DTU Times interviewed Mr. A.R. Kulkarni, Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering Department, on Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), Electric Vehicles and optimising the traffic flow in DTU and beyond.
What specifically motivated you to take on this challenging project of Traffic Optimization?
For the everyday traveller, Delhi’s traffic jams are a nightmare. One of the major contributors to this issue are the traffic signals with fixed timings and the lack of real-time analysis of traffic. In Delhi, Siemens did a similar pilot project for traffic-actuated signals in Anand Vihar some years ago. In Central Delhi as well, a project was initiated for the same, years ago. Other than these two initiatives, the only city in India to boast about traffic-actuated signals at four major junctions is Bangalore. Thus on recognizing the rising need for an Intelligent Transport System, we decided to work on real-time controlled traffic lights using feedback generated from Bluetooth sensors.
Could you explain a little more about the project for our readers?
The controlling and actuation requires a feedback mechanism which is absent in most transport systems. Whatever feedback mechanism we have is through inductive loops and that has only been installed in very few places. Other than this, Traffic Cameras can also be used for traffic control, but the Delhi Traffic Police only uses them for monitoring. Thus we thought to develop a mechanism for real-time control of traffic lights using Bluetooth sensors. This project was initiated almost two and a half years ago and depended on the success of two sub-projects. The first one was to create a Bluetooth device capable of identifying all Bluetooth devices in its vicinity. Even though there are sensors available abroad that cater to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, they are extremely costly – the cost of one sensor starts from 2 Lakh Rupees. So the main task was to develop a low-cost alternative for this sensor and we achieved success when we were able to create a Bluetooth sensor that would cost merely 10,000 Rupees inclusive of all costs. The second part of the project involved the creation of a website where all the data would be collected and analysed and based on that data we would be able to predict the green-time for each traffic light on a real-time basis in sync with current traffic on road. The main plan was to implement this project on a large scale, but first we needed to test our device on a set of consecutive signals (at least 3 in line) to see if we could control the central signal by taking in information on both sides – upstream and downstream. As a part of the project, we installed a traffic signal at the main circle of DTU so that the students could gain the first-hand experience of the system before working on real-time traffic control.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the process?
The biggest challenge was the collection of data. The Government makes no active continuous effort to collect real-time traffic data. They only collect data as and when required with the help of CRRI (Central Road Research Institute).
During the course of the project, as you mentioned, you worked on the data generated from the Rohini Area (Rithala to Madhuban Chowk). Do you have any plans of expansion to any other major traffic points in Delhi?
Traffic data collection is a huge exercise and requires a lot of volunteers to go and collect the required data. My students started with the Rohini Area where they worked on the stretch from Netaji Subash Place to Rithala which has 6-7 signals. Let’s see where this project takes us now. As I stated before that the main goal is expansion, but with the current resources in hand and given that Electrical Engineering students working under me had to take on roles of Civil Engineering students as well, we have to look at all the factors before finalizing another area.
Would you like to make this a multi-disciplinary project in the coming future?
ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) has multi-disciplinary requirements. You need electrical engineers for the circuitry, computer engineers for the programming, data collection and analysis and civil engineers for the road mapping, physical reforms, installments etc. Everyone has a role to play in it, and I would like to encourage all students are interested in working on such a system to join this venture.
Any particular fields student should explore before joining?
Students can try getting some experience on doing traffic analysis by manual methods, gaining knowledge about video analytics, image processing as these fields would be very helpful in expanding the scope of our project from Bluetooth to video.
Besides ITS, you have also been working on Electric Vehicles, could you tell us something about that initiative?
We are in the process of developing an Electric Vehicles Lab in our department. Here we will mainly be working on two aspects – Retrofitting, which involves converting old vehicles to electric vehicles and secondly, designing a low-cost and sustainable electric vehicle as an intra-campus transport. For the latter, we have a tie-up with HBSS and the venture is being led by Prof. Uma Nangia. HBSS is providing us with e-rickshaws which have been employed in the campus offering free rides to the students inside the campus.
What is the immediate future you see for this initiative?
First and foremost, we want to focus on data generation. We want to know the current Origin-Destination (OD) demand, so we can employ our findings to understand how many vehicles are required in DTU and then cater to that requirement. As of now, we have 4 e-rickshaws in the campus and we are in the process of converting an Omni Van to an electric vehicle as well which should be completed by the students in another 3-4 months. DTU Alumnus Mr. Suresh Raheja has also provided us with a convertible e-rickshaw. There is also a battery car in the university on which the students are currently working to resolve the many wiring and steering issues that have risen over the years it was lying idle.
Are there any more ITS initiatives student can work on?
Besides the Traffic Lights System and the Electric Vehicles System, we are also planning a project on Traffic Violations like wrong-side driving in DTU. A camera has already been installed on the Main Gate and a few more cameras are to be installed through which the students can work on various techniques of traffic violation detection, before taking this project to a bigger level.
What are your plans to optimize the current traffic control system you have developed?
We plan to create a traffic test-bed in DTU by installing more traffic signals in DTU primarily around the admin block, the science block and the mechanical department. This will be part of our experimental control where we can stop the traffic at different checkpoints and regularize it at the main entrance and exit, keeping in mind the traffic during fests and counselling sessions. We are doing this with the help of Envoys Electronics who are providing us with the hardware of traffic lights to be installed in DTU.
Would you like to say anything about your journey so far and your experiences with the team?
I'm very thankful to my team for their continuous efforts and their hard work. It is because of them that this project has seen the light of the day and I hope they continue to put in their best in the future also!