Leveraging AWS for Smart Transportation Solutions

Jeff Siegel, Technology Solutions Center Director, Vice President, HNTB
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Jeff Siegel, Technology Solutions Center Director, Vice President, HNTB

Jeff Siegel, Technology Solutions Center Director, Vice President, HNTB

As the nation’s demands on our civil infrastructure continue to grow; through age, urban growth, transportation mode shifts, and impacts of natural disasters; our nation’s transportation agencies are finding smarter ways to deliver the capital projects managing the reconstruction and enhancement efforts as well as how our transportation agencies are operating and maintaining their facilities.Especially in urban cities around the world, Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and similar agencies are leveraging the convergence of information technology systems, data, sensors,and devices to reduce costs, boost efficiencies, and improve service delivery. The concept is to use technology to build greater infrastructure resiliency, improves the integration of new and legacy systems and delivery information that can be used to create value.

Sensors, cameras, and other detection devices already are providing our clients with real-time data about traffic and some of their infrastructure. Over the next few years, connective vehicles and a robust availability of smart materials and devices (such as connected traffic signals) will lead to deeper insight into traffic patterns and allow for variable adjustments based on current traffic conditions. Technologies such as this will allow for greater optimization of our road networks and their interfaces (such as rail and parking) and improve safety and mobility.

This Smart Transportation approach is relying on growing business sophistication in the enterprise-class systems supporting them. This modern approach includes leveraging many maturing technology platforms to support innovative management of unique content types such as parametric three-dimensional models, lots of geospatial data as well as big data and IoT to add-value to the operators and maintainers of transportation infrastructure.The AWS platform is providing services and strategies to support these approaches and providing cost-effective tactics guiding real solutions today.

Serverless Applications for High Availability Systems

Modern business solutions supporting leading transportation initiatives, such as Florida DOT’s Weight Station of the Future Vision, includes using AWS services tobuild serverless applications.Front-endwebsites, back-end API’s and databases can all be deployed on AWS now with no servers involved, just hosted, managed code and data. Their new Weight Station Inspection and Reporting mobile application is a good example of this cost-effective strategy.The front-end site is hosted with S3 and CloudFront. The API is .net core hosted with Lambda and API Gateway.The data is NoSQL stored in DynamoDB; all services scale automatically, are extremely responsive with no servers to manage or maintain.

  Over the next few years, connective vehicles and a robust availability of smart materials and devices (such as connected traffic signals) will lead to deeper insight into traffic patterns and allow for variable adjustments based on current traffic conditions​  

Another feature that AWS provides is the ability to “decouple” our long-running processes using pub/sub messaging.As smart transportation application such as lane closure systems, field inspection apps and traffic management solutions leverage proactive alert notifications to users; Instead of long-running tasks slowing down solutions, AWS empower solutions to send messages to queues, which can then trigger events to perform application logic. One example is a rail authority’s bridge management and inspection solution that can now queue long running processes with Simple Queue Service, do the work in serverless Lambdas, then send notifications out to all subscribers using Simple Notification Service when processes are finished. It also uses S3 events to detect when inspectors upload files, then uses Lambda to perform tasks such as creating thumbnails or processing files. In the past, these types of workflows were done synchronously on the server bringing along potential performance and user experience issues.

Pairedwith these abilities, AWS enables projects to use RDS to host relational databases. These databases are backed up automatically and can be restored with one click in case of disaster; reducing the need to administer the back end of databases for certain solutions.

Scalable Infrastructure for Sophisticated Geospatial Solutions

As almost all information related to a transportation agency is geographic in nature, geospatial data is a must in any solution for the coordination, maintenance,and dissemination of most of the data within an airport, DOT, toll or transit agency.Whether the information related to an accident at a specific road location, a work order regarding a section of damaged guardrail, a toll violation at a toll plaza, or the acquisition of a parcel for system/facility expansion, the geographic location of each of these items serve as the natural unifying element.The AWS platform provides unique features and services that enable efficient and cost-effective methods of storing and working efficiently with this type of data.

Geospatial cloud formation templates that allow for complete automation and federation; basically, infrastructure as code, meaning the code written deploys a particular hardware infrastructure configurationwithin a cloud environment. For example, a JSON template to define a stack of resources to ensure we have identical environments that work in predetermined ways maintaining a minimum number of machines while allowing for seamless scaling and recovery all while being fully registered, federated and provisioned.

The formation stacks allow for a single lambda call trigger of any method to completely start or stop a full enterprise environment including servers, datastores,and sites. This allows for exact environment replication, low overhead management, service isolation and rapid deployment of new systems including high availability decoupled server role architecture patterns. These systems deployed have a template that take advantage of the complete AWS resources stack and combine all the following web services: EC2, ELB, EBS, VPN, Lambda, SNS, SQS, CloudFormation, Route53, CloudWatch, S3, IAM, AutoScale, DynamoDB and Config into one stack template that can be saved or rehydrated for future deployments.

Additionally, useful for remote sensing applications using Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) data and resulting parametric models; AppStream allows us to deliver single applications to users through just a website allowing users to have access to limitless GPU power without needing to install the application locally on an underpowered laptop or at a fraction of the cost and management of a large EC2. An example of this is running a geospatial application utilizing large lidar datasets (often multiple terabytes in size) to be post-processed on a 4GPU based AppStream that starts instantly and is accessed all completely through one URL.

Conclusion

DOTs, cities and all transportation agencies are beginning to leverage the convergence of information technology systems, data, sensors,and devices to reduce costs, boost efficiencies, and improve service delivery.Through great advances in a range and for many, certain capabilities of the AWS platform allow for user-centric design, services-based solutions supporting smart transportation solutions.Technologies such as this will allow for greater optimization of our road networks and their interfaces (such as rail and parking) and improve safety and mobility.

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