IBM Commuter App Could Unravel Travel Tangles

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IBM researchers are applying predictive analysis algorithms to dispel commuter traffic jams

IBM is developing a smartphone app for drivers that will predict traffic snarl ups before they happen and plot a route that could save time for commuters every day.

The problem with traffic reports is that they deal with traffic conditions after they happen. When the report comes through on the radio or satnav, it merely confirms what the drivers already know: they are stuck in a long queue of traffic.

Relief Roads For Smarting Travellers

The IBM Smarter Traveller app, currently being tested in the San Francisco Bay area, uses GPS information gathered from the users smartphone. It keeps track of frequent journeys for each driver and feeds the data into a traffic flow predictive analysis program.

Using live data from traffic flow monitors installed by the California Department of Transportation and the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) at Berkeley University of California, it looks for patterns that indicate when a traffic build-up is likely to occur and offers the drivers alternative routes to avoid the jams that may be building up.

The results of the analysis and suggested re-routing is emailed or text messaged to each user before they start out on their journey and the result, hopefully is a faster, trouble-free journey.

John Day, IBM’s Smarter Traveller programme manager, said that live reports are useful. “What we really care about is getting that information 30 or 40 minutes in advance, rather than waiting till you’re already stuck in traffic. For travellers, we keep track of everywhere you go and within two or three weeks we can derive what your typical commute is – where you live and where you travel to. The idea then is that we do the calculations just before you typically leave, and what the travel time is for that particular route. We deliver it just before you set out so you are not distracted while you’re driving.”

The project was spurred by last year’s IBM’s Global Pain Commuter Study which looked at commuter problems in some of the world’s most economically important cities which discovered that journeys are often more gruelling than previously thought.

When the app will be released to the rest of the world has not yet been determined because it is still in the testing phase.

The danger is that all drivers who are faced with hitting the same jam will be re-routed and the effect would be to move the problem elsewhere. However, as information is gathered and analysed, the system could be installed by transportation local transportation departments to act as am intelligent traffic cop dispersing vehicles across the road system on differing routes to reach the same destination more rapidly and with much less stress.

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