TrafficCast launches cellular probe traffic management system

Published 8 November 2006

Now deployed in Shanghai, system analyzes GPS and signaling data to report on traffic location and speed; a boon to city planners concerned about congestion, technology could make its mark in the disaster response business

City planners typically focus their efforts on luring people into their city. Getting them out, well that is another story. Yet that is the challenge faced by emergency response officials when a disaster strikes. With flood waters rising, or radiation levels mounting, citizens must be evacuated, and the evacuation must be as orderly and safe as conditions permit. We have in the past reported on various companies that offer sensor-based traffic management systems, but such approaches require large upfront infrastructure costs. A new system offered by Madison, Wisconsin-based TrafficCast lets the citizens bear most of the financial burden. Recently deployed in China ahead of the 2008 Olympics, this cellular probe system takes data from citizens’ cell phones and turns it into actionable information about traffic flow.

In order to pull off the project, TrafficFlow teamed up with China Mobile, one of the largest cell phone providers in the country with more than 10 million subscribers in Shanghai alone. To identify traffic patterns, TrafficFlow simply retrieves anonymous mobile phone position and signaling data (a “cellular probe”), which are collected, analyzed, and converted into travel time and speed information. Thus, if large numbers of citizens are moving toward a certain road, the government can change the traffic lights to facilitate their movement or, if so desired, guide them toward a less congested area.

This is a smart approach to a serious problem, and TrafficCast has announced plans to move the system into the American and European markets. We wonder, however, if privacy concerns will interfere. Europeans in particular are getting testy about government intrusion, and the suggestion that officials were tracking their location is certain to raise nervous eyebrows.

-read more in this company news release