4D Imaging Helps Manage Inauguration Traffic

New video game-inspired technology helps officials monitor record traffic.

ByABC News
January 19, 2009, 4:43 PM

Jan. 20, 2009— -- As millions of inauguration visitors threaten to snarl traffic across the entire Washington, D.C., metro area today, a few lucky federal officials are perched in front of large flat-screen TVs, rocking Playstation-type joysticks back and forth.

But they're not fighting for survival in a criminal underworld or dodging punches in a martial arts tournament.

Instead, they're soaring over the Potomac River, the National Mall, Capitol Hill and every other part of the city and its surrounding areas, monitoring a virtual landscape shaped by real-time traffic, weather, emergency management and other critical data.

"It's a four-dimensional view of the Washington, D.C., area," said Michael Pack, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Transportation Technology (CATT). "It's almost like a virtual world that you can fly around in. When you drop down to a road ... you can actually see what the traffic looks like if you were on the road."

Pack and his colleagues at CATT have worked for several years to integrate all of the data that help transportation officials keep the roads safe and clear.

Accident reports, planned roadway closures, construction updates and other information are gathered by emergency management and transportation officials, but that data rarely moves across bureaucratic and state lines in real time.

If an accident takes place in Virginia, it used to be that emergency management officials in nearby Maryland or Washington, D.C., wouldn't know about it until someone in Virginia gave them a call or sent an e-mail. But even a five or 10-minute lag, Pack said, could mean delays for thousands of motorists who could have been re-routed.

CATT's newest technology not only lets transportation and safety officials at local, state and federal levels instantly share key information, it allows them to interact with the data as they would in a video game.

On Friday -- just in time for an influx of more than 2 million inauguration visitors -- the center delivered the software to FEMA and homeland security officers who will pilot the technology today.