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How would you drive differently if traffic signals could tell you when they were about to turn red? Or, if your car could warn you of a pedestrian crossing the road ahead of you? Researchers are working on these advances on what’s called a “Smart Road” in Virginia.

Inside the car as the driver gets a warning that a construction worker is ahead. The driver knows because of high-tech devices that “talk” to the car.

A backpack worn by the construction worker has a GPS antenna. It’s connected to a device which is connected to the car, telling the vehicle how close the construction worker is. Eventually all this equipment will be incorporated into a construction vest.

If you are a driver nearing a traffic signal. A device inches away from the steering wheel shows your speed and how many milliseconds you have until the light turns red. If you ignore the information, it tells you that you have run a red light.

Researchers are studying these projects on a 3.5-kilometer Virginia Smart Road, maintained by the state transportation department and managed by Virginia Tech University.

Luke Neurauter of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute said the devices can easily work worldwide, said, “Research will need to determine how to alert drivers because they have regional differences and driving styles, and so the timing of the alerts might be different.”

On a clear day in rural Virginia, the technology works perfectly. Inclement weather also is tested on the Smart Road. A 1,900-liter water tank [500,000 gallon] feeds into 75 weather-making towers. The towers can create snow, fog, freezing rain and heavy downpours.

“We’ve got three 700-horsepower pumps that pump water up to the road," said Rob Gibbons of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. "We bring it out and shoot it through a nozzle and throw it out in the air and let gravity pull it down as rain.”

Researchers are taking their tests on the road to do real traffic studies. By the end of the year, drivers along this busy interstate highway near Washington will hear beeping horns as their normal cars transform into "smart" cars on a "Smart Road." The Virginia Tech scientists envision a future when this type of technology is mandatory equipment on all cars.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.

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