Computers will control commuters
‘‘Speeds on the motorway ... will be set by human operators until Metanet is ready to take over.’’
Computers are now watching every move motorists make on Wellington’s motorway, and by year’s end will be controlling the daily commute of 90,000 vehicles.
The New Zealand Transport Agency opened the southbound lanes of the capital’s new $55 million smart motorway system on Friday.
A computer program called Metanet is now in learning mode and in six months will have picked up enough from motorists’ habits to begin deciding what the speed limit will be between John- sonville and the Terrace Tunnel.
Wellington’s smart motorway system is the first of its kind in this country.
The idea is for computers to analyse traffic patterns on the motorway and prevent congestion before it happens by slowing vehicles down as low as 60kmh to smooth out their flow and avoid bottlenecks.
Metanet’s methods for tracking vehicles include radars installed on roadside light poles, 100 detectors under the road surface and bluetooth on drivers’ smart devices.
It will take that information and use electronic signs to control speeds.
The Transport Agency publicly announced the opening of the northbound lanes in June.
Neil Walker, the agency’s Wellington highways manager, said resurfacing of the city-bound lanes was now complete, and testing and calibration of the smart motorway would continue over the coming months.
Speeds on the motorway, which carries about 90,000 vehicles in and out of the capital daily, will be set by human operators until Metanet is ready to take over.
The overhead electronic signs would show ‘‘smart motorway messages’’ urging drivers to merge like a zip, stick to their lanes, and follow the signs, Walker said.
The normal 100kmh speed limit would apply to the motorway outside of peak times.
Agency spokeswoman Felicity Connell said motorists would not be compelled to activate bluetooth on their smart devices to help provide information for Metanet.
Thousands of people already travelled daily with that function switched on, which was enough to gather ‘‘robust data’’ to manage the smart motorway, she said.
The smart motorway aims to keep vehicles running smoothly and avoid congestion-causing shockwaves – such as when cars stop suddenly – at the convergence point for State Highways 1 and 2.