Hamilton company partners with city in traffic management project

Innovative camera technology from a local Hamilton company will help the city manage traffic.

PV Lab's innovative camera technology will help city manage traffic

The Divinus camera sits in in PV Labs office at Innovation Park. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

It’s technology used by the military and in blockbuster Hollywood films. And it’s developed right here in Hamilton.

Now, the City of Hamilton has embarked on a pilot project with local technology company PV Labs to track traffic data in a new, innovative way.

The Divinus, a high-resolution camera in the range of 100 megapixels, is attached to a plane and has captured aerial images around the city of Hamilton.

"It allows us to look at a large geographic area, so opposed to one normal camera that would allow you to only focus in on one intersection, we can look at hundreds if not thousands of intersections and collect traffic data on all those intersections at the same time," said Ty Shattuck, PV Lab’s CEO.

PV Lab’s Divinus camera uses similar technology to their cameras with military and film applications. It’s been used to capture wide images of warzones to see where the good and bad guys are or to collect the pretty wide shots in films like The Avengers, Shattuck said.

"[The images] look something like Google maps, the difference is it’s streaming data," Shattuck said. "Google maps allows you to look at an intersection but instead of seeing a static picture, you’re seeing moving objects."

The camera is not specific enough to differentiate a F150 from a Honda Civic, or see license plates or pedestrians, Shattuck said.

Once PV Labs determined their technology had traffic management applications, the company approached the city and they were taken up on their offer.

"We went to Hamilton and said we’re a supporter of Hamilton, you’re a supporter of early-stage enterprises, we’d like to explore an idea here," said Shattuck. "We gave them ideas and they built upon them. It was really a collaborative exercise and it continues to be."

The city is happy to be a guinea pig in this project, said Gary Kirchknopf, senior project manager for the city’s corridor control management.

"We here in Hamilton are extremely lucky to have a company like PV labs in the city and to be on the forefront of something that can spread to other municipalities," he said.

For the pilot project, the city chose to capture images in west Hamilton, starting near Innovation Park where the PV Lab office is located.

The images cover McMaster University, the Westdale neighbourhood and several hill access points to the mountain.

This coverage area will give the city some immediate results on a recently implemented traffic change. Kirchknopf said there is now a left turn ban from Stanley Avenue onto Queen Street.

"This data will allow us to focus in on specific time periods of interest," he said.

Kirchknopf confirmed the city’s cost for the pilot project is $40,000, covering the cost of the flights to collect footage and data analysis.

This is a much smaller amount, he said, than the $100,000 to $150,000 the city budgets annually for its different types of traffic data collection.

"Now we’re limited with resources and you have to have a lot more manpower and traffic counting equipment placed in the field, " he said. "It really doesn’t give you the same picture as to what’s going on outside those specific areas."

Currently, Kirchknopf said the city uses a variety of methods to track traffic data, using tube-like devices that count the number of axels driving over them or manning intersections of interest with traffic counters.

Shattuck has done some travelling to market the camera in other regions. Shattuck said the applications for Divinus extend to land and infrastructure management, and China has an interest.

"One of the things that resonated with them is they are tracking condominiums," he said. "So someone will go and build a giant condominium. There is nobody who approved it and no taxes being levied on it so they were looking for just keeping track of what was being constructed."

Back to its traffic management application, Shattuck and his team have made presentations to Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation for potential use on our highways.

Within the city of Hamilton, Kirchknopf said the Divinus camera can assist in many other ways in the future.

The city could quantify the traffic impact of a newly built store in a busy neighbourhood, track vehicle speeds down a specific roadway to better help police choose where to enforce or determine what type of traffic – cars, trucks, bikes or pedestrians – use a particular street and rebuild it to accommodate the demand, Kirchknopf said.

PV Labs and the city have planned a meeting Friday to review the initial data and the city hopes they will have a full set of data in six-months to a year.

Click on the video above to get a glimpse of the images the Divinus camera can produce.

This is the final story in a four-part series on innovation in the city of Hamilton.