RSS Traffic Feeds

Wouldn’t it be really cool to have a RSS feed that gave you information about current road traffic, what roads were closed, which were open and where there were accidents? So here’s my idea for a RSS Road Traffic information system.

The idea would be to create a country wide road traffic information system, base it on open standards so that everyone can make use of the information and try make it reasonably accurate and reliable. I’m thinking a website that allows you to select which area’s you’re interested in… say Capetown or perhaps get slightly more specific like Capetown, Southern Suburbs then give you a RSS feed that you can subscribe to that would give you up to date information about the selected area’s traffic conditions.

The traffic information would come from multiple sources.

The first being electronic car counters. I’m not sure if we have these already or not but my guess is we do. The idea is you make something that can count cars as they go by, records the information of how many cars went by in the last 5 minutes and then uploads that information and the counters location to the main traffic information system. If you placed a lot of these along the road in say 5km intervals or something you could determine where tailbacks were, what speed the traffic was flowing at and if it was really busy or not.

Next would be tap into all the robots currently setup at intersections my guess is most of them already count cars so this information could be fed into the traffic information system.

You would also fit all the robots with a watch dog timer type of “ping” that basically every 5 minutes contacted the main system and say if everything is alright, if for example the robot stopped functioning or malfunctioned it would notify the system, or just not send the ping and that intersection could then be marked as “bad”. You could also use traffic camera’s and other fixed sensors to determine traffic flow and whether things like robots were functioning correctly, all this information would then be fed into the Traffic Information System.

These fixed automatic reporting systems would give you the basic “level 1” type reports these would be the most trusted information in the system.

Next you would have information like road closure’s, maintenance etc this information would be fed into the system manually or perhaps even electronically if it exists electronically anywhere. (Perhaps some person who decides where people will be working has all this in an Outlook calendar or something, though I doubt it.)

This information would give you the “Level 2” type reports, slightly less accurate and less trustworthy.

Next would be the emergency services information this would be things like accidents, roadblocks etc. This would most likely be filled in by hand. (I’m unsure if this information isn’t perhaps already captured to direct emergency services to the correct place.)

This information would give you the “Level 3” type reports, less accurate and less trustworthy than Level 2.

Next would be moderator contributed information, this wouldn’t come from the general public but rather places like Radio Stations who already collect the traffic information from the public then do a few sanity checks and a bit of aggregation and then could capture the information into the system.

This information would give you “Level 4” type reports, less accurate and less trustworthy than Level 3 but still useful.

And then finally you would have general public contributions these would be give a “Level 5” and up would be considered the least reliable, you would probably do some kind of comparison and checking so that if 100 people sent in a message saying the a certain intersection was closed it would be considered more reliable by the system than if only one person sent in an entry saying the same thing. These public contributions could probably use something like cell tower triangulation and a simple sms saying “accident” or something, or perhaps a WAP enable page that defaulted to the roads closest to where the cell phone was.

There are plenty of other ways you could get information into the system. I’m not sure if government vehicles are fitted with satellite tracking but if they are that information could be fed into the system to determine if roads where flowing smoothly or not. You could perhaps fit emergency vehicles with a kind of “Push if on the scene of an emergency”? button that could send the current location to the system and notify it that there is some kind of emergency on a particular road.

So what are the levels for?

The levels I set out above would determine how trustworthy a particular problem is, that way you could set your device to only show events lower than say level 4 or something like that.? It would allow you to filter out the information that you don’t want or that you might deem inaccurate.

So once you’ve got all this cool information what do you do with it?

Like I said in the beginning of this post you could generate a RSS feed that would say things like “Accident on the N1”, “Robots at such and such an intersection aren’t working” and “construction on the N2 incoming.” you could get fancy and if you put things like longitude and latitude into the feed plot the information on a map and perhaps even use software to plan a route round closed roads and accidents. You could have a web page that allows someone to check a particular route for obstructions before they left. And you could supply all the Radio stations with slightly more reliable traffic information.

Of course the other really cool uses for the information would be traffic modelling that would allow you to determine where particular “hotspots” were and where bottle necks were and hopefully use this information to improve the road infrastructure. If you could remotely alter the timing on Robots you could perhaps ease congestion on certain roads when traffic became heavy on certain routes. Or use the information over a long period to determine the quietest time so that you can do maintenance on roads. This is something that could be very useful for planing the 2010 world cup and ensuring that the countries traffic runs smoothly.

Why RSS?
Well RSS is understood by most Internet connectible devices, cell phones, PDA’s, laptops almost any device that can connect to the web can read a RSS feed or have an application installed on it that can read an RSS feed. It wouldn’t be hard either to add RSS handling into 3rd party applications so that the information from the feed could be displayed on your GPS map or something similar.

Is all this possible?
Yes, technically it is, I haven’t explained anything too complicated and while it won’t be easy to build it could be done. It also won’t be that expensive, the final price would depend on what kind of connectivity there is to things like car counters and robots and things like that but those costs won’t be too much. You’re probably looking at a couple of million Rand’s which in the scheme of things isn’t too bad.

The biggest problem and cost in trying to do this wouldn’t be technical but rather a people/political problem. This is the kind of thing that would mushroom too a giant project consisting of lots of “consultants” and “experts” charging large sums of money. You’ll also find that various departments probably wouldn’t want to play along with this idea. The trick would be try and keep it simple and small rather than get all complicated.

Could you make money from this?
Yes, I think so. What you would do is keep the information free for non commercial use or something like that. If you want to use it in your products or commercially you would have to sign up for some kind of license.? So for example if Garmin wanted to use it to add traffic information to there navigation systems they would have pay a fee of some kind, perhaps per device? What you could do is make it that you’re only able to update a feed once every couple of minutes on a free license but if you pay you can query as often as you like.
I think Google do this with there API’s. If you’re not make heavy use of there system it’s free, but if you want to you have to pay for it.

So if you’re a member of government and like my idea, or perhaps you want to fund this project? Get in touch.