Helping to keep traffic flowing through one of Europe’s busiest cities, video analytics specialist Ipsotek has developed a highly effective new technology in partnership with Transport for London (TfL). As one of a range of measures that’s helping to ease traffic flow in the capital, Ipsotek has worked closely with TfL to develop new CCTV analytics technology that can automatically detect traffic build-up and alert traffic operators to implement congestion-relieving procedures.
Ipsotek has developed the Image Recognition and Incident Detection (IRID) system, making use of the company’s own advanced video analytics technology. The technology constantly analyses each video stream from existing CCTV traffic monitoring cameras and uses pre-configured ‘congestion definitions’ to alert operators at TfL’s London Traffic Control Centre (LTCC) when a build-up of vehicles threatens to develop into a problematic congestion situation.
London’s LTCC is unique in that it carries out ‘real-time’ traffic management, while at the same time providing up-to-date traffic information to the media and other interested stakeholders including other highway authorities in London.
The Ipsotek IRID system works by monitoring each camera feed, ignoring ‘background’ image details which are of no interest to traffic co-ordinators. Those details would include trees and lamp columns. The remaining ‘foreground’ objects, namely vehicles, are analysed for behaviour.
Many algorithms can be used, but for the IRID system, stationary or slow vehicles are the primary concern. Once the system detects a build-up of stationary or slow vehicles, a desktop alert is sent to traffic co-ordinators prompting them to address the situation with a number of appropriate actions.
Automatic detection in practice
Before the introduction of IRID, LTCC operators had to manually trawl through images generated by more than 1,200 CCTV cameras, painstakingly looking for congestion issues across the capital’s road network. Consequently, traffic situations were often not spotted until they became severe congestion incidents with the obvious severe delays then affecting traffic movements across the capital.
Once a problem is automatically detected by the Ipostek IRID system, TfL’s traffic operators are able to implement traffic signal timing plans to clear any impending congestion. Traffic signals can be co-ordinated to keep traffic away from an area, or otherwise help to move the flow of vehicles around an incident on a safe basis.
“Traffic congestion can develop very quickly, from a small jam to a lengthy tailback,” said Bill Flind, CEO at Ipsotek. “That’s why fast detection and an effective response to these situations is vital.”
The LTCC’s 48-strong team of traffic controllers works to cover the capital’s main routes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In their daily work they make use of many different tools to manage London’s traffic. The Ipsotek-powered IRID system integrates seamlessly into these systems, adding an extra layer of ‘intelligence’ to help the team make informed decisions and secure positive outcomes on traffic management.
The Ipsotek IRID technology is currently linked to cameras at 20 known congestion ‘hotspots’ in London, including Battersea Bridge and Marylebone Road.
Designed to be future-proof from the outset, the Ipsotek IRID system does not require any additional on-street infrastructure as it uses the existing traffic cameras. This ensures simple and cost-effective system expansion, duly increasing the return on investment with each additional camera covered.
One of the key benefits of using the IRID system at the LTCC is that it works in the background and only requires a response from the user when alerted to a potential problem. This means that TfL’s operators are able to pro-actively focus their efforts on keeping London’s traffic moving and not reactively looking for traffic problems.
The IRID system is pre-configured with a ‘definition’ of congestion which can be variable by location, time of day, day of the week or even the season. The alerts are activated when the real-time CCTV traffic images match one of these definitions. The preconfigured definition of congestion can also be adjusted to reflect the ever-changing nature of London’s busy road network and the different demands that are placed on it (for instance, when a new shopping centre or housing development results in different levels of traffic for a particular localised area).
While TfL uses a number of tools to beat congestion, Ipsotek’s IRID system has proven a key tool to ensure traffic keeps moving along London’s busy roads. For example, a road was recently blocked by a goods vehicle accident. IRID identified this incident and, within 30 seconds of the incident occurring, alerted LTCC staff. They were then able to alert the appropriate Emergency Services and swiftly put in place remedial action to quell the rapidly developing build-up of traffic around the incident – helping traffic to keep moving and emergency vehicles to arrive on scene with little delay.
Powerful algorithms within IRID
The powerful algorithms within Ipsotek’s IRID have proven their worth in all weather conditions, including bright sunshine, rain and mist, and particularly on dark and wet days when other systems may be fooled into generating a false alarm by the many reflections/shadows from puddles, walkways and vehicles.
This advanced capability is an essential benefit, as the occurrence of adverse weather is usually when the risk of accidents is at its greatest, requiring extra vigilance to ensure that the roads are kept clear and traffic moving.
Ipsotek and TfL have been researching and working on the development of this technology for more than five years, producing a viable tool that could also be used by other highways authorities across the country.
To date, TfL has invested £180,000 in trials, training and the deployment of the system to the existing 20 cameras that make up the pilot scheme. The success of the system underlines Ipsotek and TfL’s commitment to improving road travel journey times and increasing traffic flow.
With a planned expansion to the scheme, this groundbreaking technology will continue to benefit London’s road users and will ultimately see the development by TfL spread to benefit other cities across the UK.