A Pioneering Move with Velodyne Puck
DigiFlec have taken the Velodyne Puck out of its usual industrial habitat and into the countryside, deploying the first commercial 3D LiDAR traffic monitoring system in the U.K. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensing equipment is typically associated with industrial processes and robotics, but the first commercial deployment of a 360° LiDAR sensor for gathering data about traffic is serving a rural community in Scotland. The project was supported by ‘LEADER’ funding which encourages rural communities to engage in the development of their local area. A number of rural communities, concerned about local air quality, linked together to create The Forth Valley and Lomond Leader Smart Village Network, a citizen-led network of smart sensors which measure a range of environmental conditions across the region with a focus on air quality.
Road Dynamics and Air Quality Monitoring
Thornhill is on the busy main A84 route to the Trossachs, a popular Scottish tourist destination, and is used frequently by haulage, commuter, tourist and agricultural vehicles. The main focus of the Smart Village Network is to measure particulate matter, since this is the predominant pollutant in the area, but the community wants to understand how pollution forms, moves and disperses across the area and beyond. Since particulate matter can be caused by exhaust emissions, data about how the road is used will add a new level of understanding to the air quality data. To supplement the air quality and weather data being gathered across the network, a Velodyne Puck 360° surround LiDAR sensor, coupled with perception software, is being used to monitor the traffic travelling through Thornhill. Cross-referencing the gathered data with the air quality data and weather data will help increase understanding of how these factors are interlinked. Instead of only counting and categorising vehicles, the system can also detect pedestrians and cyclists, giving a more complete picture of overall road use. The inclusion of non-vehicular traffic is of particular interest to local councils (and other organisations) interested in ‘active travel’ data.
Capabilities of the Velodyne Puck Sensor
The 360° field of view capability of the Velodyne Puck sensor allows it to gather data about all the traffic which travels through the main road and junction in the village. This means that one sensor can offer a complete picture of traffic volumes and vehicle types using the route. The Puck unit was mounted where it can ‘see’ the main road clearly, and the data is then categorised into different vehicle types by the perception software. In January 2022, the Puck detected a total of 75,104 road-using entities passing through the village, divided into the categories of ‘buses and trucks’, ‘vans’, ‘cars’, ‘cyclists’ and ‘pedestrians’. The entities are categorised through size and shape, rather than individually identifying features, which LiDAR does not gather.
Community-Centric Application of Gathered Data
A key feature of the project is that the data gathered is ‘openly and freely available to all, in near real time with good accuracy’, and the intention is that it can be used by individual community members to make informed decisions and by the community as a whole. The data is also potential usefulness of the data to Stirling Council for managing road maintenance and upgrades. This community-focused use of gathered data differs from how LiDAR is usually used, and opens up possibilities for who might use the technology and how. The rural environment supports a robust economy, through agriculture, tourism, forestry and other industries, and DigiFlec believe that a smart rural environment will help us to have a better relationship with the land.