Researchers in Sunnyvale, Calif., have developed an advanced traffic congestion tracking system that also crunches data from 14,000 sensors, in some cases every 30 seconds, to analyze evolving rush-hour patterns. As applied in www.BeatTheTraffic.com, the system can tell commuters how long they can expect to sit in their cars, which shortcuts will get them home faster that day, and even the best time to leave the home or office.
The tool is now available to commuters in 45 US cities, with the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area just now coming online.
Tied to a statistical database that tracks how traffic conditions develop, the software suggests a commute based on congestion that may arise, not traffic status at the time of departure. Based on such statistics, the researchers have found that many commuters can save more time by altering their departure time than they would using mass transit.
In use for more than a year in states from Illinois to Alaska, www.BeatTheTraffic.com is user-tailored down to the scale of individual roads—a result of the extensive and disparate government data sources driving the software.
Developed by Triangle Software with the support of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, the tool is currently serving about 35,000 commuters.
The website interface includes a base map of all roads, with average traffic speed and any obstacles such as accidents or construction mapped to each of 32,000,000 road segments. The software feeds this data to the routing engine, which can toggle travel options to find the quickest possible trip under real-time conditions.
Routes are personalized, so a user can continually track status on a number of regular paths, such as “home to grocery” or “office to gym,” all of which are continuously recomputed to reflect new problems that may arise.
The researchers are close to releasing a new application that may eventually combine the accumulating road data with weather and holiday traffic information to generate seven-day forecasts for travel.
BeatTheTraffic.com is better at exploiting live traffic data from transportation departments and law enforcement than any previous system. The site works similarly to a real-time Google, finding specialized data for road conditions amidst a rapidly changing map.—Andre Gueziec, lead researcher
The improvements are driven by a number of new developments, including the database-driven personalization engine, flexible routing engine, and efficient archiving and retrieval system.
The system already sends a text message to cell phones and other wireless devices when a route is experiencing a substantial delay, and the researchers are now exploring ways to integrate this function with car navigation systems.