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Webinar 15
The New Mexico Department of Transportation’s (NMDOT) Mobile Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Applications for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)

July 19, 2012

Summary of the Federal Highway Administration’s Quarterly Webinar: Applications of Geospatial Technologies in Transportation


These notes provide a summary of the PowerPoint presentation discussed during the webinar and detail the question and answer sessions that followed the presentation.

The presentation is available here.

Presenters

John DiRuggiero
Head ITS/Information Technology (IT) Program Development
ITS Bureau, NMDOT
John.DiRuggiero@state.nm.us

Lee Jensen
Chief Technology Officer
RealTimeSolutions
Lee@realtimesites.com

Participants

Approximately 40 participants attended the webinar.

Introduction to Presentation

Mark Sarmiento of FHWA thanked participants for joining the webinar, which is part of a quarterly webinar series that deals with the application of GIS and other geospatial technologies to transportation. This webinar focused on NMDOT's mobile GIS applications for ITS. Mr. Sarmiento also reminded participants that the National States Geographic Information Council is holding its annual conference on September 9-13, 2012, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. More information can be found at http://archives.nsgic.org/past-conference-locations.

Presentation

Development Process

John DiRuggiero welcomed participants to the webinar and explained that he was concurrently presenting to New Mexico's chapter of ITS America, at the Mid-Region Council of Governments' offices in Albuquerque. Mr. DiRuggiero began the presentation by describing the concept of ITS. One of the goals of ITS is to use IT to inform, collect, and transmit information to the general public. NMDOT has used IT to provide web and mobile traveler services, specifically by developing an application that provides travel and traffic information to the public via website and mobile platforms. Mr. Jensen added that the development and use of these services has been made possible by recent advances in mobile hardware and software.

Mr. DiRuggiero emphasized that the purpose of NMDOT's mobile application is to provide the public with up-to-date travel and traffic information. Initially, NMDOT encountered challenges in using GIS to disseminate travel information to the public due to the limitations of available technology. For example, travel data could be geographically viewed only on a static State map. The current mobile travel application, which can be viewed at nmroads.com, integrates NMDOT's GIS data with Esri/Bing map layers. Similar State travel information mobile websites are available at http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/511/mobile/.

NMDOT's first step towards developing the mobile travel application was to create a mobile optimized website that used Esri JavaScript to display a map. It worked on a large variety of devices, although it did not have the “pinch-to-zoom” function that is available on a smartphone.

Functions for Mobile Users

Mr. DiRuggiero discussed the various functions of NMDOT's current mobile application. The application is available free on iTunes for Apple devices, and in the Google Play shop for Android devices. The application includes a startup page, where users must acknowledge that they are not driving in order to use the application, as well as a “handsfree” preference button. The application also allows users to set their map preferences. Users can select to view a variety of road conditions and construction layers, weather conditions and rest areas. In addition, users can adjust the distance and direction of travel to receive information based on distance. The application is also available in Spanish.

Once preferences are set, the application displays a map that can be viewed at a variety of geographic levels, including regional, statewide, metro, or corridor levels. Information is displayed using a variety of icons. For example, black and white camera icons indicate traffic camera locations. When clicked, the camera icons display a real-time photograph of the area. The icon for dynamic message signs (DMS) inverts its black and yellow coloring to indicate when a road sign is displaying a message.

Mr. DiRuggiero also noted that the application imports data from other GIS applications such as INRIX, a traffic information and services provider, which offers information on congestion and travel times. Lines that change color (from green to yellow to red) overlay each roadway, indicating average speed or congestion. The application also imports radar weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lessons Learned

Mr. Jensen addressed lessons learned from the development of NMDOT's mobile application. It is important to have sophisticated hardware and understand how the application stores information. The Apple application store, for example, presented more challenges than the Google Play shop. Registering and deploying the application with Apple took close to two months, while deployment in Android's Google Play shop was relatively easy. In addition, it is important to be aware that global positioning system data may not always be accurate.

Mr. DiRuggiero noted that agencies must clearly define their user audience when developing similar types of travel applications. For example, while the NMDOT mobile application currently works on over 870 types of devices, it is not compatible with all types. A device must have an iOS 4.0 operating system or higher, a certain screen resolution, processor speed, and main memory in order to run the application.

NMDOT also used the Adobe Flash Builder environment, a Flex application, to ensure that the mobile application could be used on a variety of devices without having to undergo multiple rounds of revision. Attempting to deploy an application to other device markets after developing for a single market may require multiple updates, which can be time- and labor-intensive.

Finally, sharing data from outside sources (e.g. other agencies) can enhance the user experience. However, it is important to ensure that these data are accurate.

Functions for NMDOT Administrators

Mr. DiRuggiero concluded the webinar by discussing the variety of useful functions that the NMDOT mobile application provides for NMDOT employees and others designated as application administrators. For example, an administrator can stream views from closed-circuit cameras, adjust the pan-tilt-zoom function of the cameras, and add information about events (e.g. construction sites). The benefit of the travel application is that these functionalities are available from one interface; administrators do not have to access multiple software applications. NMDOT is currently working to bring these administrative functions into a mobile environment to allow field workers to upload events in real-time using their mobile devices.

Question and Answer Session

1) What is the refresh rate on the cameras?
Five to ten seconds. It varies because some cameras use fiber optics and some use Code-Division Multiple Access (CTMA), a digital cellular technology that uses spread-spectrum techniques. In some cases, a large amount of people accessing the application via their cell phones can reduce the bandwidth available and slow the refresh rate.

On the public version of the application, the refresh rate is one minute in order to conserve bandwidth. On the full video cameras in the Albuquerque area, which are available only to application administrators, users can view real-time streaming video (30 frames per second in this case).

2) What was the cost of development?
The mobile application cost $32,000 and the mobile platform cost $50,000.

3) What level of programming complexity was needed to develop the application/web components?
The website was initially developed in a “dot net” environment. It was then moved into a Flex environment, which allowed flexibility in designing the interface along with a certain level of stability.

4) Are you using dynamic segmentation to establish incident locations and in turn using that to build your location description, or is this done in operator freehand?
Road data are segmented and we refer to the data using either point or linear references. We do have the ability to join various segments together to reference an event. For example, given a stretch of roadway experiencing serious weather conditions, we can indicate a beginning and end point for a weather event using a segment. Alternatively, in a crash situation we can indicate the event using a point. We would like to be able to identify how secondary types of events affect traffic and travel, and export this additional information through the mobile or DMS world. An example of a secondary type of event is when rubbernecking at a crash site results in second crash.

5) Is the application developed in JavaScript or Flash?
We used Flash Builder which works on a Flex platform. Actionscript3 was used to develop the code set.

6) What are the essential Esri tools to be used with Windows?
We optimize map data for mobile delivery using Esri in two ways. First, we tile the data, or break it down into manageable pieces, before porting the map layers out to the web and mobile world. In addition, the data can be stored on a user's device, minimizing the amount of data that must be downloaded when using the zoom function, for example.

We are also looking at using certain data layers from the Esri ArcGIS online environment, a cloud based environment. This would allow us to keep the data up to date. We also run redundant ArcGIS servers and have custom code to manage all of this in addition to the ArcGIS server in the background. The applications use Flex ATI and JavaScript ATI from Esri.

7) Did you investigate any open source tools when designing the application?
No, we predominately use Esri at NMDOT and other organizations within New Mexico.

8) Who developed the website and application?
We initially developed an early version of the application with help from RealTimeSolutions. We then developed it into a larger, enterprise application in conjunction with NMDOT's GIS staff. We also worked with the NMDOT ITS Bureau. Overall, the development was done in partnership with various stakeholders.

9) In building in Flex, how do you support Apple devices?
When you work in a Flex environment, the application can work in conjunction with or layer on top of iOS, the Apple mobile operating system. However, in the past, Apple didn't allow Flash player to be used. There is now an Adobe download called Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), which allows Flash to work on both Apple and Android devices.

10) Does the application allow two-way communication? For example, this would allow the public to inform NMDOT of a problem they encountered on the road.
The technology to support two-way communication exists and has worked well in some other States. However, we do not want to promote drivers’ use of mobile devices to communicate with NMDOT.

11) How do you address the issues of liability, such as when people use the application while driving?
This is an issue for many State DOTs. Legal issues related to the application have been addressed in the past through NMDOT's legal department. To deal with some of these challenges, users must acknowledge they are not driving before they can use the application.

12) Are there any plans to use this application or create a new one that will track users for origin-destination studies, congestion, travel speeds, etc.?
The ITS Bureau in New Mexico has been asked to look at this particularly for the Albuquerque area to address the issue of river crossings of the Rio Grande to decrease congestion and travel time. There are ways in which tracking can be done, but it would typically involve collecting more detailed information regarding users' origins and destinations. This becomes an issue of privacy.

The current travel application is not intrusive. We do not collect any identifying information on users. It is therefore difficult to use the application for tracking purposes.

13) How are you handling future development updates for your mobile platforms?
Adobe AIR is now being updated. Once we finish updating and testing, users will receive a notification that there is an upgrade.

14) How much time did it take to develop this application?
Five to six months.

15) The geocache summer trip being promoted on the NMDOT mobile application website is very interesting. Can you comment further on this? Also, do you use a GIS database in-house to, for example, track and visualize location and details for individual projects?
The geocache summer trip was an idea developed by our cabinet secretary and some staff in the public information arena, who wanted to encourage people to download the travel application and have fun with it. The program has over 40 points of interest. ITS staff plotted the points and provided hints as to their location. Those who wish to participate in the geocache trip need to fill out a form and write a summary about their use of the application to find the points. They need to identify and take pictures of 4 out of 40 locations, which can be submitted through the application interface.

In reference to the GIS database, yes, that is something we have within our organization. The information is stored on a database(s) at RealTimeSolutions, but the GIS data comes from NMDOT.

16) Would sharing the source code be a possibility?
Please send John DiRuggiero an email.

17) Are you able to track how the mobile application is used?
Yes. For example, there have been 1,414 application downloads as of July 1st for the Android version of the application. Knowing these statistics for the Apple version of the application is not as easy, but we do know general information about how people are using the application. As of July 2012 we've had close to 8,000 users of the nmroads.com website.

18) The application appears to only be available for new devices. Will it be available for older versions as well?
We cannot answer definitively at this point, but probably not.

19) Can you speak about the factors that made it more challenging to use the Apple environment?
The most prominent challenge was that in the beginning, Apple didn't allow for Flash integration, but that has now changed.

Another issue was that Apple required NMDOT to register as an organization and our legal team had to look at the agreement before we could do this. There was also a small fee involved ($100) to register in iTunes. Overall, the legal clearance took close to a month. We then had to submit our code set to Apple, which took close to 3 weeks. In addition, upgrading the application in the Apple environment can take 7-10 days, while with Android it takes a few hours.

21) How many users can the application support at one time?
We do not have specific numbers, but we have taken precautions to ensure that a large number of users can access the application at one time. We have hardware at physical locations both at NMDOT and RealTimeSolutions that serve as backup servers for the application. We also use a distributed cloud environment. This redundancy minimizes any downtime that might occur due to a large number of users wanting to access the application at once.

22) If an event takes place in your environment, do you give recommendations for alternate routes?
NMDOT does not make recommendations about alternate routes because we do not have data for arterial streets in the application. Without that information, we are hesitant to make recommendations.

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