Siemens Showcases Future of Smart Cities with Ann Arbor Partnership

Siemens, a global tech company with more than 340,000 employees in 200 countries, has chosen Ann Arbor, MI, as its first Center of Excellence for Intelligent Traffic Technology, designating the city as a so-called “living lab” to test and demonstrate the latest smart city innovations.

Although the company has had a technology partnership with Ann Arbor for 10 years—providing its latest traffic management technology in order to study how it’s used—formally designating the community as a center of intelligent traffic study allows Siemens to update its pre-existing systems there in order to further research and test new transportation innovations.

In 2005, Siemens installed its SCOOT (Split, Cycle and Offset Optimization Technique) adaptive control system, which automatically adjusts signal timing to optimize traffic flow, across 44 intersections on Plymouth Road, Washtenaw Avenue, Eisenhower/Packard roads, and around the University of Michigan’s football stadium. That system will now be linked to an additional 56 intersections.

Siemens added a traffic management system in 2011 to help the city plan, manage, and control hundreds of signalized traffic intersections around the city. In 2012, Siemens-made specialized traffic controllers were included as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Ann Arbor test bed for connected vehicles to help the cars avoid crashes and make other real-time decisions.

The existing Siemens systems will be upgraded to include the newest version of cloud-based traffic management software called Smart Guard, which enables cities to monitor and respond to changing traffic conditions in real time from any Internet-connected device; and improve local traffic controller software that communicates between the controller, the central system, and mobile devices including smartphones and vehicles. The updgrades will also add new features to the SCOOT system so the benefits of adaptive traffic control can be better measured.

“With these new upgrades, we can optimize single streets or the complete network to achieve less congestion and faster travel times,” said Marcus Welz, president of Siemens Intelligent Transportation Systems. “On top of that, the city can access traffic management software from just about anywhere. Law enforcement can access it on the fly to react to incidents or change settings in real time.”

Welz said Siemens’ cloud-based technology represents the latest advances in traffic management and can particularly help cities that are feeling the pain of budget cuts. “For small and medium-sized cities, our software can allow them to avoid a huge investment in a traffic management system with a lot of hardware,” he said.

The 10-year relationship with the city wasn’t the only reason Siemens chose Ann Arbor to be its first Center of Excellence for Intelligent Traffic Technology. Welz said U-M’s work in developing connected and autonomous vehicles, particularly at its MCity vehicle research center, made Ann Arbor especially attractive.

“Because of the research being done at the university, there are 3,000 or so cars getting traffic congestion information from traffic controllers,” Welz explained. “The university has a separate program for connected vehicles, but because they’re doing the testing in and around Ann Arbor, they’re using some of our controllers.”

Welz said Ann Arbor—a city with 115,000 residents and 70,000 college students—also has unique traffic challenges that make it a good place to test innovations. For instance, on days when U-M hosts home football games, tens of thousands of people pour into the city and then leave a few hours later. Ann Arbor also hosts popular annual music and art festivals that attract thousands of visitors, resulting in gridlock and notorious traffic congestion downtown.

“It’s a very forward-thinking city open to innovation and new approaches to solving traffic problems,” Welz said. “That’s very important when it comes to implementing new technology.”

Siemens is good at overseeing isolated traffic management systems, Welz said, but it needs more integrated systems to truly leverage the technical advances it has created. “We can realize and showcase that in Ann Arbor,” he added.

As for Welz’s predictions for when we might see smart city technologies become more mainstream, he said it’s much closer than most of us imagine—10 years at most. Change will happen incrementally, he said, but it’s an inevitability cities need to prepare for.

Over the course of the next year, Siemens plans to test the integration of parking, public transit, connected vehicle, and other transportation software into its parking management system. The goal is for the Siemens system to be scalable, have an open communication interface, and be interoperable with equipment from other manufacturers.

“With autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles, there’s a new playing field with huge opportunities,” Welz said. “There’s a lot of movement in the industry, and we hope to use Ann Arbor to show the world the future of urban mobility.”

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