Friday, September 12, 2014

Radar system could alert drivers to wildlife

Technology was adapted from military use

Express Staff Writer

    Radar technology used to protect military convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan could be put to use in the Wood River Valley to reduce vehicle-wildlife collisions—if the cost can be justified.
    Brice Sloan, co-founder of Sloan Security Technologies, presented the idea to Idaho Transportation Department employees and Blaine County representatives during a meeting Wednesday at the county annex building.
    The company is primarily focused on military and industrial security.
    “This is technology adapted from military use to animal detection,” Sloan said.
    Sloan said his company’s animal detection system—the first to be made mobile—consists of a small rectangular radar on top of a 25-foot-tall pole carried on a trailer. Like other radar systems that use the Doppler effect, Sloan’s product detects movement, but goes a step further by being able to distinguish between vehicle traffic and other forms of motion. He said the radar can be combined with thermal cameras to also detect animals standing in the road.
    Sloan said his firm created the system in response to a request to help reduce moose collisions on the Trans-Canada Highway in Newfoundland in 2011. The company first experimented with a system that detects animals when they break an infrared beam along the side of the road. However, Sloan said, experimenters discovered that the moose stayed in the road licking salt after warning lights had shut off. So the firm turned to “compact surveillance radar,” which, he said, is less expensive than other forms of Doppler radar, very accurate, very rugged and very power efficient.
    For three months last winter, a version was tested on U.S. Highway 95 south of Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. Sloan said there were no collisions with animals on that section of highway during the test period.
    “We’re really, really happy with the performance of this system,” he said.
    When it detects an animal, the system triggers flashing lights to warn drivers. The lights stay on for two minutes past the last indication of an animal’s presence.
    Each detector covers a distance of a quarter to half a mile. Sloan said he recommended that one be installed at a “hot spot” of animal activity on state Highway 75 to determine its effectiveness. He said a test period would provide information on the number of animals present and the responses of drivers to the warning lights.
    The two main problem areas along the highway in the Wood River Valley are in the Peregrine Ranch area north of Hailey and in the vicinity of East Fork Road. Both areas have almost resident herds of elk during the winter.
    Sloan said a basic system would cost about $30,000, and with a mobile trailer and Wi-Fi cellular data would cost about $45,000. The Wi-Fi component allows for remote monitoring of the system and transmission of data on animal crossings.
    “That’s a significant outlay,” said committee member and former Department of Fish and Game Conservation Officer Roger Olson. “For that, we should be almost assured that it’s going to do what we expect it to do.”
    ITD Region 4 spokesman Nathan Jerke said in an interview that department representatives at the presentation Wednesday before the county’s Wildlife Crossing Committee found the system “intriguing,” but said it’s still experimental, given that little data has been collected on its effectiveness.
    The Wildlife Crossing Committee is a subcommittee of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee, which is composed of local elected officials and representatives of other organizations involved in transportation issues. It is an advisory body to the ITD.
    Jerke said that if the Transportation Committee recommends that the radar system be put into use, it will need to find a way to fund it. The system tested near Bonners Ferry was funded by The Nature Conservancy and other partners.
    Committee Chair and County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said in an interview that she found Sloan’s system “pretty impressive” and worthy of a search for funding.
    A night speed limit of 45 mph along a 2.5- mile stretch of Highway 75 between McKercher Boulevard in northern Hailey and Zinc Spur Road was put into effect in October. Wildlife Crossing Committee member Kaz Thea said the lower limit, from 55 mph, has had a “huge benefit” in reducing collisions with wildlife.

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