AUSTIN (KXAN) — Velodyne Lidar Pilot may sound like the latest character from the Star Wars franchise, but it actually references one of the new techniques the Austin Transportation Department is using to help keep pedestrians safe. The Smart Mobility Office partnered with Velodyne to test their lidar-based solution. The technology monitors traffic patterns and identifies safety measures that could help the city reach its Vision Zero goals.

The pilot program is set up at East Seventh Street and Springdale Road. Both roadways are part of Austin’s High-Injury Network, or roads that make up just 8% of the city’s streets but account for nearly 70% of the city’s serious injury or deadly crashes.

ATD is testing this new mobility solution because of its potential to protect identifiable information while helping ATD collect important traffic data that informs policy, education, and engineering. If the technology is successful, the equipment and service may be scaled leading to system-wide improvements in data collection and analysis, but currently, the city is testing the solution at no cost.

KXAN Traffic Anchor Amanda Dugan spoke with the Director of Transportation for the City of Austin, Rob Spillar, about the technology and where he feels it will benefit the most Austinites.

What is Velodyne Lidar?

Lidar, like radar, is an acronym and stands for “light detection and ranging.”

“It has been around a long time, but we are using it in new ways in a sense,” Spillar said. “What it does is it’s deployed at intersections, it sends out a light stream not visible to the human eye. It sends back data, it’s almost like radar in a sense. It doesn’t collect identification or even take a picture. The theory is, let’s say there’s a person with mobility challenges trying to get across the intersection and it’s taking them a longer period of time. In the future, we feel we can use this data to say back to the intersection, ‘”Hey, hold on you’ve got a pedestrian in the middle of the street. You need to hold that green or hold that red.”

Are you looking at which areas will benefit the most?

“We don’t know how we might deploy it. It really depends on the outcome of the pilot. How do you put a price on the safety of a person crossing a roadway? It may be valuable in a low frequency or high-frequency location. So, all of that’s to come.”