
Wavetronix was founded in 2000 by a pair of Brigham Young University professors of electrical and computer engineering. David Arnold left academia to become the company's president and chief executive officer. Michael Jennies remains at BYU.
The company has found a niche in the transportation industry in what is known as ITS, or Intelligent Transportation Systems. Congress began allocating funds for ITS improvements in the early 1990s.
"The objective was to create more efficient roads rather than building more roads," Rose said. "By doing that, we can certainly improve the efficiencies of the roadways we have. The only way to do that is with effective management strategies for traffic patterns and traffic flow, and the only way to have an effective management strategy is to have a reliable real-time data stream of what's happening on the roadways.
"Cameras, as they are placed on the roads in places like Utah, are nice eyes, but they don't give you the statistics that tell you the densities, the average lane speeds or the counts in a specific time frame."
The company, with a little more than 30 employees in Utah, recently moved from Provo to Orem and figures to produce more items in the transportation field in the future. Rose said a series of products are in development that will allow Wavetronix devices to integrate with legacy systems' sensors or controllers and with emerging technologies.
The market, even with competing technologies, certainly isn't going to evaporate. The sensors will have a use, either on rural roads or those packed with slogging motorists.
"There is plenty of opportunity within this industry. It's a universal problem. Beijing is a great example. The number of people with personal ownership of vehicles is rising at a dramatic rate, which creates traffic problems," Rose said."But it doesn't matter where you are. There is always a need for transportation products."