Real-Time Traffic Information

The temperature is hovering at 100 degrees, and your temper is even hotter. Why? Because you're stuck in traffic that has been stopped for so long you are beginning to think the cars around you are some crazy artist's idea of conceptual sculpture. Not only that, but you realize that if only you had known the traffic was going to come to a standstill you could have exited earlier, picked up an alternate route and been well on your way. In psychological jargon, it's a form of cognitive dissonance. No, you didn't really foul up, but the results make it seem like you did.

Right now, though, we are teetering on the verge of a new era in which real-time traffic information, specific to your route, gets to you in time for you to do something about it. This, of course, has always been the issue with radio-delivered traffic reports, which have been beamed to us for two generations. Frequently radio traffic reports give you a clear picture of traffic conditions on routes dozens of miles from you, while blithely ignoring the most important route of the moment, namely, the one you're on right now. Radio traffic reports also provide an excellent source of information about the traffic jam you are already stuck in but a relatively poor job of helping you avoid getting stuck in the first place.

All that is about to change. A company called Kivera, which provides "location-based products and services," has joined with TrafficCast, a traffic information company and digital traffic data provider, to integrate TrafficCast's predictive data feed with Kivera's location-based software. The new combination will enable wireless, directory assistance, telematics, and logistics companies to deliver estimated travel time and alternative route information to their customers almost instantaneously on demand.

Drawing from numerous sources including Departments of Transportation, emergency service agencies, law enforcement, government call centers, private data sources and highway sensors all over the U.S., TrafficCast's data feed provides travel time given variables such as traffic jams, accidents, construction delays and detours.

Wireless subscribers can now use the Kivera location engine and traffic server in conjunction with TrafficCast data to receive an alert for their commute to work before they set out, request an alternative route to avoid delays caused by jams, accidents, or road construction, or, if stuck in a jam, find out the expected delay, locate the nearest available exit and obtain a reroute using surface streets or freeway alternates.

How will the real-time and predictive traffic information work for you? It sounds simple, but thousands of data points might be involved in creating the decisions involved. First, as you are ready to leave on your journey, a route is determined. Based on the most recent traffic information, a problem is detected in the planned route and a construction report is displayed. Due to the size and thus the impact of the road construction, a detour is recommended, and an alternate route is generated, which you take. As the journey progresses, you receive a traffic alert warning of a severe accident ahead. Due to the severity of the incident and the expected delays associated with it, you are re-routed again. Finally, you arrive at your destination in the quickest possible time.

If you had taken the "regular" route, you would have been delayed by construction and then an accident. If you had taken the "alternate" route you would have avoided the construction delay but still have been slowed by the accident. By using the traffic data provided to you en route, either via your wireless or telematics in your vehicle, you have been able to save a substantial amount of time. And you know what time is.

Best of all, this is not distant-future stuff. The hardware, software and delivery systems are on-line now. All we have to do is put them together.

Auto journalist Tom Ripley, who lives in Villeperce, France, is frequently stuck in traffic around Paris.