THE NEW NORMAL
Pete Spiller considers how McCain, Inc’s three-decade long presence in the ITS sector has seen them become a major player in the connected and autonomous vehicle space
When McCain Inc. debuted in the transportation industry just over 30 years ago, Intelligent Transportation was barely an idea. Tim Berners-Lee was still two years away from inventing the world-wide-web and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America wouldn’t be founded for another four years.
However, the intervening decades have brought almost unimaginable change and opportunity to traffic management. McCain, now a subsidiary of Austrian-based traffic technology group SWARCO, has become an established leader in traffic management and while proud of their past, company leaders have embraced the future of transportation and the coming infrastructure tsunami needed to support connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) deployment.
“Everyone knows connected vehicles are coming and in many ways they’re already here,” says Greg McKhann, Chief Operating Officer for McCain, Inc. “I think the difference for us was getting out in front of this several years ago and actively establishing working partnerships to cement our role in the connected infrastructure space. We believe we can’t have a truly safe connected or autonomous vehicle without plugging into the infrastructure and the environment around it.”
“We believe we can’t have a truly safe connected or autonomous vehicle without plugging into the infrastructure and the environment around it”
While other traffic solutions providers offer connected technology as an add-on, McCain developed its Omni eX® software and ATC (Advanced Transportation Controller) cabinet series to be connected vehicle-ready. To them, it’s a simple but important benchmark. McKhann says, “Our distributors and end-users shouldn’t have to worry about retrofitting equipment to stay current. We develop software and build our cabinets to be around for a long time and it makes sense to ensure they don’t become technologically obsolete when they’re functioning perfectly otherwise.”
Call it a benchmark or a philosophy, it's the kind of forward thinking that has led to McCain’s participation in a series of leading edge initiatives. At CES 2018, the largest annual event of its kind, McCain partnered with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. on a live demonstration of Cellular-V2X (C-V2X) using McCain’s revolutionary Backpack Cabinet (just 25ins/63cm tall and weighing less than 55lbs or 25kg), paired with the new McCain Omni eX® intersection control software. It’s a glimpse of the future, delivering a heavyweight punch from a welterweight body.
During the third quarter of 2018 McCain also announced its participation in support of the very first Cellular-V2X (C-V2X) testing trials in the US at the San Diego automated vehicle proving grounds that was launched by AT&T, Ford, Nokia and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. in coordination with Caltrans, the City of Chula Vista, CA and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).
In fact, if you take a 360-degree look at connected research, you’re likely to see McCain at work. In March, when Audi launched the “time-to-green” V2I feature at more than 600 traffic signals in Washington, DC, they used data stripped from McCain’s software. Just across the Potomac in McLean, Virginia, McCain CAV-enabled control cabinets are also the only brand deployed at the Federal Highways Administration’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center.
As a leader in product development and ATC cabinet technology, the company can point to success stories around the world, beginning with its earliest adopter, Cedar Park, Texas. Just north of Austin, it’s a young city with a population approaching 70,000, a city with commitment to providing a high level of service to its residents. Senior Traffic Engineer Stephen Hanuscin says switching from the NEMA TS2 standard to McCain’s ATC cabinets brought noticeable benefit to the community.
“As far as operations there’s a lot more functionality than we had,” he explains. “From the hardware and maintenance side, with the ATC standard, we were impressed with the modularity of it. It’s plug and play. We have a continuous flow intersection. It’s a very complex intersection and we needed 18 output channels, two more than the NEMA TS2 cabinet allowed us. We simply would not have been able to operate that intersection, or at least that efficiently without the ATC cabinet.” But Hanuscin insists of equal importance as the current benefit is future compatibility. “We’re really looking forward to the evolution of the connected vehicles technology and putting that to work for us.”
For years, ITS innovation was often a computer-model and storyboard exercise, but now traffic management advances are hitting the streets as meaningful solutions. Earlier this year Toyota and Lexus announced plans to build DSRC technology into many new cars in 2021 with coverage expanding to their entire product lines by the mid-2020s. Meanwhile groups like the 5G Automotive Association are harnessing the innovation and influence of telecoms and other stakeholders to promote 5G solutions. Those products and the dozens that will undoubtedly follow are leading to an obvious conclusion – momentum is growing and connected will soon be the new normal. It’s a shift that McCain embraces. “We are seeing the future come to fruition right in front of us,” enthuses McKhann. “This is more than a short-term challenge, it’s a long-term direction.”
“We are seeing the future come to fruition right in front of us. This is more than a short-term challenge, it’s a long-term direction”
But as much as McCain is helping lead the charge to a connected future, the company comes with a pedigree. There are approximately 300,000 intersections in the United States and while McCain’s portfolio crosses international borders, the company has manufactured and sold more than 5.6 million individual signals and 75,000 cabinets. With those kinds of numbers, it’s more than likely the intersection you just passed through was managed using McCain equipment.
Ralph Boaz, President of Pillar Consulting and project manager for the ATC standards since 2002, says McCain, along with other manufacturers, have played a crucial role in the development of the standards. “The transportation manufacturers have invested significant resources providing practical expertise and prototype designs. The resulting capabilities of these systems are compelling,” he says. “ATC controllers have modern processing power and can run multiple application programs simultaneously to meet the demands of emerging USDOT initiatives such as Connected Vehicles and Smart Cities. ATC cabinets have a compact internal design, diagnostic capabilities not possible in other cabinet architectures, protection for technicians from arc flash and other electrical hazards and have an option to run an entire intersection on 48 VDC instead of the typical 120 VAC which provides public safety and potential savings in operating costs.”
But by the company’s own contention, sales volume isn’t the only measure of success and McCain’s leadership team is committed to helping define the future of transportation with new technologies, new partnerships and thoughtful, customer focused ideas.
As intelligent transportation matures, the market will sort out winning and losing technology, but McCain’s equipment is positioned to adapt easily to whatever wins the CAV technology cage match. McKhann still believes the company’s early investment in V2I technologies and V2X compatibility will deliver a substantial return on investment. He said, “Our entire focus right now is about positioning our clients for future success and building the infrastructure they need to save time, money and lives.”