Colin Reekie, Q-Free’s Commercial Manager in the UK, discusses the innovative solutions provided by Q-Free’s Infomobility service.
Q-Free began as Micro Design in 1984, formed by a small group of talented engineers based in Selbu, a municipality close to Trondheim in Norway. The company originally focused on the development and supply of electronic toll collection systems. Motivated by Norway’s high cost of financing road, bridge and tunnel construction, the Q-Free team delivered the world’s first full-speed, non-stop Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system in 1988 in Ranheim, Trondheim: a concept that was subsequently deployed all over the world.
Over the years, Q-Free has expanded from electronic tolling into other traffic technology, continuously evolving to meet the growing needs of our communities’ systems. Today the company has one of the most comprehensive portfolios in the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) industry, with products and solutions designed to improve the way people and goods are transported, therefore improving our way of life.
From intelligent transport to infomobility
Q-Free’s areas of operation include tolling, parking, traffic management and Connected ITS (C-ITS). We provide electronic toll collection, truck tolling, congestion charging, enforcement and enhanced image processing solutions; managed services such as parking guidance; and outdoor parking monitoring systems.
In addition to this we also provide infomobility solutions, such as weigh-in-motion, journey time systems, vehicle classification and cycle and pedestrian detection. All of these provide key data for decision- and policymakers; and can also include service and maintenance packages and back office services for instantaneous analysis and reporting.
Innovation in action
Our mission has always been to create inventive and intelligent solutions for efficient, safe and environmentally friendly transportation, based on innovative technology and open platforms. Furthermore, a key driver is to continue to deliver these solutions for sustainable power supplies, solar panels and wind generators, with only low voltage/amperage long-life rechargeable batteries as the power source; thereby reducing our carbon footprint in a world that is currently acutely aware of the damage caused by years of industrialisation.
Vulnerability on the road
‘Vulnerable road users’ is the collective term for cyclists and pedestrians, who often present traffic engineers with special challenges. Often found in traffic monitoring situations which have complex geometries and occluded lines of vision, or in environments which have historically been designed around car usage, their detection can at times be problematic and they are highly likely to come off second best in a collision with a car or larger vehicle.
In an infomobility programme first delivered in the Danish city of Copenhagen, Q-Free has recently provided cycle priority solutions at key traffic signalised junctions in Glasgow and Manchester. The solution has replaced technologies which had previously failed to provide the solution the local authority required owing to poor accuracy of detection, resulting in complaints from road users and cyclists alike.
As cyclists approach the signalised junction, whether in a dedicated cycle lane or within mixed traffic, in-road sensors detect their presence and trigger an output generating a ‘call’ which provides a phase for cyclists to pass safely through the junction, thus completely removing the risk of vehicle/cycle conflict. Integration into the traffic signal controller is straightforward.
The trigger for the ‘call’ can be configured on direction: this is a necessity for locations which are used on a bi-directional basis, as it can avoid false triggering when cyclists are heading away from intersections. The customer further benefits from the count and classification information of all activity along the route, which provides further benefit to the authority’s cycle team.
Colin Reekie, Q-Free Commercial Manager for the UK and Regional Account Manager for Scotland, said: “Q-Free’s solution has completely removed driver frustration caused by the over- or under-detection of its competitors’ systems; and not only offers the protection that vulnerable road users need, but improves the performance of the road network”.
Infomobility solutions for an efficient road network
The triggering capability of Q-Free’s products also facilitates the provision of bus priority in key public transport corridors. In the same manner as the provision of a trigger to provide cycle priority, these predominantly inductive loop-based solutions monitor the traffic flow and ordinarily deliver traffic statistics such as the classification of the road vehicle types; though they can also be configured to react to a single or multiple class of vehicle, such as buses. Again, the traffic signal controller can be configured easily to detect and utilise the ‘call’ to, for example, generate or extend green time.
This solution has been deployed in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, where a combined cycle and bus priority system has been delivered which accepts inputs from both inductive loops and piezo-electric sensors. Triggered outputs from both are a standard option within the technology, thus enabling optimisation of traffic signals to suit demand from multiple modes.
Other solutions for the wider monitoring of network performance can be delivered by Q-Free’s Journey Time System, based on the detection of Bluetooth or WiFi signals. Using and encrypting device MAC addresses observed at strategic detection points around a road network, in line with GDPR guidelines, the resulting data can be used to output journey time information to roadside variable messaging signs (VMS) or websites and allow traffic engineers to react to incidents and events on the network.
Lower in cost compared to ANPR systems and with the ability to cover multiple lanes, which would ordinarily require a mains power supply, from a single source; such systems have been a longstanding service provided to Transport for Greater Manchester, where a comprehensive network of over 800 devices is deployed at both traffic signalised junctions and along key corridors using sustainable power supplies (such as solar panels). A network of 20 sites, all of which use solar power to operate, was recently deployed around the City of Stirling in Scotland.
Promoting safe cycle and walking strategies
The company offers a multitude of infomobility solutions which not only provide vehicular and cycle detection, but which can detect all modes of transport from a single outstation. Several authorities made use of this feature by utilising Q-Free’s HI-TRAC® EMU3 with the aim of increasing and monitoring the number of safer walking and cycling routes across their areas. An added requirement over vehicle and cycle data from the combination of inductive loops and piezo-electric sensor inputs was for the technology to be able to monitor pedestrian flow along these routes; and this has been achieved via the integration of Q-Free’s passive infrared (PIR) pedestrian monitoring module, which is also an option for the HI-TRAC CMU technology, already used extensively on shared cycle and pedestrian paths.
Reekie added: “The mixture of dedicated cycle lanes, combined cycle/pedestrian lanes and cycle lanes in mixed traffic lanes on a local authority’s urban or rural network demonstrates an ability to accurately report in some very demanding conditions, from a single outstation; but with the added value in terms of facilitating efficient network management capability. Local authorities are also keen to have filtered data which shows whether or not they are succeeding in their objectives.”
Engaging directly with the service user is also a key driver for authorities. Q-Free supplies cycle display signs which not only provide a highly visible display of cycle and pedestrian usage on a given route, but which also offer real time information gathered from linked sensors that can be provided with various display options.
In addition to outputting the real time data on an integrated LED display, the signs can be designed to the customer’s specification, incorporate corporate logos, include interactive displays with message or video output and facilitate interactive touchscreens – all of which allow direct engagement with the cycling and walking fraternity.
Reporting and analysis
Reekie said: “The accurate output and presentation of data from our systems in order to deliver a turnkey solution is a vital offering that our customers expect. Whilst we offer integration into a number of software or data mining platforms, we were conscious that many of our customers were looking for a low-cost solution that provided instantaneous summary reporting.”
Following the successful release of ParQ, a solution for monitoring on- and off-street parking spaces, Q-Free’s Global Platform Team has recently delivered the first phase of a new web-based reporting tool for the Infomobility team, InFoQus, that offers improved data hosting and reporting capabilities. Designed with input and support from several our customers, the recently launched service for Cycle and Pedestrian related data is proving popular. Over the coming months the service will be expanded to accept data from the company’s traffic detection products.