The Science of Traffic: Can IoT Help End Congestion?

By Sophie Curtis on May 11, 2015

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Like most great ideas, they appear simple and logical once they’re created. INRIX is no different. When the company was founded nearly a decade ago, drivers and departments of transportation relied on expensive sensors installed in a few roads to understand real-time traffic conditions.

Now INRIX is at the forefront of connecting cars to smarter cities, by leveraging big data analytics to reduce the individual, economic and environmental toll of traffic congestion. They found the old approach to traffic technology expensive to install and maintain, and so took a different approach, revolutionizing how traffic information was created by analyzing data from the vehicles themselves. The logic was if you could analyze traffic information from the vehicles, you could understand traffic conditions everywhere.

By collaborating with world class companies, INRIX is transforming how people and commerce move across the world’s transportation networks. As big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) changes everything from where people go and what they do to how they get from place to place, INRIX is at the forefront of connecting cars to smarter cities and understanding the science of traffic. 

We spoke with Bryan Mistele, co-Founder, President and CEO of INRIX, ahead of his presentation at the Internet of Things Summit in Boston on May 28 & 29.

What are the key factors that have enabled recent advancements in IoT?
The rapid increase in the number and types of devices connected to the network that can be tapped for real-time data. As a result, the massive amount of data from a diverse set of systems and devices when analyzed in aggregate and in real-time opens up a whole new world of apps and services.

For INRIX, it’s the increasing number of devices that provide both Internet connectivity and GPS location that has fueled the growth of our platform. A good example of how these diverse data sets come together to deliver services that are greater than their parts is the intermodal navigation system we developed for BMW in their first electric car. This is a navigation system in your car that actually recommends and ultimately navigates to public transportation when traffic or low charge prevents you from driving to your destination on time. Think about that for a minute: an intelligent system in your car that recommends when it’s faster to take a train or bus to complete your journey. Just 5 years ago, such a solution would not have been possible given the degree to which vehicles, public transportation systems and department of transport operations centers were connected was limited. This is just one way we’re using data driven insight from the movement of people, vehicles and commerce to deliver services that not only help address problems of urban mobility but sets the foundation required for smart cities.

And speaking of infrastructure, we wouldn’t be able to deliver these services I describe above without advancements in the infrastructure behind IoT. The declining cost of storage combined with increases in processing power and the billions of dollars invested by wireless operators on high speed networks has introduced a whole new level of economics for data access and connectivity.

What industries do you think will be disrupted by IoT in the future?
All of them. We’re nearing an inflection point of innovation around IoT that will have an impact on the world that we haven’t seen since the dawn of the Internet itself. Just as every company has become a technology company, soon every company will be an IoT company. Previously, companies were forced to rely on slow, inaccurate and often costly data to drive business decisions. Through access to accurate and inexpensive real-time data from a variety of connected devices, IoT companies already have created massive breakthroughs in a variety of industries. I expect the pace of innovation only to increase as network effects around connectivity and data increase over time.

More specifically, any industry where it’s beneficial to understand how people, vehicles and commerce moves across cities will be impacted by IoT in the next five years. One clear example of an industry waiting to be disrupted: the parking industry. It's currently very fragmented and also somewhat 'backward' technically. But at the same time, it's also ripe for innovation - of pricing, as well as demand management (much like airlines did more than 2 decades ago). IoT will play an impact in that the enabling technologies (NFC, bar codes, or biometrics) will be powered by a host of connected devices including the car.

What are the practical applications of your work and what sectors are most likely to be affected?
What continues to excite us at INRIX is how many new industries we are finding that can be assisted by the data we collect and the analytics we provide. When we started our goals were to solve travel and traffic problems for drivers but now companies are using our data to make investment decisions, to decide where to build their next store or restaurant and to think about how their sales are affected by traffic patterns. Governments and public service agencies are using INRIX insight to plan future roads and public transportation systems, synchronize traffic signals and to plan emergency response due to weather or other events increasing not only efficiency but public safety.

In addition to an exponential growth in the amounts of data that IoT devices will be generating, we’ll see similar growth on the amount of intelligence in the devices and systems we interact with on a daily basis from that data. As a result, we'll see more and more of these IoT devices talk to each other, and understand context. For example, a connected car could communicate its arrival home to other sensors in the home, prompting doors to open or alarms to be turned off. We’ll also see new kinds of devices like the fully self-driving car slowly but surely become more and more commonplace. Tesla’s recent software update that allows vehicles to pilot themselves on highways and interstates is a great example of the types of gradual steps we’ll see over time.

Which areas do you feel could benefit from cross-industry collaboration?
The public sector is one. We continue to hear daily how our government systems from healthcare records to transportation are woefully behind. Recently we participated in a Hack the Commute event with the city of Seattle and the local tech community. The developers were so happy that INRIX and Google shared access to their real time APIs because the city doesn't have a way to share real-time data. We live in a modern world and just as the highway system in the 50s brought about major economic expansion, so too will intelligent transportation systems and other smart cities technology in our urban centers.

What advancements excite you most in the field?
Ever since I was a kid in Michigan growing up surrounded by the auto industry, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the connected car. Through connectivity and location intelligence, cars soon will be able to drive themselves forever eliminating the individual, economic and environmental impacts of gridlock. We are changing the world in a very important and positive way and that excites me the most.

The Internet of Things Summit is taking place in Boston on 28-29 May. Places are now limited, register today to avoid disappointment. 

Bryan Mistele will be speaking on Day 2 of the summit, alongside speakers from Xively, Zubie, Misfit Wearables, Soofa, SafeLogic & more. View the schedule here

Follow the event and community discussions on Twitter with the event hashtag
#reworkIoT.



Big Data Future Cities Open Data Smart Cities IoT Connected Devices Mobile Devices Smart Transport Connected Car


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