Local News

State is testing new technologies to help motorists

PuSHMe project Sometime soon, the push of a button may mean timely help for drivers who are stranded or in distress as well as relief for commuters stuck in the aftermath.
   Field tests of this state-of-the-art system are now underway in the Seattle area. The Puget Sound Help Me (PuSHMe) Regional Mayday System is designed to allow drivers who need help to signal their precise locations to a response center from their vehicles to get help and clear highway blockages more quickly.
   "This PuSHMe technology is designed to identify, classify, and respond to emergencies much more quickly," said Dave Peach, State Traffic Engineer. "Timing is critical to providing help for stranded motorists and also to clear accidents that cause the backups that are all too familiar to commuters."
   The technology can improve response times by providing the exact location and nature of emergencies.
   Full-scale field operational testing to evaluate two competing systems began in November 1995.
   Participants in the test include the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the Washington State Patrol, the University of Washington, a consortium of technology companies, emergency response organizations, and test volunteers.
   The PuSHMe project is part of the Federal Highway Administration's Intelligent Transportation System initiative. The project is being coordinated by David Evans and Associates, Inc., a Bellevue-based consulting firm.
   The project is evaluating two types of systems. The first, developed by Motorola, combines cellular telephone, the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) to find vehicle locations, and mapping and database technologies to display locations at a customer service center.
   It will provide automobile drivers a number of basic services, including personal security (for example, in case of a carjacking), personal emergency assistance (medical emergency, auto accident), roadside assistance (breakdown, dead battery, no fuel), and traveler assistance (tourist attractions, congestion information).
   The Motorola System will also eventually offer stolen vehicle recovery and vehicle security.
   The second system under evaluation has been developed by Sentinel Communications. Like the Motorola System, the Sentinel Communications System uses GPS to track location. However, it does not use a cellular phone.
   Instead, emergency response requests are transmitted to a response service center over a data network. Because this system handles data only, the vehicle devices contain a text display that allows the response center operator to ask questions the driver can answer with "Yes" or "No" buttons.
   Three types of emergencies are supported: police, medical, and auto. Response center operators contact the appropriate authorities to provide requested assistance and notify the user that an emergency call was made.
   Both the Motorola and Sentinel Communications Systems have been installed, and initial testing has been completed. Full operational testing is expected to last six months.
   During the field tests, the King County Police, WSDOT, and the American Automobile Association will respond to simulated emergencies. The IBI Group has developed a work station that will monitor both systems.