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Startups Mine Traffic Data to Drive City Efficiency

John Gartner — November 2, 2016

Connected VehiclesThe traffic jam. It frustrates commuters, causes huge losses in productivity, and negatively affects air quality. This aggravating problem (and the often futile attempts to prevent it) dates back to the horse and buggy, and startups are now creating innovative analytics to better understand the causes of jams and developing services to increase the flow of vehicles.

Examining Intersections

RSM Traffic, based in Dublin, Ireland, focuses on collecting data from intersections within a city to enhance the effectiveness of traffic light timing. The company’s Simon platform analyzes the sensor data located at multiple intersections to create a network to better understand the interaction of traffic flows across locations.

Kathryn Mullins, Head of Strategic Partnerships at RSM, said the company uses radar to study the flow of vehicles, and its open software application programming interface (API) is data agnostic, enabling data collection from other sources such as city data repositories. Mullins said RSM’s target audience includes cities, commercial property owners, and media companies looking to get better data on the traffic flow around outdoor advertisements. RSM said Simon is not currently using data received from vehicle telematics systems, but the platform has the capability to accept data via dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which would provide additional granularity in understanding driving routes.

Navigation Analysis

San Francisco, home to some of the worst traffic conditions in the United States, is also home to StreetLight Data. Founder and CEO Laura Schewel said the company uses data from relationships with in-car navigation system providers and mobile phone applications to understand the location and length of driving trips. Schewel said the company has anonymized data from millions of vehicles, which has been used to support nearly 200 transportation projects.

StreetLight Data aggregates location data on the origin and destination of trips, enabling retailers or city managers to understand where vehicles come from and where they go next. The mobile phone data is analyzed for the time and distance traveled in order to differentiate between driving and other trips such as biking or walking, according to Schewel. In October, the company announced a deal to integrate its Travel Metrics service into products from transportation modeling and forecasting software provider PTV Group.

StreetLight Data’s services are delivered via a web portal and has particular applications for the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) market. Commercial property owners, charging networks, or utilities looking to find locations where PEV traffic is sufficiently dense can use StreetLight Data’s information to optimize the siting of charging infrastructure. The company can analyze trip data to find locations where PEV drivers are likely to need a charge based on where they live and common distances driven.

While the term big data may seem Orwellian to some, services like RSM Traffic and StreetLight Data will play a significant role in enabling smart cities to be safer and more livable by increasing the traffic flow and enabling the growth of emissions-free PEVs.

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