Technology developed by U researchers helps truck drivers in Kansas and Wisconsin find safe parking

trucks from aboveVideo detection technology developed by U of M researchers is being used in two states as part of the country’s first multi-state truck parking information management system.

Eight states—Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio—are participating in the federally funded Truck Parking Information Management System (TPIMS). The system provides drivers, fleet managers, and owner-operators with up-to-the-minute parking availability along major freight corridors to help truck drivers find safe and legal parking.

Under TPIMS, vehicle detection systems measure available parking in lots in each state. The parking data are sent to the states and to third-party vendors. Information is then delivered to drivers and other users through dynamic messaging signs, navigation apps and in-cab navigation systems, and 5-1-1 travel information websites. 

The technology used to monitor parking availability varies by state. Kansas and Wisconsin are using a computer-vision detection system developed in a series of projects by researchers in the U’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE).

“Our detection system uses a network of digital cameras suspended above a parking area to monitor space availability,” says Professor Nikos Papanikolopoulos, the principal investigator. “Image-processing software analyzes the video frames and determines the number of occupied spaces.” The technology was granted a patent in January 2018.

Key aspects of the system are that it is completely automated, operates 24/7 in all kinds of weather and lighting conditions, and is non-intrusive. “There is no need to intervene with manual resets or recalibration procedures, and pavements are not disturbed,” says Ted Morris, CSE research engineer.

The team installed and tested the video detection system at rest areas in Minnesota as part of a pilot study that began in 2013. The system continuously monitored parking availability for more than two years, demonstrating the system’s reliability. Research funders were the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); the American Transportation Research Institute was also a project partner.

In more recent work, the research team completed a pilot study and performance assessment of the final system deployment for the Kansas DOT, which includes 18 rest areas along 350 miles of the I-70 corridor. (The study also received funding from the National Science Foundation.) Live operations began in January as part of TPIMS. “KDOT has supported our work since late 2016, and we have a long-term contract with the agency to help maintain and improve the system for the next five years,” Morris says.

semi trucksShari Hilliard, KDOT intelligent transportation systems (ITS) operations engineer, adds that the system is operating smoothly. “We are pleased to have met our goal of installing a reliable system that does not require daily calibration or labor-intensive intervention to maintain accuracy.”

The U researchers have also deployed the detection system at a state-sponsored truck parking facility on I-94 in Wisconsin, 67 miles east of the Twin Cities. The team adapted the system to comply with TPIMS and then evaluated system performance. “The overall detection accuracy was between 90 and 95 percent during up-to-the minute, per-space parking status notifications,” says Vassilios Morellas, a CSE program director and co-investigator of the research.

The Wisconsin DOT uses alternative detection technology (tripwire with “pucks” embedded in the pavement) at other truck parking facilities along I-94. MnDOT is also using different technology.

The eight partner states and the FHWA anticipate many benefits for truck drivers and businesses from TPIMS—cost savings, improved quality of life for drivers, fewer fatigue-related crashes, and better compliance. TPIMS is funded through a USDOT Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant and state funds, and it is coordinated by the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials.

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