- 4 x 2 VS-72WEF78U, 72’’ WUXGA Front Access Cubes
Thinking Outside the Box
Advanced display wall technology crucial to Seattle’s intelligent traffic systems
While expanding a city’s transportation network is always a difficult endeavor, it’s a particular problem in fast-growing Seattle. Much of the city, including its downtown, is built in a corridor just three miles wide, with Lake Washington to the east and the Pacific Ocean or the Duwamish Waterway to the west. “We have Amazon building a new campus, tech companies like Facebook expanding or moving in, a growing network of medical centers, and no place to build more roads,” says Adiam Emery, Intelligent Transportation System Engineer for the City of Seattle. “We are encouraged to think outside the box and focus on technology to find innovative ways to get the best out of our transportation network.”
For SDOT, that has meant innovation on a large scale. Seattle was the first city in the nation to provide surface-street drive times, together with suggested alternate routes, delivered on a network of dynamic message signs mounted above the roadways. About 75% of the city’s 1100 traffic signals are intelligent, connected by fiber optics and controlled by the Transportation Operations Center (TOC). Six major traffic corridors are ‘smart corridors’ with sensors embedded in the pavement to measure traffic volume. Computers in the TOC adjust traffic signals automatically to help them respond to demand and to recover from accidents and other incidents.
“Because of the nature of an arterial corridor, we can’t use speed as a calculating mechanism,” Emery explains. For that reason, the city has long used unique identifiers to track individual vehicles on its streets. Ten additional corridors use license plate readers to calculate drive times, and the city will soon be installing blue-tooth based devices to do the same throughout the downtown. “We also scan feeds from 911 dispatch as well as traffic-related Twitter feeds to alert our operators to potential problems,” Emery adds.
It’s crucial that engineer/operators in the TOC can monitor major intersections to verify, whenever possible, the alerts they are receiving from these sources and manually adjust signal timings and the alternative routes suggested to motorists. About 200 pole-mounted cameras give them that ability.
Those camera feeds are available to the public and the media as well, via an online interactive map showing traffic conditions and drive times across the city. SDOT also has over 22,000 Twitter followers, who access the agency’s information to plan their drives or, in the case of media members, report on road conditions to the public.
Recently SDOT completely rebuilt their TOC, significantly improving efficiency and performance. The centerpiece of the space is a 6.3’ high by 20.4’ wide display wall using Mitsubishi’s latest LED-lit highdefinition projection cubes.
The agency’s mission to improve the efficiency of city streets benefits everyone, whether traveling via cars, trucks, busses, bicycles, walking, or streetcars. “Our mission is to move people and goods,” Emery says, “so we take a very comprehensive and multi-modal approach.”
The Transportation Operations Center is central to this mission in that it houses the agency’s computer equipment, software systems, and camera head end, as well as the engineer/operators, supervisors and planners who control them.
The TOC control room is relatively small, just 995 square feet including a supervisor’s office, plus an adjoining server room and a conference room that seats 22 people.
In redesigning the control room, Jason Cambridge, IT Manager for the center, recommended the use of eight Mitsubishi 72” WUXGA (1920 x 1200) front-access projection cubes. These cubes are installed in a four-wide, two-high configuration offering a total resolution of 7680 x 2400 pixels. Because these cubes allow any needed service from the front, they can be positioned directly against the south wall of the rebuilt TOC, saving several feet of space.
The original layout had also included a display wall made up of eight projection cubes, but they were just 50” diagonal and XGA resolution. Despite their smaller size, however, their rear-access configuration required so much space that they limited the agency to just two operator workstations.
The new display wall has other advantages as well. Because the new projection cubes use Mitsubishi’s unique LED light engine, they will provide at least 80,000 – 100,000 hours of use (depending on the preferred brightness mode), or 9 – 11 years 24/7. That’s 25% more than other LED projection cubes. And because they use more efficient cooling and optical systems, unlike other cubes they are maintenance free. “The challenge in any city government is maintenance and funding,” Emery says. Once SDOT secured funding to redo the center, they definitely wanted something they would not have to replace for as long as possible, and they needed to keep maintenance costs to the absolute minimum.
High definition was an important issue, because SDOT is in the process of upgrading its cameras to 1080p, and they wanted to be sure the new video wall would accommodate as many as possible at full resolution. Cambridge says that some agencies might have considered a display wall comprised of flat panel displays, but they were out of the question here because of their short lifespan and the ongoing need to fund replacements. “We were also concerned that we might not be able to get the same model when it was time to replace them, necessitating the replacement of the mounting system, cabling or electronics,” he adds.
A framework for growth
In the TOC, the display wall is the main vehicle for viewing camera feeds, while operators normally use their local computers and displays for camera switching, pan/tilt/zoom control, traffic signal management and communications] to the public via the dynamic signs, website and Twitter feeds.
“Camera control goes through an application called Cameleon ITS,” explains David Gaither, Design Engineer for the AVI-SPL Control Room Group, which handled the engineering and installation for the remodeled TOC. “Cameleon was created by FLIR ITS to work with the video wall processor we installed in the TOC. Operators use Cameleon in conjunction with the video wall management software to control the cameras and to send their signals to the display wall.
“Operators can send the camera feeds to the video wall while working on something else, or they may choose to send what’s on their local monitors there as well,” Gaither adds. They can choose from a variety of display wall layouts, typically viewing 32 feeds at once, each in its own window, or they can shift to a layout with one (or more) cameras at full resolution or larger. “We can also use the display wall to look at 911 data or a traffic model,” Cambridge adds. “It all depends on what’s going on in the center and out on the streets.”
Operators can also send the images they choose to two 60” flat panel displays on a side wall, to two more displays on a back wall near a small conference table, or to two in the adjoining conference room. After evaluating all of the video wall manufacturers, the agency felt the Mitsubishi cubes were a much better fit, because of their industry-leading long life, lack of required maintenance and superior brightness and contrast.
Emery and Cambridge are thrilled to have the new display wall in place together with the new operator workstations. “The installation went really well,” Emery recalls. “AVI-SPL is a great integrator.” She says she is also very pleased with the service she receives from Lee Pagnan, Mitsubishi’s Western Regional Manager. “Lee’s a great person and he checks in frequently. It makes a big difference to an agency like ours to have someone like him standing behind the installation. It’s a great comfort factor.”
“Having spent a large portion of my career in the ITS vertical, I know how important the video wall is to daily operations,” says Pagnan. “The Seattle team was very knowledgeable on technology. Working together with them, Bluewater PM and AVI-SPL, we were able to identify and then prioritize the most important aspects to the Seattle operations. Understanding their requirements today as well as future requirements allowed us to create the right visual solution.”
“I can speak from a management perspective,” Emery adds. “We are very, very happy with the new technology. In the display wall, we have the canvas we need now to monitor and control traffic systems throughout the city – and the canvas we will need in the future as our intelligent traffic systems, and the city itself, continue to grow.”