As the evening sun dips over the horizon, Lady A Pavilion in Evans Towne Center Park hums with excitement. The ‘Rock Fore! Dough’ event has drawn visitors from far and wide. Seven-time Grammy award winning group, Lady Antebellum begins transmitting melodic tunes across the crowd. Onlookers sway back and forth to the trilling notes and pleasing harmonies. It’s a quintessential night teeming with Americana; however, not all is right as it seems. Elsewhere within Columbia County, citizens pray for patience, as they know in a few short hours, the enthusiastic fans will pour onto the roadways causing vast congestion. Nevertheless, what these citizens don’t know, is that there’s a method to help control the madness. Columbia County’s traffic has some help to run smoothly (concert or not) through In|Sync an adaptive traffic control system, crafted by Kansas-city based company Rhythm Engineering. Through traffic signal configuration, monitored performance, and adjustments needed in real-time to optimize traffic flow – the post-concert roads will be as smooth as a Lady Antebellum melody.
Rhythm Engineering’s flagship product, In|Sync, is a real-time adaptive traffic control system that enables traffic signals to immediately adapt to traffic demand. Communities using In|Sync save up to 27 tankers worth of fuel, 33 years of time waiting in traffic, and millions of pounds of harmful emissions that amounts to a total economic benefit of up to $8 million every year. In|Sync solution has been leveraged by more that 1,865 intersections in 128 cities in 31 states – for creating better, safer traffic for American motorists.
Adaptive Traffic Control for a Connected Future
It was the early 1900s when Ford’s Model T became affordable for the average American that the automobile industry transformed into a truly consumer-based revolution. Government agencies at the time faced a gauntlet of tasks – roads to accommodate these vehicles, rules and standards that would control their production and usage, and most importantly, signage and signalized infrastructure that would streamline and regularize traffic. Today, a century later, the future beholds connected vehicles – autonomous entities on the road – that communicate with other vehicles and traffic infrastructure. In a bid to help traffic agencies and engineers take a leap forward to a position where they can handle such immense changes, Rhythm Engineering provide innovative and affordable traffic solutions. Their adaptive traffic control signal system, In|Sync, enables traffic signals to immediately adapt to traffic demand.
The company was founded in a business incubator (Enterprise Center for Johnson County) in a one-room office where its flagship model, In|Sync was developed. Instead of developing incremental improvements to existing traffic control tools and methods, the In|Sync system is set-up to use computers to detect demand in real-time, and then make immediate adjustments in signalization. “Nearly all traffic control systems today use digital hardware but remain but remain constrained by analog thinking such as common cycle lengths, set sequences, fixed offsets and standardized allotment of green time, or splits,” comments Jesse J. Manning, Vice President of Business Development at Rhythm. “The In|Sync Processor is instead a modern-state machine that can dynamically choose which phases to serve and instantly adjust and coordinate service and green time.” The system applies a fundamentally different model with five patents for determining green allocations for movements and moving traffic through the corridor.
Traditional first-generation signal control cabinets are based on archaic binary principles that do not adapt to real-time changes in traffic demand caused by geometric constraints and rush hour fluctuations. Even in second generation systems that take in data from video, radar, and induction loop-based detection systems, responsive technologies rely on pre-programmed timing plans and require a certain amount of time to transmit to a central server which makes decisions based on previous cycles and sends out delayed instructions for dealing with current demand. With third-generation, real-time adaptive technologies, “we are able to make mid-cycle or even mid-sequence decisions based on changing patterns emerging in the traffic. We’re actually responding to how traffic demand looks in that second,” says Jesse. By adapting to actual traffic demand, In|Sync is superior to predetermined signal-timing plans that estimate traffic demands based on a small historical sampling and generalize those results across years of traffic signalization. In|Sync’s ability to constantly see and flexibly serve actual demand in the best way possible is what enables it to produce successful before-and-after results.
Putting ‘Rhythm’ in the Traffic Lights
The volume of vehicles waiting in the queue, the time that each has waited, and the priority of redirection are some of the data points that form the baseline for priority decisions made by In|Sync. As an overlay system, In|Sync’s hardware components plug into existing traffic cabinet hardware. The system is Ethernet and web-based, compatible with all modern controllers, cabinets, and detection devices and does not require removal or upgrade of any hardware or software. Installation of the In|Sync system consists of installing a processor, equipment panel and method to transmit detection calls (such as cabling or detector cards) in each cabinet. If the clients want to use In|Sync’s video detection, then installation also includes installing cameras for each approach. If existing detection methods are preferred, Rhythm Engineering will integrate the installed inputs with the adaptive system. Once cables are pulled from the camera locations to the traffic cabinet, installation of the cameras and in-cabinet hardware typically requires about four hours per intersection. After the hardware is installed, the initial configuration of the system is performed by the engineers at Rhythm Engineering. The time from an agency or contractor ordering the system to full operation is 90 days.
The results are published to traffic agencies via the software, In|Traffic, a web-based intuitive interface that uses a straightforward yet elegant graphical user interface to make the advanced traffic management software easy-to-use for engineers and technicians. In terms of its reporting capabilities, In|Traffic provides visibility into automated traffic signal performance measures that are becoming a norm for traffic agencies in the U.S., as well as other countries. Rather than just reporting the data, “In|Sync’s adaptive algorithms respond to data collection 24-hours-a-day, making a series of miniature alterations to best serve real-time demand,” adds Jesse. This capability went the extra mile in solving predicaments that the City of Farmington faced – varying traffic flows, geometries and distances between intersections, and the frustrating inability to time signals in a way that served bi-directional progression. Apart from building priority orders at each intersection, In|Sync offered the city the unique capability to provide an enriched motorist experience along its corridors.
Empowering Traffic Control
Rhythm is committed to leading the way with groundbreaking traffic signal control solutions that empower traffic professionals to get citizens to their destination safer and faster. The company stands distinct from other adaptive traffic control providers in the way they work: directly with municipal, county and state transportation agency clients through every step of the adaptive traffic control deployment process. Rhythm brings innovation and passion as they work at different levels of the deployment of their solution, from product conception and design to installation and support. It is no surprise that their technology has gained accolades from leading organizations throughout their illustrious journey.
Although Rhythm already addresses multiple use cases in traffic management today, Jesse envisions a future with a much bigger calling for the company’s solutions, “As we have more connected vehicles in the future, we can take in signals from those vehicles to serve as a check-and-balance on the present detection methods. Over a period of time, it will be cars themselves reporting their presence rather than inductance loops or cameras.” The roadmap ahead forks bi-directionally for the company. While they would continue striving to achieve enhanced motorist experiences using sophisticated technology, they also want to bring in an element of education to assist traffic engineers navigate the future.