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New vest offers a warning system for road workers

What's New? | November 6, 2015 | By:

Working at a construction site is loud, dirty and often dangerous. Workers deal with the risk of being struck by a vehicle as it passes through a work zone, because drivers sometimes either don’t see or they ignore flags, cones or other warnings. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, 579 people were killed in highway work-zone related incidents in 2013.

Researchers at Virginia Tech want to cut that statistic by combining radio sensors that construction workers can wear on or inside vests with connected vehicle technology that allows cars to “talk” to one another, roadside infrastructure and personal electronics, such as mobile phones. If a collision is about to occur between a vehicle and a worker, the vest can warn the worker in a matter of seconds, possibly saving a life. Likewise, the motorist will receive a dashboard notification. The instantaneous alert is possible by short-range communication.

“Any warning we can give them is better than no warning at all,” says doctoral student Kristen Hines of Clarksville, Tenn. She is helping lead the combined effort of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the university’s College of Engineering.

The InZoneAlert vest has undergone numerous changes in design and intended use since research began in 2013. As of 2014, the vest portion of the alert system—which incorporates GPS tracking—had evolved from the size of a backpack to that of a cell phone. New incarnations could shrink it to the size of a pack of gum.

The vest or similar clothing with GPS-oriented dedicated short-range radio could have wide-ranging users, including law-enforcement personnel and first responders.

Early tests of the InZoneAlert system found predictions for potential vehicle-worker conflicts met a 90 percent success rate, researchers say. Various alerts are being tested and must work within a loud, tough, dirty and busy construction site.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute is spearheading work on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication near Fairfax, Va. Funding for the project has come from the College of Engineering, the Transportation Institute and Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology. Researchers are also seeking support from the federal and Virginia units of the Department of Transportation.

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