Ask the Experts–Developing ITS Mobility Applications for Freight Operations

The Federal government is engaged in several research projects to identify and develop the next generation of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) mobility applications. How do freight operations fit into the government’s research agenda?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) is investing in new research to identify promising ITS applications which leverage multi-source wireless data streams drawn from connected travelers, vehicles, and infrastructure. This dynamic, real-time data exchange is rapidly displacing the traditional passive interaction between fixed and mobile pieces of the transportation system. RITA envisions that these rich data streams will have a transformational impact on mobility, safety, and transportation system operations by enabling dynamic, real-time decision making for transportation system users and managers. From a mobility perspective, the Dynamic Mobility Applications (DMA) program seeks to accelerate the development and deployment of new technologies that increase system efficiency and improve traveler mobility by investing in open source research and development. The idea is to identify a path to commercialization and large-scale deployment of these technologies by leveraging the strengths of both the public and private sectors.

RITA issued an open call for DMA ideas in the summer of 2010. They received 93 submittals, which were then condensed into 33 consolidated concepts. These were then grouped into seven ‘bundles’ of applications having similar high-level data needs which could potentially be developed concurrently. One such bundle is the Freight Advanced Traveler Information System, or FRATIS. FRATIS consists of three specific applications:

  • Freight Real-Time Traveler Information with Performance Measures: This application will enhance traveler information systems to address specific freight needs for long- and short-haul goods movement. The application will provide traveler information to freight operators and drivers such as real-time travel estimates with route guidance to freight facilities, and basic incident alert, road closure and work zone information. Enhanced freight-specific information could include oversize/overweight route restrictions with associated time periods, tailored weather information, intermodal connection information, container disposition, and shipment schedule updates. This information will support more efficient freight operations resulting in reduced traffic congestion and increased air quality in metropolitan areas. The application will use archived information for performance monitoring.
  • Freight Dynamic Route Guidance: This application will determine, in real-time, and potentially while a truck is already on a route, the best route (or re-routing, if applicable) between freight facilities for each carrier that subscribes to the service. Routes will be calculated on current and predicted conditions, with congestion avoidance and incident avoidance being the predominate goals. As road conditions change, alternate routing will be provided to avoid the problem or to minimize the impact of the delay. The freight dynamic route guidance application will be applicable to long- and short-haul freight movement. For long-haul freight movement, this information may be useful in maneuvering through a metropolitan area while en route to the final destination.
  • Drayage Optimization: This application will aim to optimize drayage operations so that load movements are coordinated between freight facilities. Individual trucks will be assigned time windows within which they will be expected to arrive at a pickup or drop-off location. Early or late arrivals to the facility are dynamically balanced. It is envisioned that a web-based forum for load matching will be provided to reduce empty or unproductive moves. The drayage optimization application will be applicable to short-haul (local) freight movement.

FRATIS will seek to leverage recent advances in real-time traveler information from commercial providers to develop a flexible program for Freight DMA that can result in deployments in a relatively short period of time. This transformative approach, illustrated in Figure 1, will eventually result in a set of Original Equipment Manufacturer and private sector FRATIS applications that do not require Federal support. Mass adoption should then provide public benefits such as improvements in freight transportation system efficiency, reductions in truck trips, congestion avoidance, and corresponding improvements in air quality.

Figure 1. Transformative Approach for the FRATIS Lifecycle

Cambridge Systematics, Inc. is currently developing the FRATIS Concept of Operations (ConOps) on behalf of the U.S. DOT. The FRATIS ConOps will describe the plan for day-to-day operations of the FRATIS system and applications – based on what the users want from the system or expect the system to do for them. User requirements are being gathered through a series of outreach meetings around the country as well as an online survey. When complete, the ConOps will define, at a high level, a roadmap for developing the FRATIS bundles that will support initial operational testing in late 2012 or early 2013.

Mark A. Jensen, PMP is a Principal of Cambridge Systematics with more than 24 years of experience, including expertise in freight transportation program management and assessment, systems engineering, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and operational testing. Currently, Mr. Jensen is also serving as the Technical Lead on the groundbreaking Gateway Cities ITS Plan for Goods Movement for the LA MTA in southern California; this project is advancing several new freight technology operational concepts, including freight traffic data integration, terminal appointment systems, terminal truck queue measurement, and truck platooning at highway speeds.

Michael T. Williamson is a Principal of Cambridge Systematics with more than 10 years of experience working in the areas of freight and intermodal planning, commercial vehicle operations (CVO), ITS, and transportation planning. He recently completed an ITS intermodal plan and freight and goods movement study for the Broward County MPO. Currently, Mr. Williamson is the lead facilitator for the FRATIS ConOps outreach activities, which is being used to develop detailed system and user requirements for FRATIS.