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Handhelds Hardware

Using Cellular Traffic to Monitor Traffic Jams 219

An Anonymous Coward writes "The BBC has this story about Scots company Applied Generics and their plan to use cellphone location data to determine where there are traffic jams and (presumably) generate (and sell?) evasive routing tactics for drivers. They are using both passive cellular traffic (what you get when the phone is switched on) and active (drivers phoning up to say they'll be late - in standing traffic, I hope) to look for clusters of immobile cellphones along major routes. The whole idea has a sort of "why didn't I think of that?" neatness. Personally I wouldn't mind my own traffic being used wholesale (aggregated with thousands of other users), but how do other /.ers feel about a company profiting from data emitted by the cellphone that they paid for?"
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Using Cellular Traffic to Monitor Traffic Jams

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  • by pieterh ( 196118 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:34AM (#3692625) Homepage
    The general rule is: add road capacity, and more people will drive. Inevitably a technology like this will feed back into mobile guidance systems based on GPS, with the final result that every road, major to minor, will be congested equally heavily. Building new roads or using smarter routing techniques will not cut traffic congestion. Living closer to work and using a bike or walking will.
    • You've just described optimal load balancing, which can't be a bad thing! Though I agree that alternatives to commuting should be proactively explored - I'd LOVE to "work" from home at my research job.

      Researching Neverwinter Nights for instance ;)
      • But then you won't be present for all the useless meetings.....

        At least that's the mindset where I work. Please TRY to convince the management where I work that this is a viable alternative.

        As a programmer, I can connect to the network at work via a VPN that has already been established for remote offices. However, I need to drive the 45 minutes each way to sit at a desk and do the same stuff I can do from home. Heck, they don't even think the programmers should get a laptop. Instead, we take notes at meetings and use our desktop computers to provide the answers afterwards.

    • by Wobbit ( 175156 ) <{ ... {rekcabed.retep}> on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:38AM (#3692641)
      What you say is true, but as long as we have these roads, we should use them to their full potential. I agree we should look for alternative ways of transportation, or encourage people to go and live closer to their work, but that dosn't mean we can't optimize road usage.
      • As far as I can see, and this is confirmed by my own experience of two decades of commuting, people drive because they do not seriously try to find alternatives. Make an effort, look for places to live in the inner cities, find ways to work from home... all these will add to one's quality of life, save hours of wasted time, and cut the amount of waste caused by pushing a ton of metal around the countryside.

        So, anything that makes driving less pleasant must be a 'good thing' in this respect, and anything that delays the inevitable must be a bad thing.

        Typically people stick to highways, and these will get blocked while smaller roads will stay free. I can't see that 'load balancing' cars onto smaller roads is a good thing. It won't cut anyone's travel time. It won't reduce the total number of cars. It will simply create more accessible road space.

        As for the 'potential' of roads: the capacity of a road decreases once you get past a certain car density. The only way I can see of optimizing road usage is to charge for it and raise the price until usage drops to this density.

        • look for places to live in the inner cities.... all these will add to one's quality of life

          Wow! What a clinker! I guess I'll go walk out in the trees near the field behind my 100 year old farm house, listen to the birds singing, and ponder on your pithy statement.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          when some one invents and mass produces transporters, it won't matter :). Bad star trek joke.
          • You need to track down and read Larry Niven's article Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation, which is in the collection All the Myriad Ways (now out of print). Among other things, he invented the idea of the flash crowd, which is typified these days by a site being slashdotted.
        • by warpSpeed ( 67927 ) <> on Thursday June 13, 2002 @08:34AM (#3692836) Homepage Journal
          As far as I can see, and this is confirmed by my own experience of two decades of commuting, people drive because they do not seriously try to find alternatives. Make an effort, look for places to live in the inner cities, find ways to work from home...

          Speaking as one of those "people", we do not commute using public transport because there generally is no "serious" alternative avaiable. In Washington DC, the metro is just dandy, if you count beeing packed into a sardine can and standing for 30 min to an hour a nice way to commute. Not to mention the lack of parking after 7 am at all the major sububian stations. and the close to $12 round trip cost for parking and fare

          It is FAR cheaper, and takes less time (20 min) for me to drive into DC, and get two parking tickets a week then it is to take the Metro.

          When a real commuting alternatives are available I would use it, until then stop blaming the commuter, they are in their cars for economic and time saving reasons. Why should the sacrifice thier time and money?

          Raise the price of gas and lower the cost of public transport, and make it more efficient/convinient, then we can talk.

        • Ya know, some of us treasure that 1/2 to 1 hour spent commuting.

          Granted, I do have to put up with some of the other stoopid drivers.

          But them aside, that's a garunteed hour that I can be alone, in my comfy vehicle, left alone to my thoughts.

          It's an hour where I can listen to whatever music or books I want.

          It's an hour where I don't have to listen to anyone's requests, orders, demands, whining, or otherwise be disturbed.

          It's an hour that's MINE. And while it's sometimes stressful thanks to traffic, I'll take it gladly.
        • Make an effort, look for places to live in the inner cities

          I'll happily live in zone 1 in London. However I'll need to cough up 5 times as much rent for a place smaller than I have now.

          People don't use the trains because they're a death trap, smelly, badly maintained, unreliable and nearly always late.

          People don't use buses because they're slow, unreliable, smelly, badly maintained and nearly always late.

          People don't like using the tubes because they're badly maintained, too hot in the summer, freezing cold in the winter and massivily crowded because other people are using them over buses and trains.

          So what do you have left? Cars. Yes it takes longer to get into work, but you don't pay an insanely large amount of money for the privilidge of being rammed up in a stuffy carriage against a glass window with 15 other people shoved against you.

          • You are exaggerating - I live in London too, and the trains and tubes are not that bad (at least from where I live). Calling the trains 'a death trap' is ironic when you consider that railway transport is one of the safest ways to travel - far more people die every year on the roads, but this is virtually invisible since it happens in many small accidents, compared to the large and well publicised rail accidents.

            The real solution is time shifting and working from home - I commute into work at 9 to 9.30 am and the tubes are nearly empty.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        True, but I think that bigger effects can be achieved by distributing the traffic more evenly over time (i.e. avoid rush-hours) than to distribute it over space. The primary reason that we have traffic jams is that almost everybody works 9 to 5. As a consequence we design our roads for this peak traffic while most of the time they are almost empty.
        • Time shifting... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by pieterh ( 196118 )
          This could work... your alarm clock 'bings' and says 'don't bother getting up... the roads are all blocked, and I've taken the liberty of shifting your schedule today forward by two hours. Your boss will also be late, so don't worry about an excuse.'

          We have something like this in Belgium, where mobile phone users can ring a central service to warn of traffic jams and delays. It works well, only it's about 30 minutes delayed, so occasionally you hear warnings of accidents and traffic jams that have already cleared-up.

          The best use of this service is when they warn about 'ghost drivers', meaning idiots who are driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road. I wonder if a cellphone-based system could detect this as well?

          • Here in Toronto, you can take a look at the roads at the Compass [] site. Of course, it'll generally tell you that the highways are either slow but moving, or stuck.

            Once a friend left my place, then cell phoned from a jam. I checked the page and told her that it would clear up in another mile or so...

          • The best use of this service is when they warn about 'ghost drivers', meaning idiots who are driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road. I wonder if a cellphone-based system could detect this as well?

            I doubt the signal strength from one side of the road is significantly stronger or weaker than on the other. Direction could be determined easily enough, but you wouldn't be able to tell if one of the vehicles was on the other side of the road.

            Here in Arizona we get lots of snow-birds (retirees - many whose only discretion is their discretionary income) each winter who shouldn't be allowed to drive. One snow-bird called her husband to warn him of a news report of someone driving on the wrong side of the freeway. His response? "I know, but it's not just one car, it's hundreds!!"
    • True. Adding more roads does yields more traffic, and the only read solution is to reduce mobility. But meanwhile - visa versa - it seems logical to aim road improvements at regions where congestion is highest. This is more efficient than just building roads and waiting for traffic to come use it. Why use (taxpayer's) money and use up space and natural recources for roads that aren't used.

      ...And for the problem of finding the bottlenecks, this system might help to some extent. So: wear/use your mobile to vote!

      Of course, we're not there yet.
    • by CaptainAlbert ( 162776 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:59AM (#3692710) Homepage
      > The general rule is: add road capacity, and
      > more people will drive.

      At best, this applies only up to a point. At worst, it's a myth - and a dangerous one. Roads aren't just for car drivers! They're also for cyclists, motobikes and buses. The congestion problem in London (UK) is particularly acute to the extent that the administration is trying to introduce tolls for entering the city centre.

      How can they persuade more people to ditch their cars and use public transport? By providing reliable bus and underground services. No-one uses London buses in rush hour, because they're too slow. Why? Because there's so much traffic on the roads, caused by the people who won't take the bus... the only way to break the cycle is to reduce congestion. This means reducing the density of traffic, either by (a) removing cars from the roads, or (b) making the roads bigger, or (c) both of the above.

      In London at least, roads don't "cause traffic" as you suggest. No-one in their right mind would try driving in/through London if they didn't absolutely have to.

      The issue with cyclists is the same. Nobody want to cycle in central London because it's so dangerous. Why? Because of all the traffic... and so on. Why don't more people walk, instead of driving half a mile down the road? Because the roads are lethal for pedestrians and the pelicon crossings take forever to change. Why? because of all the tra.... :)

      Of course, any move to impose congestion charging / extra taxation / higher petrol prices or whatever are met with huge resistance from motoring groups. But by continuing to overuse their cars, they only make the situation worse for themselves.

      OK, time to stop my off-topic ranting. I just get irate about these things. :) BTW I don't own a car and neither does my wife; we take the train to work because it's cheaper and safer.
      • There's a problem with your first point: Motorists and biciclists like different types of roads.

        I take my bicicle most of the time, and I become ever more acutely aware of this, especially when I start noting the different routes I and my wife(in her car since she has had knee surgery) take to the exact same place.

        Motorists like streets with high speed limits and mulitple lanes. And they don't care much one way or another about how wide the shoulders are or how good the drainage is on the road.

        On my bike, I am intensely interested in having very wide shoulders and drainage matters since I hate riding through standing rain water. I also prefer not having multiple lanes since I often have to ride straight in right turn only lanes and turning left with multiple lanes is such a pain I normally just cross the street twice with the light on those roads.

        And while I won't hesitate to ride even on high speed roads, I get a lot more nervous when cars are whipping past me at 45-50 mph than I do when they slip by at 30-35.

        I think it would help if cities started desining roads more with bicyclists and pedestrians in mind. Give us wider shoulders, lower speeds(just a little!), better drainage, and maybe hike the tax on gas and more people would walk/ride

        Better public transportation would help too. I don't mind riding to/from work and school, but when I'm shopping the car helps to carry the purchases, even relatively small items and over 5 miles I don't want to take my bike. But I could deal with public transportation...
    • The general rule is: add road capacity, and more people will drive.

      Traffic increasing as more road space is added is something which has been known about for the last 70-80 years.

      Living closer to work and using a bike or walking will.

      One of the reasons people don't do this is that they have to use the same roads choked with traffic. So they risk injury from being hit by cars and having to breath the exhaust...
  • Good idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by jukal ( 523582 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:35AM (#3692629) Journal
    Next in the same series: using cell locations to guide missiles to achieve more casualties. The high-tech way of saying "shut-up!".
    • Next in the same series: using cell locations to guide missiles to achieve more casualties.

      You mean like this []? (Hint: read the second paragraph)

      For the link lazy, here is what it says:
      • It is a well-founded fear. During the First Chechen War, in April 1996, Dzhokar Dudayev, President of the Muslim republic of Chechnya, was killed by the Russians after a foreign satellite and Russian airborne intercept stations pinpointed the location of his satellite phone. A single Russian attack aircraft fired two laser guided missiles homed in on Dudayev's satellite phone. One missile exploded a few feet from Dudayev, killing him instantly. Dudayev was then making a call on his satellite phone. There was widespread speculation that the satellite used to pinpoint Dudayev's location was American.
      • I remember reading that cell phones were used as assasination weapons in Israel. Replace your opponent's cell phones with one doctored, with explosives. Place a call to your target, if he answers himself, you send a signal that blows up the phone, and blows his head off.

        This could be another reason why UBL avoided them.

  • by MadKeithV ( 102058 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:35AM (#3692630)
    They use this to determine if you've been speeding?

    "Jim, this guy only took 5 minutes between node 1 and node 2, he must have been travelling over the speed limit!"

    Oh well, I guess they've secured funding for this project that way :)
    • How convenient, they can charge your cell phone bill for the violation.
    • by fallacy ( 302261 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:52AM (#3692685)
      Just think of how many fines you'd get if you frequently used the train.

      Well, provided it's not a British Rail train, that it is...
      • Like the fighter pilot who called his wife from the cockpit of his fighter and got his phone barred because the software reckoned nothing could travel so fast between cells so one of them had to be fraudulent.
      • Well, provided it's not a British Rail train, that it is...

        Inded, I have never been on a train that has travelled faster then 70mph over an entire journey. Hence I go by car.

        I swore I'd never attempt to go by train again after I left the house for the 5:30 train from Exeter to London on a saturday morning. Got to station, parked car, paid £10 for parking, went to platform.


        Next train was over 3 hours later, and invovled at least 2 changes - and we didnt have reserved seats there (the tickets were for this train only).

        2*£26 tickets, 1*£10 parking, and I'd traveled 3 miles.

        Hopped back in car, tore up the empty M5 at 85-90. Stopped for a cup of coffee at a service station (after 4 hours sleep it was essential). £2.

        No problems along the M4, didnt stop between taunton service station and leaving the M4. Pulled into a garage, got a street atlas (£5), filled up car (£19). Carried on for a few miles, stopped in hammersmith (free parking) to get a shirt at 9AM.

        9:20AM connection I would have caught arrives at paddington
        9:40AM: Park next to hyde park. £6.50 for the weekend.
        Leave bags in car, go around london
        £20 for petrol on the way back.

        £47 via car, £62 via train. Naturally I'm still waiting (since january) for my money back for the tickets, and car park.

        Car took 20 minutes longer, including a stop for a shirt.

        Even in the UK, where our public transport system is miles better then the U.S apparently, and with ~50p/litre fuel tax, its cheaper, more comfy, and quicker, to travel by car then train. And cars dont get canceled without notifying you when you have bought apex tickets.

        having said that, the tube in zone 1 is great. 2 isnt bad either.
    • I heard they do something like this on toll roads in France. Your are clocked when you enter and leave the toll road and if that leads to an average speed thats to high you'll get fined.
      • They threatened this in Toronto Canada on our new automatic toll highway. The toll highway snaps a picture of you're license on the way in, and on the way off the highway, and they bill you per km travelled. Of course there are times attatched to the pictures, and traffic is usually light, so most cars clip along at upto 160km/h (that's like 73mph for the yanks in the crowd).

        It's always just been a threat, and no real action was taken.
        • are those Canadian kilometers per hour or something? last i checked there's only 1.61 km to the mile, of course i'm just a stupid yank, so i could be wrong.
  • by yebb ( 142883 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:35AM (#3692632)
    they also indicated, for how long trafic had been stopped/slow. The article makes mention that this technology isn't that functional because it doesn't give any indication about the reason for the slowdown, but if there is a time period associated with the trafic jam, driver could make assumptions about what the problem was, and wether or not to find alternate routes.
  • by nfras ( 313241 )
    It doesn't seem to use any personal details, just how many phones are switched on in a certain area. I suppose that major office buildings with lots of office phones could cause problems (appearing as a localised traffic jam). Go for it I say, it would seem to make life easier.
    • I know quite a few people who use Cellular phones instead of wired phones for home use. No telemarketing calls, better long distance deals, etc. So people will be routed away from their house? What about airports where people wait to get onto planes use their cell phones. The system will always think the airport is locked in, and send you around the terminal in a loop. The point is that unless the phones are equipped with GPS they cannot determine the exact location close enough to know if someone is actually on the road or next to it. It seems the resolution of cellular bases wouldn't be high enough for an accurate reflection of automobile traffic.
    • I'd assume they would use some kind of filtering, where if that source of shedloads of calls hasn't moved in days/weeks/months then they're pretty sure it's an office building, not a traffic jam.

      Of course, it could instead be a set of passengers on a train run by Virgin...

      Would an extrapolation of this system be possibly used to detail train delays too? It's a wacky idea, but they haven't come up with anything else yet to reliably report that a) the train's late or b) that the train even exists (knowing some train operating companies propensity for cancelling them altogether.)

    • As long as there is no invasion of privacy, I don't see a prolem either. IMO this is fair use of data they legally aquire in the course their of operations.
  • I don't have any problem with them using my cellphone's location like this - that information is already out there (or the phone wouldn't work), so this is simply a matter of an ancillary benefit. As long as nobody's actually tracking me, personally... and if I were worried about that I'd turn the cell phone off.
    • You can't just turn off the cell phone,
      you have to yank the battery (cell phones are one
      of those "never totally off" devices)

      By the way, do you guys care that all new
      cell phones are required to have GPS (in the US
  • Pf (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zmooc ( 33175 ) <> on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:41AM (#3692648) Homepage
    ...but how do other /.ers feel about a company profiting from data emitted by the cellphone that they paid for?"

    This company isn't profiting from data emitted by the specific cellphone you paid for, they're profiting from the collective data emitted by all cellphones around. What's wrong with that? Why would it be wrong for anyone to listen to a certain (group of) frequenc[y|ies] and produce statistical information from the data they receive?! I personally think this is a great idea and if you are having problems with someone receiving the data you send out on a certain frequency then don't send it where everyone can receive it.

    • I agree - and if they're triangulating the phone's position from the base stations, then the position data isn't being emitted by the cellphones at all. That data only appears at the base stations.
    • but how do other /.ers feel about a company profiting from data emitted by the cellphone that they paid for?
      My instinct is that this is fine but, obviously, if some, even a handful, of the drivers involved feel concerns, that has to be taken seriously in this and whatever similiar situations the future throws at us.

      What we need is corporate transparency, just like the governmental transparency the people of the world have slowly been winning, but in this case we need it from the people who now have the real power; it's not enough for them to tell us that they're trustworthy.

      Transparency is great, transparency is one of the things that makes Open Source such a powerful concept. Find out why we now need Open Source corporations here [].

      • What we need is corporate transparency [...] it's not enough for them to tell us that they're trustworthy.

        Wouldn't it be enough if it just were technologically impossible to gather information about individual cell phone users? I acknowledge that solving real-world problems with "new technologies" is generally a bad idea, but it should be possible to measure the number of cell phones at a particular location by tracking the amount of radion signals without knowing anything about the signal's contents.
        • "it should be possible to measure the number of cell phones at a particular location by tracking the amount of radion signals without knowing anything about the signal's contents."

          Yeah, but there's a big difference between knowing that every 3 minutes for the past 30 minutes, there's been approximately 10 cell phones at intersection X and knowing that the same 10 cell phones have been stuck at intersection X for the past 30 minutes. One just implies an average of 10 cell phone users worth of traffic through the area while the other implies an actual traffic stop.

      • What we need is corporate transparency, just like the governmental transparency the people of the world have slowly been winning
        Governmental transparency has it's cost - the Labour Party here in the UK used to have chinese walls between their fundraisers and the executive, so policy could not be affected by donations. Now that it's all in the Commons register, anyone can go and look up who's sponsoring the parties, and accuse them of giving favours to their donors. It's getting so bad that we're considering state financing of political parties to remove this element of corruption. It's a nice idea on the surface, but has dangerous consequences (which parties get funded and how much?)
    • I agree. Even in case you are actually paying the phone company (Ie in a phone converstion vs. stand-by) and this data is used solely to determine a "degree of congestion", I would not consider this company stealing anything. I don't consider highway patrol eating from the money I payed for my car as I pass a traffic monitoring camera. (...OK forget about those times you pay a speeding fine ;-)

      ...But I guess cell phone data of the type "X is at Y", or "X is making a call at Y" doesn't add a lot to current traffic info. By the time this system has figured out there is congestion at some junction based on cell phone calls, the congestion will allready have spreaded (at approx. 20km/h in opposite direction) and you are likely to be just in the middle. To provide evasive routing and traffic speed control you need much more accurate data at very low latency.

      To build a predicitive model, you could use data of individual cell phone routes. For large data sets this could result in a very acurate model of comuting traffic, which could be used to find predictive patterns.

      So how about a company tracking your whereabouts through your cellular? Even in case your privacy is "respected", wouldn't that be frighning?
    • Granted the data will be used to create a non-specific statistical model, but in order to do that, they'll have to collect data on individual phones. If someone has that data, how long before the police show up, asking that the where-abouts of a particular phone for the last three days be pulled from the raw data?
    • by iiii ( 541004 )
      if you are having problems with someone receiving the data you send out on a certain frequency then don't send it where everyone can receive it.

      I totally agree. As a corrolary to that, I have a big problem with companies that broadcast on the public spectrum and then say it is illegal to use their signal without paying them. Like satellite tv and radio.

      Hey, I didn't ask to be bombarded with their broadcasts, and I have no contracts or agreements with them, yet they send signals right to my house. Why shouldn't I be able to do whatever I want with those signals? (Including decrypting them and watching/listening to them, if I can) If they don't want me to use them don't send them to my house!!

      Same goes for cell phone and any other broadcasts. The people/companies that send out the broadcasts have to accept the risk that entails. If they want it to be private they should ensure that themselves, not rely on the law for protection.

      Laws that do offer protection for public broadcasts by prohibiting listening (cell wiretapping laws) or decrypting (DMCA) should be eliminated. Wiretapping laws make sense for wires, and other technologies that are inherently private, not for broadcasts, which are inherently public.

      • Laws that do offer protection for public broadcasts by prohibiting listening (cell wiretapping laws) or decrypting (DMCA) should be eliminated. Wiretapping laws make sense for wires, and other technologies that are inherently private, not for broadcasts, which are inherently public.

        Great point . . . one I wish that more people had a handle on. Feel free to encrypt your broadcast to make sure (hopefully) that it remains secure, but don't expect some police activity to step in and prosecute someone who may intercept and tinker with your signal. This kind of police activity would fall into the "Orwellian" categories.

        The remainder of this post has been removed and replaced with the following summation: ditto

  • This idea has been floated before, many, many, years ago (can't find a link but there must be one) trouble was back then, the number of cell phones in use wasn't large enough to use effectively, oh and the annoying fact that you probably should triangulate the signal as opposed to just calculating time between nodes.
  • by CaptainAlbert ( 162776 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:43AM (#3692655) Homepage
    > It relies on the fact that, when switched on,
    > cellphones are in regular communication with
    > the nearest base station, giving a precise
    > location for the phone.

    > As the user moves around, their phone sends
    > signals to other base stations, allowing the
    > network's computer to log their route.

    Depends what you mean by "precise". By monitoring signal strength at all nearby antennas very carefully, you could get a reasonable fix on the UE location (but throw in a couple of tall buildings, and accuracy starts to go out the window). Currently the base stations will do this monitoring just well enough to ensure proper inter-cell handoff. That doesn't require getting an "accurate" fix on your location at all. If it were possible, it would already be done as an alternative to (e.g.) GPS.

    On a large motorway (or interstate, or autoroute, or whatever you have in your country), this would probably work very well. In an urban area with lots of interconnected roads and lots of buildings (full of stationary people at their desks), I don't think you'll be able to pinpoint the jam to any useful accuracy.

    Still, might serve well as an "early warning" system, so you can decide where to send the traffic helicopters. :)
    • Mmmm traffic helicopters.

      You might find a few helicopters about for taking coppers home when they are late for tea, certainly none for helping with the traffic.

      The Police in the UK are in the process of closing a lot of Police stations as they were not making a profit (not commercially viable was the term used)
    • I think large buildings etc. can be filtered out quite easily; the phones in the building are hardly moving while the phones on the street are (unless there's a traffic jam) so it should be easy to see whether there's a traffic jam; when there's no traffic jam there are a lot of phones not moving while some are driving along at relatively high speed, when there's a traffic jam the phones moving along are moving much slower. The same goes for traffic lights etc; it's cannot be that hard to differentiate certain patterns and tell what's going on.
      • I think large buildings etc. can be filtered out quite easily; the phones in the building are hardly moving while the phones on the street are
        I think you missed the original poster's point, but made a good connection of your own. I think he was just talking about the signals bouncing off of a tall position. You were actually talking about the cell phone people use in the buildings.

        Now, the problem is that we are trying to find cell phones in a traffic jam. There prolly won't be a lot of moving in a traffic jam. They could probably try to filter out any signals that come from above the street(if at all possible)

        Also, think about if there are a lot of pedestrians on cell phones. They won't be above the streets, they'll be moving right along with the cars and surface streets. They even all might be moving along as quickly as the cars, and may be thought of as a traffic jam. I'd like to see what happens when a parade goes on.
        • Cars usually drive a larger distances than pedestrians do, so you could assume everything that moved at least 5km. in 10 minutes is a car. After a while you've identified a lot of individual cars and just keep the rest of the phones out of the equation until they show the signs of a car. When x% of the identified cars suddenly slow down at a certain point you know there's a traffic jam (or everybody collectively throws their cellphone out of the window). When an identified car suddenly stops for a "long" time while others keep going, just delete this car from the carlist; the car stopped and/or the driver got out. You will also know in no-time where buildings are so it's really easy to keep them out of the equation. The same goes for traffic-lights, large parkings etc. Everything has it's own pattern and after analyzing the data for some time, you'll be able to recognize just about everything as long as there are enough cellphones around. It's not that hard when you realize that you only need to know that at least a few cars are moving to tell there's no traffic-jam.

          But...maybe I am wrong and this is not possible, but then this will at least be a solution for the highways (here in .nl that's where all the traffic-jams are anyway).

      • It's more complicated than that though. Think about a 4-lane highway where on some lanes the traffic is moving slowly (maybe because it's stacking back from a turnoff) and some moving very fast (like special lanes for cabs or cars with 2 or more drivers, etc.).
        Or think of a side street with a delivery truck blocking the way, two cars are waiting and standing but two bicyclists are moving past fast and another pedestrian is walking. Would the system be able to tell that the street is completely blocked for cars and re-route you? I doubt it.
        The location accuracy of phones is way to bad to be able to distinguish that. The best they can go for would be very broad traffic patterns and trends or very extreme conditions (like a highway being completely blocked). With the low accuracy it would actually be hard to tell wether a phone is in a car, on a bike, on rollerblades or even a fast-moving pedestrian. All this being in the city of course, but cities are most interesting because thats where most of the traffic is.

        Another question would be wether the GSM antenna arrays can actually perform triangulations of all these phones all the time, or wether they'd only do that if there is an incoming or outgoing call.

        It's definitely a neat idea. It would enable the mobile phone companies to generate some extra revenue by selling the traffic info.
    • Here's a paper from Ericcson [] that gives more detail about triangulation accuracy. Essentially the best you get is something like 100 meters in urban areas, depending on the method.
      It also depends on the equipment used, but I assume that mobile phone network operators install that extra equipment anyway for location based services.
  • Hey, wow! (Score:1, Redundant)

    by GutBomb ( 541585 )
    there seems to be a BIGASS traffic jam inside that skyscraper over there! I think this is a dumb idea. it's not like people turn off thier phones when no on the road. And there is going to be a higher concetration of cell phones turned on inside of office buildings than on the street. And the buildings can be retty damn close to the street too. it could look like there is a major jam at a street corner for example, when in reality, it really is just an office building that has alot of mobile phone using tenants.
  • Back in december 99 when wireless data started getting really big, a lot of people thought about doing exactly this. From a technical point of view, it's actually fairly straight forward, though time consuming. The hardest part was all the licensing and political BS. I know for a fact these ideas were proposed to the major carriers, but they couldn't decide whether or not they wanted to go ahead. Some executives did and others didn't. The end result was these kinds of projects got killed.

    Getting access to the carriers network isn't something the major carriers do happily. All of them salivated at the idea of providing highly accurate traffic data to both the transit authority, companies and consumers, but they couldn't stop bickering enough to move ahead. Most of the arguments where over the value of the technology, but whether they should develop it in house and who should lead the effort.

    For those who want to know more about cell technology here is a slide [] about CDMA, which talks about GSM and TDMA. It's biasd towards CDMA, but the information is still good.

  • I think of this as an application of remote sensing. This just saves putting a helicopter in the air to physically *look* at the traffic. You paid for your car. Are you upset that others would use the photons reflected from your car to give traffic reports? Geesh...
  • With the high crime rate and all that in our beloved country, there are a couple of security companies that install a tracking device in your vehicle to enable them to recover it when it gets stolen/hijacked. This device presumably uses GPS and sends the "breadcrumb" data to a control center over the GSM network or via radio.

    Each morning while sitting in that jam they call rush hour, I think to myself why on earth don't these companies make use of this data (possibly having their clients opt-in, since the tracking is normally only activated in an emergency).

    This would probably be much more accurate than using the mobile signals - on the other hand, I think the FCC made it mandatory to phase in GPS or some other locating device into mobile handsets.

  • Hooray!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Procrasturbator ( 585082 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @07:58AM (#3692703)
    Yes! Now when someone honks at me for driving recklessly and paying attention to the phone instead of the road, I can flip them off, and self-rightously think, "I'm helping the situation."
  • The next logical progression from using cell phones to annonymously show where there's congestion is to use them to tell who is speeding. Data could be more easilly collected for where to best set up speed traps - and the data being fed back can keep the "hot spots" up to date.

    Eventually, they'll find that billing the speeding ticket to your cell phone provider is cheaper than running all of those black helicopters to keep a physical eye on everyone. When it becomes legal to fine all of the occupants of the car for speeding (four cell phones, four tickets), then passengers will have an incentive to keep their driver legal.
  • I thought the reason businesses weren't already tracking cellphones was because it is kinda a privacy issue... the data could be horribly misused if cellphones could be individually identified. Why not just imbed a generic "I'm someone's car and I'm here" chip in every car and track that?
  • Here's a link [] to a Washington Post link ($$$ since it's a couple years old). Scroll down a bit to get to the article/link.

    But the DC area was considering this along sections of the Capital Beltway back in '99.

  • You had more than one phone? I'm sure there are people out there with three or four. Not to mention any passengers phones.

    Stop at a shop and everyone within a mile gets diverted! You'd get the roads to yourself ...
  • Suppose an accident happens somewhere on the road, people will start calling and the density of mobile phones in the area will get bigger, so the system will conclude there is a traffic jam. But the people going in the other direction might just be on an nearly empty road. How will the system be able to decide for wich direction there is a trafic jam? This gets even funnier when intersections this happen on an intersection of roads (where most traffic jams occur). Based on the cell info you might conclude there is some kind of traffic jam, but you will never know to wich road in wich direction this applies. Here in Holland loops are placed in the road wich detect passing cars and there speed. This information is much better localized and gives more info about how big the jam is. In some places this system is also used to warn the upcoming trafic there is a traffic jam ahead.
    • people will start calling and the density of mobile phones in the area will get bigger

      Only if the people had their phones off, and turned them on to make a call.
    • Both sides get screwed. I've seen it many times on I-95 or the Jersey Turnpike where the accident is on my side- I'm slow for a few miles. Once I pass the accident the other side is a giant parking lot becuase they are trying to see why all those funny lights are flashing!

      And in an intersection- it just got worse. So I don't see this as a problem. Besides, if it is just traffic and intersection will get bogged down anyway. The occaisional driver wants to make that left hand turn, blocking those in his lane that want to go straight, waiting for the oncoming traffic to break. Happens all the time in DC.
  • Great idea. I like it. I wish I'd thought of it.

    But what happens when there is a coach full of executives? A coach with 60 people and 60 mobile phones. Would the system read this as 60 cars full of people?

    Good idea but some problems I think.
  • My Plan (Score:5, Funny)

    by finny ( 107762 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @08:09AM (#3692759)
    is to cut my commute in half by buying loads of second-hand cell phones and packing them into a fleet of station wagons strategically driven by hired teenagers.
  • The problem with this is that since the cells can only handle a maximum number of users, the "top" of the curve will be chopped off, not showing the true "jam".

    Have you ever tried to phone home in a traffic jam?
  • by jonelf ( 99217 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @08:14AM (#3692774) Homepage
    The police here in Sweden has been using mobile position for a couple of years now. It's been used in some high profile crimes like the murder of two police officers a couple of years back.
    (80% of the swedish has access to a cellular phone in their home, actually there are more celluars than cars)

    Here in Sweden we're not as concered as the USA citizens of the Big Brother/1984 scenarios. Just check out our national statistics [] also everyone in sweden has a nationwide unique number based on our birthdate. Great to use a unique identifier in databases...

    Swedens biggest mobile operator has a service where you can find your friends []
    though I have no idea why you would use it.
    Mobile Friendfinder in swedish and only for swedish people [].
  • British use (Score:2, Interesting)

    by vohlish_n ( 261634 )
    This seems to be a system in development for the UK. We have a lot of motorways, and other major routes, which do not go anywhere near cities, major offices, and especially not pedestrians. In the cases where they do (for instance, the M6/M5/M42 through Birmingham) I would have thought the software would learn that 70% of the phones in a specific area are slow-moving/stationary due to being inside an office block and that if the percentage does increase, it is a possible traffic alert.

    There are less advanced ways but more reliable means of doing this, using bridge-mounted devices to measure the speeding of vehicles (on the motorway below the bridge). We already have a system in the UK that does this - I'm not sure about the rest of Europe.

    On a slightly off-topic note, there is currently a game in the UK played via your mobile (link from called x-fire, that uses this kind of mobile location methodology to determine how close you are to other players in the country. It's electronic paint-ball! Kind of fun. [originally this came from Sweden I think]. It disturbed me that a company could access the location data of my cell-phone without me having to sign a release-form. Just a simple phone call to an automated system is all it takes to set yourself up in the game.
    • Could also be read as:-
      I would have thought the software would learn that 70% of the phones in a specific area are slow-moving/stationary due to being on the M6/M5/M42 through Birmingham
    • Re:British use (Score:2, Informative)

      In the Netherlands, practically all roads have wire loops in them every few 100 meters, and a central traffic system measures traffic speed and density. A much, much more accurate system, and one that doesn't give away drivers' identities either.

      The system already diverts traffic by advising drivers about jams, on matrix signs over the roads. The real challenge of such is to provide motorists with this accurate and up-to-date information, for example by updating their car navigation computers, or sending messages to cellphones.
    • Why use cellphones. You could create loops in the road and detect traffic with that.

      That is done at 50% of the highways in the netherlands and the result of the currect traffic is even visible by a web browser: current traffic []

  • I don't have a problem with this any more than I would a helicopter passing over me and recording the visual "data" of me sitting in a traffic jam. A more relevant analogy would be someone tracking the data of how many phone lines are paid for in a certain city block to measure population density (versus flying over and counting houses). As long as there's no eavesdropping, there's no problem.
  • least until somebody develops some sort of auto-gyro apparatus that is able to hover relatively short distance above the ground. That is the technology I am waiting for. Just think of the possibilities available with that technology! News stations could theoretically use this amazing technology to fly employees above city streets to report on traffic buildup as it happens! This Cell information using company better hope these vehicles remain science fiction for a long time to come, otherwise it could seriously cut into their bottom line.
  • Put a CPU & wireless network card in every car. Any car powered up becomes part of a computing fabric, aware of all the other cars and their position, abd able to intelligently route & prioritise traffic.
  • by hqm ( 49964 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @08:43AM (#3692868)
    In Japan where essentially everyone carries a mobile phone, at a big event such as a fireworks display, you can tell when
    there is a critical density of people around because your
    cell phone cannot acquire a channel.
    • I was in st ives, at cornwalls biggest new year party or something this year (hardly saying much, cornwall has a population of about 100,000 - spread over a 60mile by 30 mile county).

      There were a few thousand people there, and as in most of cornwall I dont get a signal away from the a30, I figured I'd beat the crowds. at 11:55 I rang my parents and kept them on hold (the crowd were about 5 seconds behind the tv countdown too).

      Tried ringing my sister at 12:05 and no luck.

      plan: stay sober enough to not throw up and be able to think ahead
  • DaimlerChrysler has been working on systems like these for a long time. Check out for an example.

    Fleetnet is about ad-hoc networks. Cars build up connections while they are in radio contact, and can exchange data. Suppose an accident happens on the highway. Cars directly behind could detect that an accident has happened, and start slowing down. Cars passing by in the other direction could pick up the information and start sending and warning other cars they drive by, warning them about the upcoming traffic jam.
    The nice thing here is that the system is decentralized, and this makes it (in theory) harder to profile single users. Also, the information lives only in regions where it is relevant.

  • Transguide in San Antonio (and presumabilly in other cities) is doing some of this now. I don't think they sell alternate routing, but the X minutes to I10 signs are kept up to date by looking at cell traffic.
  • this spring there was major construction along my normal route to work, and the delays that go with it. I looked for alternate routes, and tried several. After stop lights the alternate routes at best were equal to the main road in time. I got better gas milage because I was driving slower, but they routes were also enough longer that I used more gas anyway.

    When they start making alternate routes that work, then perhaps this will be helpful. However people are not like packets, you route my /. request through London, and I will not notice the delay despite crossing the pond twice. Route me across town in my car and my 1/2 hour commute (without construction) turns into 3 hours.

  • I think it would make me laugh when the traffic engineers will tell us that we need to add extra lanes and overpasses in the most affluent neighborhoods all over the country, the corners where the drug dealers hang out, or the arrival gate at the airport.
  • by biglig2 ( 89374 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @11:32AM (#3693969) Homepage Journal
    Well, solutions is a strong word... the governments solution to congestion in this country is to make it so incredibly bad that people are actually prepared to suffer public transport instead.

    But anyhow, the new ocngestion charge (£5 per day to drive in London) will involve cameras scanning your number plate. And to this they add centrally controlled trafifc lights so they can reduce congestion by creating gridlock outside their areas, allowing the traffic inside to clear down. All very sophisticated.
  • "Cool, a message on my phone...take the next exit to avoid the traffic jam up ahead. Ok...damn! Another traffic jam but everyone in it has a cellphone."
  • by tedtimmons ( 97599 ) on Thursday June 13, 2002 @12:43PM (#3694679) Homepage
    Hmm. So most cities don't have an even dispersion of cell phones among various neighborhoods. I'm betting that lower-class people are less likely to have a cell phone, and less likely to talk on it while driving.

    So would a system like this under-report the traffic in lower-class neighborhoods? Would that cause more money to be poured into traffic mitigation in higher-class neighborhoods, simply because there are more doctors and lawyers talking on their cell phones?

    • However, I'm also willing to bet that statistics show people from lower-class neighborhoods much shorter distances, meaning less traffic in lower-class neighborhoods. Who commutes the farthest? People who can afford to live in the outer-ring upscale suburbs of a city.
  • Why haven't they? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wbav ( 223901 ) <> on Thursday June 13, 2002 @01:16PM (#3695005) Homepage Journal
    My question is, why haven't they done this with like the onstar system. Or have they? It would seem to me, that if you wanted to make the most money, you'd offer these units for cheap, use their data to find where problem areas were, and charge a monthly fee (of let's say 10 dollars) for traffic data.

    If the onstar unit was cheap enough (less than 100) and it offered data that would allow most people to get to work on time, I can't see why people wouldn't find them a invaluable.
  • I worked out this idea a decade ago, and even pitched friends at Qualcomm about it. They didn't feel it would be that good a product at the time. Perhaps this time it will actually get done.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev