Once again I sit on awe at how technology has stepped in and brought an outstanding solution to a problem that has plagued people for about as long as there cars and traffic congestion.
First a little background information. For a number of years I worked as an airborne traffic reporter, flying on a daily basis over the city of Toronto, looking out the window of the plane and telling people where accidents had occurred and how long they were likely to be stuck in the subsequent mess.
You might be thinking that being up in an airplane is a great way to keep an eye on the roadways, but the reality is that you can only effectively see three of four miles, and the real advantage you have in a plane is that you’re cursing at 110 knots, and can cut cross country rather than being stuck in the traffic and following the road system, so the real challenge for reporters is knowing where the traffic problems are, and then getting to that area.
When I started reporting the system that was in place was to have a ground controller keep an eye on the various traffic cameras and monitor police communications to identify problems, then radio that information to the various teams in the air. My contribution was to develop a web page that consolidated all the traffic cameras, and then relay those images and the related reports via blackberry so that airborne crews had the information much faster and they could monitor situations far from their current location. I thought that this was all pretty spiffy and really gave traffic reporting a huge step forward.
When I got my first car GPS system, the traffic reporting component was pretty much a joke. I knew from my reporter days that most incidents are cleaned up in 30 minutes or less, and that generally speaking it takes 15 minutes or more for an incident to occur, and the information to make its way through the reporting system and onto the GPS. Not much help on today’s highways.
Let’s jump ahead to today. I have Google Maps on my smartphone, and am aware that it displays traffic information. Word’s cannot describe my surprise when I learned that then traffic data is harvested from the collective information of all the people who are driving with their GPS on and My Location active rather than from the collector system that the government has installed on most major highways.
Bingo. Suddenly the traffic data is in real time and very meaningful. If you consider that at least half of the cars on every roadway are all anonymously updating the mother ship in real time, the world’s best traffic reporting system is suddenly in place, and when your combine that data with a good GPS app, your daily commute around town may not be any better, but at least you will be always taking the fastest route, regardless of traffic.
Isn’t technology great!!!