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​​The National Transportation Communications for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Protocol is a family of Standards that define the functional control and communications profiles for electronic traffic control equipment.

The NTCIP has received funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, as part of the Intelligent Transportation Systems program, and is a joint project of these groups:

  • NEMA
  • American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)
  • Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE)

NEMA initiated the development of the NTCIP in 1992. Since then, AASHTO and ITE joined with NEMA to form a Joint Committee on the NTCIP, which provides guidance for the overall project. The Joint Committee has in turn formed 14 technical working groups to develop and maintain the Standards, and has initiated or produced over joint 50 Standards and information reports.

NTCIP Website Resources

  • A document library (including the drafts that are waiting for publication and those available for user comment).
  • Discussion forums for outreach and deployment, Testing NTCIP systems, comments on each of the Standards, and for status reports of the committees.
  • A protocol chart to aid the user in selecting the compatible Standards that can be used for deployment of equipment over different communications media.

Those interested in volunteering to serve on the NTCIP working groups should contact the NTCIP Coordinator at NEMA. Project participants have access to password-protected FTP areas and e-mail listservs.

History of the NTCIP Development

In early 1993, the FHWA brought together transportation industry representatives to discuss the obstacles in the way of installing equipment for new Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). The representatives said that the number one priority was the need for an industry-wide Standard communications protocol. Since the NEMA Transportation Section Members had already started a part of a new industry Standard, they offered to expedite and expand the scope of their activities.

The key objects of the new NTCIP protocol were the interchangeability of similar roadside devices, and the interoperability of different types of devices on the same communications channel.

In 1996, the FHWA suggested a partnership of Standards developing organizations to expand both user and industry involvement. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) signed an agreement with NEMA to establish the Joint Committee on the NTCIP, and to work together on completing the NTCIP.

Parts of the NTCIP Family

The development of the NTCIP Standards documents branched off in two directions: object definitions and communications profiles.

  • Object definitions define particular types of roadside devices and control products, such as traffic signal controllers or dynamic message signs.
    • An “object” is an abstract computer term, representing a range of values or functions that can be accessed or remotely controlled. The object is “defined,” like in a dictionary, so that everyone uses the same spelling of its name.) The definition of the objects is based on another Internet Standard developed for controlling networked computers.
  • Communications profiles identify Standard groupings of layered profiles. The profiles are also based on international communications Standards.

The analogy is sometimes made that the objects are the “vocabulary,” and the profiles are the communications rules (“you talk; I listen”), that allow devices from different manufacturers to talk with each other and operate as a system.

Beginning in 1999, the field deployment of interoperable equipment was a success because the NTCIP enabled equipment from different manufacturers to interoperate and control:

  • Actuated traffic signal systems
  • Variable message signs
  • Environmental sensor stations

More types of roadside devices are on the way.




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