Skip to main content
Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

U.S. Department of Energy funds Argonne sensing project at O’Hare

Argonne’s new research collaboration could help ease traffic congestion and energy use around Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

A bigger airport means more travelers and more traffic. And a planned expansion of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport could place a heavier burden on the area’s commuter and transportation systems. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory received nearly $3.2 million for their proposal on the use of distributed sensing and high-performance computing to reduce traffic congestion while minimizing energy consumption and emissions in and around O’Hare.

The project was one of 42 selected as part of an $80 million DOE initiative to support advanced vehicle technologies. This pioneering technology integration project will create a consortium among scientific, municipal and commercial entities, including the Chicago Departments of Aviation and Transportation, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Chicago Transit Authority and commercial partner Arity, a subsidiary of the Allstate Corporation.

We are looking to help Argonne and cities like Chicago get a better understanding of how people move around their region so they can better develop holistic transportation strategies.” — David D’Silva, group product manager for Arity’s Smart Cities program

The main objective is to mitigate congestion and improve energy efficiency by utilizing new and existing data,” says Aymeric Rousseau, manager of the Vehicle and Mobility Simulations Group in Argonne’s Energy Systems division. Rather than trying to guess what technologies we can implement to mitigate these issues, we can actually examine the different technologies and quantify their impacts, both individually and collectively.”

The project will help predict the effects that a proposed major expansion project at O’Hare would have on congestion and energy use. Understanding such effects and applying approved technologies will guide all partners of the consortium in developing strategies to manage transportation.

Waggle sensors, like those shown here, should provide a lot of information about the O’Hare area. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

The main element of the project is the installation of Argonne-developed Waggle nodes around the airport. A Waggle node is a wireless sensor platform that comprises customized sensors and edge” processors that allow for immediate analysis and transmittal of data, making them a key tool for data collection.

The intent is to identify and capture specific information — like the make and model of a vehicle — that was previously unavailable because of technology constraints. Advances in technologies, such as high-fidelity cameras, make it possible to extract more detailed information.

If you want to know that a vehicle is a taxi, for example, you have to be able to pull information out of an image, but that’s a lot of data to transmit,” said Nicola Ferrier, a senior computer scientist at Argonne. The goal is to have the computation done in the field to reduce issues with bandwidth and latency — then the image data can be deleted for privacy reasons.”

Data collected through the stationary Waggle platform will work in concert with mobility data collected by Arity, which uses aggregated and anonymous data to understand travel patterns in specific regions. Vehicles outfitted with technologies like onboard diagnostic devices can also collect data on fuel consumption, which may help to project potential increases in emissions in and around the expansion area.

We are looking to help Argonne and cities like Chicago get a better understanding of how people move around their regions so they can better develop holistic transportation strategies,” explained David D’Silva, group product manager for Arity’s Smart Cities program.

Another partner in the project, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), recently developed a comprehensive land use and transportation plan for the region called On to 2050.” Several of its goals are in lockstep with those of the sensing project: conforming to national ambient air quality standards and further harnessing technology to improve travel in the region.

Deployment of the Waggle sensors should provide a lot more information that we don’t necessarily have about the O’Hare area,” said Craig Heither, a principal analyst with CMAP. The modeling side presents a number of different strategies to improve mobility, which of course is something we’re really interested in.”

For Diego Ferrer and the Chicago Department of Aviation, the acquisition of more robust information about driver and passenger behavior will prove a boon, not only for immediate traffic and passenger routing efforts around the airport, but also in decision-making as the expansion moves forward.

Qualitative data on peak hours, congested routes and traffic obstacles might lead to the relocation of parking structures or entrances to parking structures or a reassessment of how traffic is routed, notes Ferrer, managing deputy commissioner of IT and Telecommunications at O’Hare.

As the process evolves and successful elements emerge, the sensing project will provide benefits beyond those extended to O’Hare and the city. For example, Argonne and Arity will work together as commercialization partners to understand how this technology fits product markets and potentially bring those services to the marketplace.

Argonne will use the funding to develop transportation-specific Waggle nodes and to enhance data analytics and transportation simulations. A portion will go to Arity for its work in onboard diagnostics.

The project puts us in a unique position to make an impact in the City of Chicago, the Chicago metropolitan area and, eventually, other large urban areas,” says Rousseau. The data and solutions it produces will provide sound guidance to address current and future issues related to traffic and emissions for Chicago and other metropolitan areas.”

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy supports early-stage research and development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to strengthen U.S. economic growth, energy security, and environmental quality.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.