Construction work zones can be managed more efficiently by leveraging real-time data such as geolocation via the use of a smartphone app. It is expected that such an app can ensure safety on construction sites and likely alleviate traffic congestion in the surrounding area. As a part of the Smart Work Zone Deployment Initiative (SWZDI) and FHWA Pooled Fund Study for Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin, the objective of this study was to design, develop, and deploy the Smart Work Zone Activity app (SWiZAPP), a cross-platform mobile application for collecting and reporting real-time work-zone activity information. The study presents the development of requirement specifications for the app, prototype design, and field tests. The app can manage an unlimited number of construction work zones by its cloud-based design architecture. It uses work-zone geolocation from GPS sensors and online mapping services. The app has two main use cases:
- Sends real-time alerts to registered users during lane closures and crashes and when a new work zone is activated; and
- Work zone data collection, tracking, and archiving. SWiZAPP can post live activities from construction and can view both real-time and historical activities of all work zones in the SWZDI states.
Field tests were conducted in four work zone sites in the City of Columbia, Missouri. The key metrics used to evaluate SWiZAPP during the field tests were geolocation accuracy, user-friendliness and scalability. To evaluate the user friendliness of the app, the researchers conducted a survey asking about the ease of navigating the app.
- Consider limitations of the app such as over-reliance on internet access. When construction work zones take place in rural areas where internet access is limited, the app should still work offline. For example, the field tests found one of the key bottlenecks of SWiZAPP is its reliance on internet access. It is recommended that the app could be redesigned to store work-zone information locally on the phone when there is no internet access. The locally stored data could later be pushed to the frontend and backend after the user re-enters an area with internet access.
- Test the scalability of the app by increasing the size of the app’s database over time and measuring the resulting latency. The delay between user activity post time and the activity broadcast time should be measured to test efficiency. For example, delays in upload speeds were observed as the database size increased over 1 GB. It is suggested to deploy a cluster of servers to avoid latency due to expanding database over time.
- Integrate the app with key transportation data management systems. For a work zone app similar to SWiZAPP, it is suggested that concerted efforts be made to integrate it with key transportation data management systems, traveler information systems (e.g., 511), and other transportation data archival systems. An application programming interface could be developed to allow agencies and developers to query and explore the app’s database in real-time. This way agencies and developers can give feedback regarding the data validity and suggestions on improving the app’s performance.
- Consider enabling the app with a chat area for communication between work-zone workers and Department of Transportation (DOT) workers. The chat area can be used to seek approval for unplanned activities. In addition, chat data storage in the app’s database would be useful in documenting work-zone activities on a particular day.