Cutting-edge system developed in Minnesota could revolutionize commutes

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Your drive could soon get a little more high-tech when it comes to navigating work zones in Minnesota.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are working on something they believe could revolutionize your commute: the Statewide Work Zone Information System (SWIS).

John Hourdos, director of the Minnesota Traffic Observatory, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it would be the first of its kind in the country.

He said the idea is to put small beacons, which are wired with cellphone technology, Bluetooth radio and a GPS, onto work zone equipment like construction barrels and signs. Those beacons would then communicate with a statewide smart map to give drivers up-to-the-second updates on work zones.

Hourdos said drivers approaching those work zones would then hear a message via their cellphone or car radio, alerting them to what's on the road ahead.

"This system is powerful mostly in the unexpected, impromptu work zones," Hourdos said. "Those are the most dangerous ones."

In the last three years in Minnesota, 31 people have died in work zones and more than 120 people have gotten seriously hurt. Hourdos hopes accurate alerts for drivers will help cut down those numbers.

He explained that this would be different than other map apps. Those typically require either advance notice of a planned project from the county or state or rely on drivers themselves to input what they are seeing on the road. Both may give incorrect or outdated information.

Hourdos said putting a beacon on a barrel, on the other hand, could give drivers digital warnings in real-time.

"The whole concept, I am not aware of any other solutions like that in the country," Hourdos said.

The researchers have been working on SWIS for several years and are getting ready to pitch the idea to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Ideally, it would be ready to roll out in about two years.