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How big data is driving more intelligent transport

How big data is driving more intelligent transport

Throughout history, one of humanity's great preoccupations has been getting from A to B. From horses, railways and boats to cars and planes, we've continuously developed new methods of transport to do so more quickly. However, none of them ever seem to get us to our destination fast enough.

But big data could change all this. Building systems that can recognise traffic flows and respond quickly without human intervention could dramatically improve the transport experience.

Data-driven traffic lights

Consider the humble traffic light. Not only does it keep us safe, but also it gets us where we're going by directing traffic flow in an orderly way. However, as any driver knows, people aren't quite as orderly. Many traffic light systems are programmed in isolation according to an engineer's expectation of "normal" traffic. But a sporting event or concert can massively disrupt this, with fans stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

A big data-driven system could eliminate such headaches. By monitoring the flow of traffic, adjustments could be made based on real-time conditions. In low traffic, for instance, lights could be set using standard timings, while in heavier traffic lights could be set to stay green longer. This type of synchronised traffic light system is already in use in Los Angeles to improve traffic flow and minimise congestion. Meanwhile, inBoston city officials combine street camera footage with data from Waze and Uber in order to ease traffic congestion.

Connected cars as a data source

Connected cars are dramatically changing the automotive industry. By 2020, it's estimated that 90 per cent of cars will be connected to the Internet, compared to just 10 per cent in 2012. These cars can provide a steady stream of data on vehicle and engine behaviour, which can be sent directly to mechanics as part of a vehicle manufacturer's preventative maintenance programme.

These connected cars could feed into smart traffic control systems. By querying the car, the system could tell if the engine is idle, accelerating or braking repeatedly. If all these things are occurring in a short time frame, the system would recognise the vehicle is stuck in a traffic jam and adjust the traffic light timings accordingly. These changes could occur without needing an engineer to monitor the road and estimate the optimal light timings. Instead, traffic control systems could be automatically adjusted in real-time.

Better planning through pollution monitoring

Keeping the air as clean as possible is of massive importance. Some environmental authorities have installed sensors to help track air quality in certain areas. While these air quality monitors can provide insight into what is going on in the atmosphere, like traffic lights, they are isolated from one another. By bringing together this information, a big data system could track the most heavily polluted areas to flag officials to take action.

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