Science and Technology

Narjes Zarei: ITS data analyst

Narjes Zarei

First up Narjes, can you tell me a little bit about where you work.

I am a senior research officer at the Centre for Accident and Road Safety Queensland (CARRS-Q), at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane.

Currently I’m involved as a data analyst in the Ipswich Cooperative Vehicle Pilot, in which cooperative ITS technology will be used to deliver information and warnings to the drivers via a human-machine interface.

Okay, can you tell be a little bit more about day-to-day? What sort of research work are you doing on that project?

In this pilot, around 500 vehicles will be involved, and QUT is in charge of validating the safety and user perceptions portion of the project. All the driver warnings and circumstances in which they are generated will be reconstructed from the logged data in order to be evaluated.

My role sees me responsible for managing the data, and processing the precursor data to support the safety analyses.

And prior to working for CARRS-Q where else have you worked, previously?

I worked in a traffic control centre in Shiraz municipality, in Iran, for about four years. I had been working there as the lead supervisor of intelligent transportation systems. Mainly I was involved in traffic violation detection systems through imaging, and also on traveller information systems.

What and where did you study, Narjes?

I studied at Shiraz University, in Iran. My background is computer science and artificial intelligence. While doing my Masters I became specifically interested in the data mining area, which deals with big data. Such as traffic data.

From that point, once I dove into traffic data, I became extremely interested in this field. I worked on road traffic prediction for my Master’s thesis, and the more I worked in that area, the more enthusiastic I became about working on real-time traffic data. And here I am six years on, still working in that area!

Now I’m going to move away from you for a little bit and ask you a hypothetical question. If someone came to you with a lot of money and wanted you to do something with it in the area of improving transport, and there was no time limit, what would you like to do?

I would do something in the area of what I think should be a top priority of transport systems, which is safety. I think that’s more important than issues such as transport convenience, or reducing travel time.

Speed is identified as a key factor in road traffic injuries, so I’d like to see all vehicles equipped with ITS technologies to display, or alert, when those vehicles are in violation of the road’s speed limit violation.

I’d like the violation warning, speed limit, and current speed to be in the form of a head’s up display on the windscreen, easily visible by the driver, but not distracting them.

I would also like to expand the network of roadside traffic detection, we can get as much as input data as we need and cover all the spots that can be useful for urban dynamic planning And related to my expertise, I think with this hoped for behaviour modification, and more information for drivers inside vehicles, I can contribute and improve results through the analyses of driving patterns.

Great answer! And the second part of this hypothetical is again a project or piece of work or study, but this time with a limited budget, limited time frame, but would still have an appreciable impact. What would you like to do in this scenario?

With limited budget, I would focus on changing public transport system planning to be more flexible (or dynamic) based on real-time traffic information. I don’t mean only having flexible timetables, but also having flexible bus dispatching plans, or dynamically considering park-and-ride commuting.

Imagine that real-time traffic data shows high congestion in the city centre. A dynamic plan could be decreasing the parking fees, those that are around the city centre, to let people to park their vehicle there and get a bus rather than making the traffic more congested and get stock in the city traffic. These will happen by providing more real-time traffic information to travellers by analysing public transport data and real-time traffic status.

So a proposed project could be analysing public transport data to have more flexible and dynamic planning. By doing this and dynamically assigning resources according to real-time traffic demand, people will be motivated more to use the public transport system, as they can rely on the fact that the best option is offered based on real-time traffic status.

Of the work you’ve done so far, what project have you been most proud of?

I think that would be one of my ITS projects back in Iran. It provided a real-time traffic status for an inner-city bypass (ICB) in Shiraz city. The aim was to assist commuters to avoid congested sections of the ICB. Indeed, the ICB has limited entrances and exits, and if drivers entered a congested passage, they will not have any secondary option until the next exit.

Therefore, an ITS system was developed based on automated processing of videos coming from a network of existing cameras monitoring the roads. This provided a real-time traffic status for each passage using variable message signs (VMS). The VMSs were installed before all the entrance and exit of the bypass to help drivers to make informed decision at those points.

I believe this was implemented for the first time in Iran, and this work was presented the 5th International Conference on Transportation and Traffic Engineering, in 2016. And I am particularly proud of it!

Well done! Moving on, you’ve perhaps specialised a little bit, but of all the options available in the smart mobility world, is there an area in which you haven’t worked but that you would like to?

Automated vehicles. It interests me greatly, and there are several areas to explore. Such as how they will interact with current environment, the safety improvements that they should very likely bring about, and the optimisation intelligent algorithms that they will provide for traffic planning. Those, and so much more!

It’s an area in which I think we’re all keen to see what will happen! Okay, and last question, in the next three to five years, what is a transport technology that you’re most excited about?

This current project that I’m involved in, the Ipswich Connected Vehicle Pilot. To me it’s like a step towards relocating traffic signs and using a Human-Machine Interface inside vehicles. I’m really excited about further steps that may happen after that, and projects that we can do in this regard.

I’m also interested about to know more about the machine-learning algorithms that will be used in automated vehicles.

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