Backroads are most of the times not well-lighted (too far away from a power supply), stop signs are barely readable and in seconds a deadly crash can occur. Rural roads are where most roadway accidents and fatalities occur, this is according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

To help out with this concern, Professors Sara Ahmed and Samer Dessouky of the College of Engineering at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) are building and testing a low-cost, self-powered thermal warning system that will detect vehicles, improve the visibility of stop signs thus in turn prevent deaths.  This technology's development was done with support from the Connect program which is a collaborative research program that is co-funded by UTSA and Southwest Research Institute. 

This new technology detects a vehicle as it approaches an intersection by using a multi-pixel passive infrared sensor.  A signal beacon triggers the stop sign's flashing system, once the vehicle is within the range of its sensors.

"The sensor observes thermal signatures and processes them to detect passing vehicles," said Zachary Balcar, a master's student in the UTSA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "It distinguishes the vehicle's direction of travel, estimates the velocity of its thermal signature and determines the classification of the vehicle."

Results of the research shows the smart system has a higher vehicle detection rate (90%) and vehicle classification accuracy (72%) when compared to most existing traffic sensing technologies, most particularly those that are in the in urban areas (i.e. magnetic loop inductors, video image processors and microwave radar).  The system is efficient in every way, in that it consumes less power yet functions at its optimal capacity.  Another upside to this new technology is that it is much less expensive to produce.  According to UTSA, the cost per unit shoud only be between $60 - $100, which is a fraction of the price of current safety systems (most of which are priced at $5,000 at least and up).

"Our off-roadway system can be installed on urban or rural roads completely independent of the utility power grid, because it is powered by small solar panels and functions in all weather conditions," said Ahmed.

The technology is now beginning to become known and in fact the American Road and Transportation Builders Association expects to adapt the technology to other road safety projects such as pedestrian detection, for border security and for vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.