Trading in 1850s Tech for 21st Century Tech

December 29, 2023

Trading in 1850s Tech for 21st Century Tech

Melissa Warnke

Melissa Warnke

Director, Product Marketing

I spent 20 years in the healthcare industry and while there are several similarities between healthcare and transportation, the similarity I find most astonishing is the fact that both use dated technologies to perform truly critical functions. In healthcare, it’s the use of fax machines to communicate important care information. In transportation, it’s the use of manual counting and pneumatic tubes, a technology originally invented in the 1850s, to conduct temporary traffic studies.

Traditional methods for conducting temporary traffic studies

Traditional methods for conducting temporary traffic studies have been around for many years for one simple reason – they have gotten the job done. Just like healthcare providers use fax machines because they transfer information effectively, transportation professionals use manual counting and pneumatic tubes because they collect the data needed. But just because they get the job done, doesn’t mean there aren’t limitations.

Manual Counting

Manual counting is usually highly accurate and detailed, particularly when conducted by experienced personnel. The method allows for adaptability and customization to specific study parameters, providing valuable insights into various traffic characteristics. However, manual counting is labor-intensive and time-consuming, leading to issues of scalability and cost. Additionally, accuracy is subject to observational bias and certain metrics, such as speed measurements, are challenging to obtain.

Pneumatic tubes

Pneumatic tubes offer a cost-effective, accurate solution, if installed correctly. However, accurate installation can be tricky and has multiple points of potential failure including the air switches, counters, and the tubes themselves, which are susceptible to damage. The placement is also critical as they do not perform well on curves or in congested areas. Lastly, they require workers to be in the roadway, increasing the safety risk for workers and temporarily disrupting traffic flow.

Leveraging AI to conduct temporary traffic studies

With advances in AI, a new temporary data collection methods has emerged. AI fully automates the safe and accurate capture of FHWA 13 vehicle classifications, vehicle counts, and speed by utilizing high-resolution video streams to deliver ground truth studies. The systems can be deployed quickly and easily on the side of the road without the need for workers to enter unsafe conditions or disrupt traffic.


Temporary traffic studies quickly provide valuable insights for addressing immediate traffic challenges such as safety and traffic flow, while also enabling informed decision making to enhance overall traffic planning. By leveraging 21st century technologies, transportation professionals can gain efficiency and accuracy in their data collection efforts, all while enhancing the safety of the workers tasked with collecting this critical data.