How the Internet of Things can solve traffic problems

By Ahmed Farrag

One of the things I love about the Internet of Things (IoT) is its ability to solve many of the common problems around us.

The reason I would like to talk about traffic is because I was born in Cairo, Egypt, which is one of the busiest cities in the world. Traffic jams happen in Cairo almost around the clock. The problem is getting even worse as the population increases, and the number of vehicles grows on a daily basis. Moreover, the city transportation systems and their associated infrastructures are strained; therefore, it is really hard to imagine how this problem can be resolved without a technology intervention.

The following video gives a nice introduction to the problem in general and how technology—in particular the IoT—can play a role in resolving it:

The basic idea, as explained by the lovely Sara Michelle in this video, is about connecting “things” together to make the city traffic and transportation systems more intelligent. For example, by connecting traffic cameras to vehicles’ GPS, we can have a better understanding of traffic flows. It is also possible to send an SMS message to commuters to warn them about potential traffic congestion and help them to avoid it. The result is an enhanced commuter experience, a reduction in traffic congestion and a more efficient, safer and more secure traffic and transportation system.

The IoT plays an instrumental role here by collecting data from various sources such as traffic cameras, commuters’ mobile phones, vehicles’ GPS, sensors on the roads, passing vehicles and so on. This data is analyzed to understand traffic flows and usage patterns, enabling us to find new ways to optimize the most frequently used roads and transportation methods. Connected loop detectors that monitor conditions on roads can also detect hazardous conditions. Accordingly, maintenance crews are then dispatched to respond in a timely manner. Vehicle drivers are also warned about hazardous conditions to avoid, thus reducing the number of road accidents and increasing overall safety and security.

IBM has designed that solution under the name of IBM Intelligent Transportation to provide intelligence and insights across the traffic and transportation network. It helps to analyze traffic behavior and events in order to optimize traffic flow and increase the efficiency of the whole traffic and transportation system. IBM Intelligent Transportation is designed to fulfill the following functions:

  • Consolidate traffic data coming from different sources such as roadway systems (including traffic lights, variable message signs [VMSs], variable speed signs [VSSs] and lane signals) and road reporting systems (including microwave sensors, video cameras and telematics; vehicles on the roads; roadside sensors). All of these data sources are aggregated, normalized and transformed into a standard traffic information model.
  • Analyze traffic information to provide near-real-time insights about traffic performance, conditions and incidents and thus help optimize the flow of traffic. Correlation with historical data can also be performed to provide traffic operators with a view into the likely (near-term) traffic flow. This can help them to proactively set traffic signals or suggest road detours, which can help to reduce traffic congestion. It can also help road travelers better plan their commute routes.
  • Monitor traffic operations and incidents through a centralized management dashboard that collects information from different geographic locations across the city. This information is visualized on a geospatial map indicating the general traffic flow and congested areas to help traffic planners and operators manage traffic performance and further optimize their response to different incidents.
  • Support the storage and presentation of geographic information system (GIS) data for dynamic graphical displays in the dashboard to visualize things such as the road network, traffic volume, speed, density and traffic incidents. It can also display icons for devices that are spread across the city such as traffic cameras, traffic lights or any other control device to view their detailed information.

Written By

Ahmed Farrag

Cloud Architect at IBM

Ahmed Farrag is an IBM Accredited Software Architect, passionate about exploring new technologies around Mobile and Cloud computing. During his career at IBM, Ahmed has built solid skills around Solution Architecture, Technical leadership as well as expertise in a wide range of technologies…

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