by Dan Middleton
Finally, after years of searching and testing, the Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research (CIITR) may have found a device that reliably counts the thousands of passenger and commercial vehicles crossing the border between Mexico and Texas each day. Full-scale testing on the product is underway now at the Zaragoza Bridge border crossing in El Paso, and we should know soon if it’s what we’ve been looking for.
Although there are numerous traffic-count-monitoring devices on the market, our testing has turned up reliability issues with the existing products — especially when they’re used in the stop-and-go environment of border crossings.
Most of the technology inherent in traffic count devices is reliable when counting faster moving vehicles, especially in a highway setting. But when these products are placed at border crossings, we found some devices would count a vehicle multiple times (most often when a vehicle like a pickup truck was towing a trailer). In some cases, the devices were just not user-friendly.
Now, however, our team is optimistic about the potential of a laser scanner product from LeddarTech. The Leddar IS16 is used in various applications, and it wasn’t designed exclusively for counting vehicles. It’s a small device that uses light-emitting diodes to scan objects. After lengthy conversations with the company, and after some slight modifications, we set it up for some initial testing at Texas A&M University’s RELLIS Campus. It was clear that the LeddarTech sensor showed promise.
Of course, testing in the real world can sometimes yield different results than a controlled environment. So we’ve set up the scanners to count northbound commercial and passenger vehicles at the Zaragoza/Ysleta crossing. We should know very soon how accurate they are.
A bigger question involves durability and longevity. Can they hold up to the weather and other outdoor elements, and for how long? If all goes well with the accuracy tests, I’d like to evaluate the scanners over time.
Once we find a reliable, robust product, we will be able to compare border-crossing numbers over time, comparing results year-to-year. Other researchers can use the census data for other border studies, especially involving wait times at border crossings. The LeddarTech IS16 allows us to retrieve the count data at will, so we don’t have to wait for the monthly reports issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That kind of just-in-time reporting can, for example, help save time and money for shippers sending products across the border.
It’s been a long, hard search. And it’s not over yet. But for now, things look promising.
Dan Middleton is a research engineer with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research.