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Using Cellular Traffic to Monitor Traffic Jams

michael posted more than 12 years ago | from the stop-and-go dept.

Handhelds 219

An Anonymous Coward writes "The BBC has this story about Scots company Applied Generics and their plan to use cellphone location data to determine where there are traffic jams and (presumably) generate (and sell?) evasive routing tactics for drivers. They are using both passive cellular traffic (what you get when the phone is switched on) and active (drivers phoning up to say they'll be late - in standing traffic, I hope) to look for clusters of immobile cellphones along major routes. The whole idea has a sort of "why didn't I think of that?" neatness. Personally I wouldn't mind my own traffic being used wholesale (aggregated with thousands of other users), but how do other /.ers feel about a company profiting from data emitted by the cellphone that they paid for?"

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First Post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692615)


A victory for ACs evetywhere. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692692)

Congratulations on your excellent first post! The CLIT has been utterly humiliated, and the whole world bows to the might of the ACs.
Keep up the good work.

Annoymous Cowards:
Our name is legion
For we are many.

Re:A victory for ACs evetywhere. (-1, Offtopic)

Dessimat0r (528985) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692739)

/ \ _-'
_/| \-''- _ / FUCK ME
__-' { | \ I'M A WOLF
/ \
/ "o. |o } /
| \ ; /
', /
\_ __\
''-_ \.//
/ '-____'

Feels good (-1)

Mao Zedong (467890) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692619)

Continue doing what you're doing.

Information (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692620)

But when I asked an information officer there for information about the spread of radioactivity in the atmosphere from a nuclear war in Asia, the answer was, "That information is classified in the interests of national security."

Have roads, will fill them (4, Insightful)

pieterh (196118) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692625)

The general rule is: add road capacity, and more people will drive. Inevitably a technology like this will feed back into mobile guidance systems based on GPS, with the final result that every road, major to minor, will be congested equally heavily. Building new roads or using smarter routing techniques will not cut traffic congestion. Living closer to work and using a bike or walking will.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (1)

MadKeithV (102058) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692636)

You've just described optimal load balancing, which can't be a bad thing! Though I agree that alternatives to commuting should be proactively explored - I'd LOVE to "work" from home at my research job.

Researching Neverwinter Nights for instance ;)

Re:Have roads, will fill them (2)

SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693026)

But then you won't be present for all the useless meetings.....

At least that's the mindset where I work. Please TRY to convince the management where I work that this is a viable alternative.

As a programmer, I can connect to the network at work via a VPN that has already been established for remote offices. However, I need to drive the 45 minutes each way to sit at a desk and do the same stuff I can do from home. Heck, they don't even think the programmers should get a laptop. Instead, we take notes at meetings and use our desktop computers to provide the answers afterwards.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (4, Insightful)

Wobbit (175156) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692641)

What you say is true, but as long as we have these roads, we should use them to their full potential. I agree we should look for alternative ways of transportation, or encourage people to go and live closer to their work, but that dosn't mean we can't optimize road usage.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (3, Insightful)

pieterh (196118) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692682)

As far as I can see, and this is confirmed by my own experience of two decades of commuting, people drive because they do not seriously try to find alternatives. Make an effort, look for places to live in the inner cities, find ways to work from home... all these will add to one's quality of life, save hours of wasted time, and cut the amount of waste caused by pushing a ton of metal around the countryside.

So, anything that makes driving less pleasant must be a 'good thing' in this respect, and anything that delays the inevitable must be a bad thing.

Typically people stick to highways, and these will get blocked while smaller roads will stay free. I can't see that 'load balancing' cars onto smaller roads is a good thing. It won't cut anyone's travel time. It won't reduce the total number of cars. It will simply create more accessible road space.

As for the 'potential' of roads: the capacity of a road decreases once you get past a certain car density. The only way I can see of optimizing road usage is to charge for it and raise the price until usage drops to this density.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (2, Funny)

SN74S181 (581549) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692729)

look for places to live in the inner cities.... all these will add to one's quality of life

Wow! What a clinker! I guess I'll go walk out in the trees near the field behind my 100 year old farm house, listen to the birds singing, and ponder on your pithy statement.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692758)

when some one invents and mass produces transporters, it won't matter :). Bad star trek joke.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (5, Informative)

warpSpeed (67927) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692836)

As far as I can see, and this is confirmed by my own experience of two decades of commuting, people drive because they do not seriously try to find alternatives. Make an effort, look for places to live in the inner cities, find ways to work from home...

Speaking as one of those "people", we do not commute using public transport because there generally is no "serious" alternative avaiable. In Washington DC, the metro is just dandy, if you count beeing packed into a sardine can and standing for 30 min to an hour a nice way to commute. Not to mention the lack of parking after 7 am at all the major sububian stations. and the close to $12 round trip cost for parking and fare

It is FAR cheaper, and takes less time (20 min) for me to drive into DC, and get two parking tickets a week then it is to take the Metro.

When a real commuting alternatives are available I would use it, until then stop blaming the commuter, they are in their cars for economic and time saving reasons. Why should the sacrifice thier time and money?

Raise the price of gas and lower the cost of public transport, and make it more efficient/convinient, then we can talk.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (1)

afedaken (263115) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692863)

Ya know, some of us treasure that 1/2 to 1 hour spent commuting.

Granted, I do have to put up with some of the other stoopid drivers.

But them aside, that's a garunteed hour that I can be alone, in my comfy vehicle, left alone to my thoughts.

It's an hour where I can listen to whatever music or books I want.

It's an hour where I don't have to listen to anyone's requests, orders, demands, whining, or otherwise be disturbed.

It's an hour that's MINE. And while it's sometimes stressful thanks to traffic, I'll take it gladly.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (2)

Mr_Silver (213637) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692899)

Make an effort, look for places to live in the inner cities

I'll happily live in zone 1 in London. However I'll need to cough up 5 times as much rent for a place smaller than I have now.

People don't use the trains because they're a death trap, smelly, badly maintained, unreliable and nearly always late.

People don't use buses because they're slow, unreliable, smelly, badly maintained and nearly always late.

People don't like using the tubes because they're badly maintained, too hot in the summer, freezing cold in the winter and massivily crowded because other people are using them over buses and trains.

So what do you have left? Cars. Yes it takes longer to get into work, but you don't pay an insanely large amount of money for the privilidge of being rammed up in a stuffy carriage against a glass window with 15 other people shoved against you.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (3, Insightful)

Cato (8296) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692930)

You are exaggerating - I live in London too, and the trains and tubes are not that bad (at least from where I live). Calling the trains 'a death trap' is ironic when you consider that railway transport is one of the safest ways to travel - far more people die every year on the roads, but this is virtually invisible since it happens in many small accidents, compared to the large and well publicised rail accidents.

The real solution is time shifting and working from home - I commute into work at 9 to 9.30 am and the tubes are nearly empty.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692706)

True, but I think that bigger effects can be achieved by distributing the traffic more evenly over time (i.e. avoid rush-hours) than to distribute it over space. The primary reason that we have traffic jams is that almost everybody works 9 to 5. As a consequence we design our roads for this peak traffic while most of the time they are almost empty.

Time shifting... (3, Interesting)

pieterh (196118) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692797)

This could work... your alarm clock 'bings' and says 'don't bother getting up... the roads are all blocked, and I've taken the liberty of shifting your schedule today forward by two hours. Your boss will also be late, so don't worry about an excuse.'

We have something like this in Belgium, where mobile phone users can ring a central service to warn of traffic jams and delays. It works well, only it's about 30 minutes delayed, so occasionally you hear warnings of accidents and traffic jams that have already cleared-up.

The best use of this service is when they warn about 'ghost drivers', meaning idiots who are driving down the highway on the wrong side of the road. I wonder if a cellphone-based system could detect this as well?

Re:Time shifting... (2)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692980)

Here in Toronto, you can take a look at the roads at the Compass [] site. Of course, it'll generally tell you that the highways are either slow but moving, or stuck.

Once a friend left my place, then cell phoned from a jam. I checked the page and told her that it would clear up in another mile or so...

Re:Have roads, will fill them (1)

Tune (17738) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692657)

True. Adding more roads does yields more traffic, and the only read solution is to reduce mobility. But meanwhile - visa versa - it seems logical to aim road improvements at regions where congestion is highest. This is more efficient than just building roads and waiting for traffic to come use it. Why use (taxpayer's) money and use up space and natural recources for roads that aren't used.

...And for the problem of finding the bottlenecks, this system might help to some extent. So: wear/use your mobile to vote!

Of course, we're not there yet.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (5, Insightful)

CaptainAlbert (162776) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692710)

> The general rule is: add road capacity, and
> more people will drive.

At best, this applies only up to a point. At worst, it's a myth - and a dangerous one. Roads aren't just for car drivers! They're also for cyclists, motobikes and buses. The congestion problem in London (UK) is particularly acute to the extent that the administration is trying to introduce tolls for entering the city centre.

How can they persuade more people to ditch their cars and use public transport? By providing reliable bus and underground services. No-one uses London buses in rush hour, because they're too slow. Why? Because there's so much traffic on the roads, caused by the people who won't take the bus... the only way to break the cycle is to reduce congestion. This means reducing the density of traffic, either by (a) removing cars from the roads, or (b) making the roads bigger, or (c) both of the above.

In London at least, roads don't "cause traffic" as you suggest. No-one in their right mind would try driving in/through London if they didn't absolutely have to.

The issue with cyclists is the same. Nobody want to cycle in central London because it's so dangerous. Why? Because of all the traffic... and so on. Why don't more people walk, instead of driving half a mile down the road? Because the roads are lethal for pedestrians and the pelicon crossings take forever to change. Why? because of all the tra.... :)

Of course, any move to impose congestion charging / extra taxation / higher petrol prices or whatever are met with huge resistance from motoring groups. But by continuing to overuse their cars, they only make the situation worse for themselves.

OK, time to stop my off-topic ranting. I just get irate about these things. :) BTW I don't own a car and neither does my wife; we take the train to work because it's cheaper and safer.

Re:Have roads, will fill them (2)

mpe (36238) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692806)

The general rule is: add road capacity, and more people will drive.

Traffic increasing as more road space is added is something which has been known about for the last 70-80 years.

Living closer to work and using a bike or walking will.

One of the reasons people don't do this is that they have to use the same roads choked with traffic. So they risk injury from being hit by cars and having to breath the exhaust...

Re:Have roads, will fill them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692820)

"general rule is: add road capacity, and more people will drive"

No. There are always more people being created, and a percentage of them will want to drive. The road capacity just dictates how many CAN physically fit on them.

In case it's slashdotted (-1)

Big Dogs Cock (539391) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692628)

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Good idea (5, Funny)

jukal (523582) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692629)

Next in the same series: using cell locations to guide missiles to achieve more casualties. The high-tech way of saying "shut-up!".

Re:Good idea (-1)

TrollBurger (575126) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692660)

Thats very funny, but a good point. I see no reason why a suitably equipt nation-state (or potentially; a rogue group with the appropriate technology and connections (ie haxored satelite data)) could not put the same principles to a deadly use.

Russians already did it. (-1)

Big Dogs Cock (539391) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692668)

They took out one of the Chechen generals by phoning him up and targetting a missile on his phone. Can't find any details now.

Re:Russians already did it. (1)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692708)

I recall reading an article about the guerilla war in the Philippines where the rebels and the government soldiers were calling each other up and taunting them. Victory by humiliation.

Re:Russians already did it. (1)

ComaVN (325750) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692840)

Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries! Now go away or I will taunt you one more time.

How long before.... (5, Insightful)

MadKeithV (102058) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692630)

They use this to determine if you've been speeding?

"Jim, this guy only took 5 minutes between node 1 and node 2, he must have been travelling over the speed limit!"

Oh well, I guess they've secured funding for this project that way :)

Re:How long before.... (3)

hagardtroll (562208) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692663)

How convenient, they can charge your cell phone bill for the violation.

Re:How long before.... (5, Funny)

fallacy (302261) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692685)

Just think of how many fines you'd get if you frequently used the train.

Well, provided it's not a British Rail train, that it is...

Re:How long before.... (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692828)

Like the fighter pilot who called his wife from the cockpit of his fighter and got his phone barred because the software reckoned nothing could travel so fast between cells so one of them had to be fraudulent.

Re:How long before.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692719)

Not necessary in Britain as we have speed cameras all over the place anyway. There has even been talk [] of combination speed traps measuring your average speed down a route and fining you if you had to have speeded even if it wasn't captured on camera. Mind you we are allowed to drive a little faster than some other countries.

Re:How long before.... (2)

AVee (557523) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692770)

I heard they do something like this on toll roads in France. Your are clocked when you enter and leave the toll road and if that leads to an average speed thats to high you'll get fined.

This would be good if.. (4, Insightful)

yebb (142883) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692632)

they also indicated, for how long trafic had been stopped/slow. The article makes mention that this technology isn't that functional because it doesn't give any indication about the reason for the slowdown, but if there is a time period associated with the trafic jam, driver could make assumptions about what the problem was, and wether or not to find alternate routes.

Re:This would be good if.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692684)

I did some research in this particular area and the answer is all the data is there. Building an engine to look at the data and make educated guesses and cross reference with traffic reports isn't hard to do. The problem is 80% political BS about how to charge for it, who should own the system, who should maintain it and how to make money from it.

I don't see a problem (2, Interesting)

nfras (313241) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692633)

It doesn't seem to use any personal details, just how many phones are switched on in a certain area. I suppose that major office buildings with lots of office phones could cause problems (appearing as a localised traffic jam). Go for it I say, it would seem to make life easier.

Re:I don't see a problem (1)

hagardtroll (562208) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692678)

I know quite a few people who use Cellular phones instead of wired phones for home use. No telemarketing calls, better long distance deals, etc. So people will be routed away from their house? What about airports where people wait to get onto planes use their cell phones. The system will always think the airport is locked in, and send you around the terminal in a loop. The point is that unless the phones are equipped with GPS they cannot determine the exact location close enough to know if someone is actually on the road or next to it. It seems the resolution of cellular bases wouldn't be high enough for an accurate reflection of automobile traffic.

Re:I don't see a problem (1)

ozbon (99708) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692705)

I'd assume they would use some kind of filtering, where if that source of shedloads of calls hasn't moved in days/weeks/months then they're pretty sure it's an office building, not a traffic jam.

Of course, it could instead be a set of passengers on a train run by Virgin...

Would an extrapolation of this system be possibly used to detail train delays too? It's a wacky idea, but they haven't come up with anything else yet to reliably report that a) the train's late or b) that the train even exists (knowing some train operating companies propensity for cancelling them altogether.)

Re:I don't see a problem (1)

Paul 03244 (220512) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692788)

As long as there is no invasion of privacy, I don't see a prolem either. IMO this is fair use of data they legally aquire in the course their of operations.

Re:I don't see a problem (1)

sopuli (459663) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693009)

I suppose they use the fact that cars move. People in office buildings will typically remain at the same cell. So they'll check which numbers have recently jumped from one cell to another. That way you can also figure out in which direction the traffic jam is.

Terrific Idea! (2)

DoctorFrog (556179) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692634)

I don't have any problem with them using my cellphone's location like this - that information is already out there (or the phone wouldn't work), so this is simply a matter of an ancillary benefit. As long as nobody's actually tracking me, personally... and if I were worried about that I'd turn the cell phone off.

Re:Terrific Idea! (1)

JohnnyDoesLinux (19195) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692779)

You can't just turn off the cell phone,
you have to yank the battery (cell phones are one
of those "never totally off" devices)

By the way, do you guys care that all new
cell phones are required to have GPS (in the US

Re:Terrific Idea! (1)

DoctorFrog (556179) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693047)

I wasn't aware that cell phones are "never totally off" - where did you get that information? Why would they not turn off when the power is switched off?

As for GPS in all new cell phones, the only thing that bugs me is why don't the damn things have a "Display GPS position" mode? I haven't seen a one with this feature, and I can't see why the phone manufacturers wouldn't turn it into a feature, since it's hardly a secret... then again I haven't phone-shopped in the last few months.

The fact that John Law can physically locate my phone doesn't bother me - that's true of land lines too, and I can always yank the battery ;). Or just leave it home. If I want to communicate without being locatable I wouldn't consider a cell phone of the current generation my weapon of choice, either. GPS might be a tad more specific, but any cell phone can be located pretty closely just through node tracking - obviously, since that's what the technology in the article depends upon!

You have to wonder.... (0, Flamebait)

ins0m (584887) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692642)

in lieu of the fact that MS et al. have teamed up to work on their own cellular nightmares, how long it will be before they get their hands on this? New marketing slogan: "Microsoft: We know where you've been today"

Traffic report... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692643)

Based on cellphone data, drivers are advised to avoid driving through areas such as football stadiums and shopping malls.

Won't the signals from pedestrians' phones just mess up the results, especially in large cities - How can you be sure that a sufficient number of signals are from phones currently residing inside a car?

Re:Traffic report... (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693039)

They just have to monitor for things like "As for your proposal, I think that .. YAAAH! *CRUNCH*"

Traffic jams because drivers check phones (0, Offtopic)

GilroyGarlic (236005) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692647)

.. or something like that. LOL

Pf (4, Insightful)

zmooc (33175) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692648)

...but how do other /.ers feel about a company profiting from data emitted by the cellphone that they paid for?"

This company isn't profiting from data emitted by the specific cellphone you paid for, they're profiting from the collective data emitted by all cellphones around. What's wrong with that? Why would it be wrong for anyone to listen to a certain (group of) frequenc[y|ies] and produce statistical information from the data they receive?! I personally think this is a great idea and if you are having problems with someone receiving the data you send out on a certain frequency then don't send it where everyone can receive it.

Re:Pf (1)

riedquat (226343) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692674)

I agree - and if they're triangulating the phone's position from the base stations, then the position data isn't being emitted by the cellphones at all. That data only appears at the base stations.

Trusting Big Brother (2)

donnacha (161610) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692717)

but how do other /.ers feel about a company profiting from data emitted by the cellphone that they paid for?
My instinct is that this is fine but, obviously, if some, even a handful, of the drivers involved feel concerns, that has to be taken seriously in this and whatever similiar situations the future throws at us.

What we need is corporate transparency, just like the governmental transparency the people of the world have slowly been winning, but in this case we need it from the people who now have the real power; it's not enough for them to tell us that they're trustworthy.

Transparency is great, transparency is one of the things that makes Open Source such a powerful concept. Find out why we now need Open Source corporations here [] .

Re:Trusting Big Brother (1)

Tune (17738) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692886)

What we need is corporate transparency [...] it's not enough for them to tell us that they're trustworthy.

Wouldn't it be enough if it just were technologically impossible to gather information about individual cell phone users? I acknowledge that solving real-world problems with "new technologies" is generally a bad idea, but it should be possible to measure the number of cell phones at a particular location by tracking the amount of radion signals without knowing anything about the signal's contents.

Re:Trusting Big Brother (2, Insightful)

Erasmus Darwin (183180) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692914)

"it should be possible to measure the number of cell phones at a particular location by tracking the amount of radion signals without knowing anything about the signal's contents."

Yeah, but there's a big difference between knowing that every 3 minutes for the past 30 minutes, there's been approximately 10 cell phones at intersection X and knowing that the same 10 cell phones have been stuck at intersection X for the past 30 minutes. One just implies an average of 10 cell phone users worth of traffic through the area while the other implies an actual traffic stop.

Re:Trusting Big Brother (1)

Tune (17738) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693109)

Good point. I agree it's much easier to spot congestion through tracking. However, this information never needs to leave the "local tracking device".

Moreover, 10 cars in a traffic jam isn't much of a problem, except for the people in these 10 cars ;-) (Of course the same goes for greater numbers.) My point is that a constant number of cars, stuck in a traffic jam is not the main problem, but rather a growing jam causing other jams elsewhere.

Isn't it more typical for the number of cars in a certain area to increase rapidly over a small time period - in case of a jam?

Predictive models: Tracking individuals (1)

Tune (17738) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692766)

I agree. Even in case you are actually paying the phone company (Ie in a phone converstion vs. stand-by) and this data is used solely to determine a "degree of congestion", I would not consider this company stealing anything. I don't consider highway patrol eating from the money I payed for my car as I pass a traffic monitoring camera. (...OK forget about those times you pay a speeding fine ;-)

...But I guess cell phone data of the type "X is at Y", or "X is making a call at Y" doesn't add a lot to current traffic info. By the time this system has figured out there is congestion at some junction based on cell phone calls, the congestion will allready have spreaded (at approx. 20km/h in opposite direction) and you are likely to be just in the middle. To provide evasive routing and traffic speed control you need much more accurate data at very low latency.

To build a predicitive model, you could use data of individual cell phone routes. For large data sets this could result in a very acurate model of comuting traffic, which could be used to find predictive patterns.

So how about a company tracking your whereabouts through your cellular? Even in case your privacy is "respected", wouldn't that be frighning?

Cell phones - wha? (1)

The_Final_Word (580419) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692654)

This idea has been floated before, many, many, years ago (can't find a link but there must be one) trouble was back then, the number of cell phones in use wasn't large enough to use effectively, oh and the annoying fact that you probably should triangulate the signal as opposed to just calculating time between nodes.

Wouldn't work in most interesting cases though (5, Interesting)

CaptainAlbert (162776) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692655)

> It relies on the fact that, when switched on,
> cellphones are in regular communication with
> the nearest base station, giving a precise
> location for the phone.

> As the user moves around, their phone sends
> signals to other base stations, allowing the
> network's computer to log their route.

Depends what you mean by "precise". By monitoring signal strength at all nearby antennas very carefully, you could get a reasonable fix on the UE location (but throw in a couple of tall buildings, and accuracy starts to go out the window). Currently the base stations will do this monitoring just well enough to ensure proper inter-cell handoff. That doesn't require getting an "accurate" fix on your location at all. If it were possible, it would already be done as an alternative to (e.g.) GPS.

On a large motorway (or interstate, or autoroute, or whatever you have in your country), this would probably work very well. In an urban area with lots of interconnected roads and lots of buildings (full of stationary people at their desks), I don't think you'll be able to pinpoint the jam to any useful accuracy.

Still, might serve well as an "early warning" system, so you can decide where to send the traffic helicopters. :)

Re:Wouldn't work in most interesting cases though (1)

weeble (50918) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692724)

Mmmm traffic helicopters.

You might find a few helicopters about for taking coppers home when they are late for tea, certainly none for helping with the traffic.

The Police in the UK are in the process of closing a lot of Police stations as they were not making a profit (not commercially viable was the term used)

Re:Wouldn't work in most interesting cases though (2)

zmooc (33175) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692749)

I think large buildings etc. can be filtered out quite easily; the phones in the building are hardly moving while the phones on the street are (unless there's a traffic jam) so it should be easy to see whether there's a traffic jam; when there's no traffic jam there are a lot of phones not moving while some are driving along at relatively high speed, when there's a traffic jam the phones moving along are moving much slower. The same goes for traffic lights etc; it's cannot be that hard to differentiate certain patterns and tell what's going on.

Re:Wouldn't work in most interesting cases though (2)

satanami69 (209636) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693044)

I think large buildings etc. can be filtered out quite easily; the phones in the building are hardly moving while the phones on the street are
I think you missed the original poster's point, but made a good connection of your own. I think he was just talking about the signals bouncing off of a tall position. You were actually talking about the cell phone people use in the buildings.

Now, the problem is that we are trying to find cell phones in a traffic jam. There prolly won't be a lot of moving in a traffic jam. They could probably try to filter out any signals that come from above the street(if at all possible)

Also, think about if there are a lot of pedestrians on cell phones. They won't be above the streets, they'll be moving right along with the cars and surface streets. They even all might be moving along as quickly as the cars, and may be thought of as a traffic jam. I'd like to see what happens when a parade goes on.

Re:Wouldn't work in most interesting cases though (2)

osolemirnix (107029) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693108)

It's more complicated than that though. Think about a 4-lane highway where on some lanes the traffic is moving slowly (maybe because it's stacking back from a turnoff) and some moving very fast (like special lanes for cabs or cars with 2 or more drivers, etc.).
Or think of a side street with a delivery truck blocking the way, two cars are waiting and standing but two bicyclists are moving past fast and another pedestrian is walking. Would the system be able to tell that the street is completely blocked for cars and re-route you? I doubt it.
The location accuracy of phones is way to bad to be able to distinguish that. The best they can go for would be very broad traffic patterns and trends or very extreme conditions (like a highway being completely blocked). With the low accuracy it would actually be hard to tell wether a phone is in a car, on a bike, on rollerblades or even a fast-moving pedestrian. All this being in the city of course, but cities are most interesting because thats where most of the traffic is.

Another question would be wether the GSM antenna arrays can actually perform triangulations of all these phones all the time, or wether they'd only do that if there is an incoming or outgoing call.

It's definitely a neat idea. It would enable the mobile phone companies to generate some extra revenue by selling the traffic info.

Re:Wouldn't work in most interesting cases though (1)

killerindigobunting (585148) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693071)

This has been touched upon in a few places, but in the US it is now required by law that all new cell phones have a GPS system installed. There are at least two reasons:

1) when you call an emengency number, they can locate you in case you don't know just where you are so they can help you, and...

2) when you are a criminal, they can locate you so they can catch you.

However, I do not know if your location is availible any time the phone is on, or if you must be making a call.

Hey, wow! (1, Redundant)

GutBomb (541585) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692664)

there seems to be a BIGASS traffic jam inside that skyscraper over there! I think this is a dumb idea. it's not like people turn off thier phones when no on the road. And there is going to be a higher concetration of cell phones turned on inside of office buildings than on the street. And the buildings can be retty damn close to the street too. it could look like there is a major jam at a street corner for example, when in reality, it really is just an office building that has alot of mobile phone using tenants.

Re:Hey, wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692731)

Wrong assumption. Assuming one uses time between nodes to calculate, the system can look a the relative distance between phones and realize they are all really close together and therefore those phones are in a building. This actually is fairly easy and is already taken into account by phone manufacturers and careers. These things are well known, because it affects reliability of voice calls.

It's easy enough to perform a reverse geocode to see if all those lat/longs are on a road. Even if a building is really close to a road, it still has to follow zoning laws. In the case of sky scrapers, the "set back distance" is pretty big. Of course there are exceptions like NY, Boston or LA, but in those situations the towers are typically on a sky scraper to begin with. Not only that, it is simple to use case based reasoning and meta data to filter out locations.

The hardest part is getting access to the network in the carrier's network.

Old idea floating around since 99... (1)

f00zbll (526151) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692669)

Back in december 99 when wireless data started getting really big, a lot of people thought about doing exactly this. From a technical point of view, it's actually fairly straight forward, though time consuming. The hardest part was all the licensing and political BS. I know for a fact these ideas were proposed to the major carriers, but they couldn't decide whether or not they wanted to go ahead. Some executives did and others didn't. The end result was these kinds of projects got killed.

Getting access to the carriers network isn't something the major carriers do happily. All of them salivated at the idea of providing highly accurate traffic data to both the transit authority, companies and consumers, but they couldn't stop bickering enough to move ahead. Most of the arguments where over the value of the technology, but whether they should develop it in house and who should lead the effort.

For those who want to know more about cell technology here is a slide [] about CDMA, which talks about GSM and TDMA. It's biasd towards CDMA, but the information is still good.

remote sensing... (1)

BlowChunx (168122) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692675)

I think of this as an application of remote sensing. This just saves putting a helicopter in the air to physically *look* at the traffic. You paid for your car. Are you upset that others would use the photons reflected from your car to give traffic reports? Geesh...

Re:remote sensing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692694)

Actually that is already being done by the police and third party reporting agencies. In fact there are agencies that give the trafficopter a GPS unit to locate precisely where the jam is. Mapquest is/was trying to use that data with their routing engine to provide realtime traffic routing.

How do you get access to this information? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692679)

Do they have a deal with the phone companies to get this info, or are they setting up there own monitering stations?

South Africa (1)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692690)

With the high crime rate and all that in our beloved country, there are a couple of security companies that install a tracking device in your vehicle to enable them to recover it when it gets stolen/hijacked. This device presumably uses GPS and sends the "breadcrumb" data to a control center over the GSM network or via radio.

Each morning while sitting in that jam they call rush hour, I think to myself why on earth don't these companies make use of this data (possibly having their clients opt-in, since the tracking is normally only activated in an emergency).

This would probably be much more accurate than using the mobile signals - on the other hand, I think the FCC made it mandatory to phase in GPS or some other locating device into mobile handsets.

Who owns your signal.. or did you release rights? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692697)

So.. who 'owns' the information about your signal? Did it mention in your contract that your phone company can use your signal information to track you? I bet it didn't! And what else didn't it cover? The area codes of the numbers you rang, how many numbers you rang, what time you rang them and how much your bill was in total, what type of phone you have, etc etc etc. Can they sell this to other companies for $$$? I'm not sure.. lets check that contract about 'selling personal or aggregate information..

Yes, fellow ./'s, we can all see the future now.. in 15 years time you want a new mobile, so you set aside one hour to scan the net for the phone, one week's paycheck to pay for it (and the accessories, et al), and you book a meeting with your lawyer two months ahead for an hour long interview to go over the contract with a fine tooth comb.

No, I'm not being paranoid: "Paranoia is where you THINK someone is out to get you."

PS: How exactly does a company prove that personal information has not been stored/sold/etc?

Re:Who owns your signal.. or did you release right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692790)

Good troll, almost fell for it...

Re:Who owns your signal.. or did you release right (1)

Shimbo (100005) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692818)

So.. who 'owns' the information about your signal? Did it mention in your contract that your phone company can use your signal information to track you? I bet it didn't!

We are in the kind of wierd situation at the moment were it would be illegal to use data associated with individuals like this. However, the phone companies have to retain it for RIP [] purposes.

Anyone seriously worried about privacy would use a prepaid mobile (cash payment, no contract).

Hooray!! (4, Funny)

Procrasturbator (585082) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692703)

Yes! Now when someone honks at me for driving recklessly and paying attention to the phone instead of the road, I can flip them off, and self-rightously think, "I'm helping the situation."

For Conpiracy Theorists (1)

Nishi-no-wan (146508) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692707)

The next logical progression from using cell phones to annonymously show where there's congestion is to use them to tell who is speeding. Data could be more easilly collected for where to best set up speed traps - and the data being fed back can keep the "hot spots" up to date.

Eventually, they'll find that billing the speeding ticket to your cell phone provider is cheaper than running all of those black helicopters to keep a physical eye on everyone. When it becomes legal to fine all of the occupants of the car for speeding (four cell phones, four tickets), then passengers will have an incentive to keep their driver legal.

Isn't that completely obvious? (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692732)

I thought the reason businesses weren't already tracking cellphones was because it is kinda a privacy issue... the data could be horribly misused if cellphones could be individually identified. Why not just imbed a generic "I'm someone's car and I'm here" chip in every car and track that?

This is happening in DC (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692734)

Here's a link [] to a Washington Post link ($$$ since it's a couple years old). Scroll down a bit to get to the article/link.

But the DC area was considering this along sections of the Capital Beltway back in '99.

What if... (1)

FrostedWheat (172733) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692735)

You had more than one phone? I'm sure there are people out there with three or four. Not to mention any passengers phones.

Stop at a shop and everyone within a mile gets diverted! You'd get the roads to yourself ...

In wich direction? (2)

AVee (557523) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692745)

Suppose an accident happens somewhere on the road, people will start calling and the density of mobile phones in the area will get bigger, so the system will conclude there is a traffic jam. But the people going in the other direction might just be on an nearly empty road. How will the system be able to decide for wich direction there is a trafic jam? This gets even funnier when intersections this happen on an intersection of roads (where most traffic jams occur). Based on the cell info you might conclude there is some kind of traffic jam, but you will never know to wich road in wich direction this applies. Here in Holland loops are placed in the road wich detect passing cars and there speed. This information is much better localized and gives more info about how big the jam is. In some places this system is also used to warn the upcoming trafic there is a traffic jam ahead.

Re:In wich direction? (1)

wheany (460585) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692798)

people will start calling and the density of mobile phones in the area will get bigger

Only if the people had their phones off, and turned them on to make a call.

You forgot RUBBERNECKING! (2)

mekkab (133181) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692987)

Both sides get screwed. I've seen it many times on I-95 or the Jersey Turnpike where the accident is on my side- I'm slow for a few miles. Once I pass the accident the other side is a giant parking lot becuase they are trying to see why all those funny lights are flashing!

And in an intersection- it just got worse. So I don't see this as a problem. Besides, if it is just traffic and intersection will get bogged down anyway. The occaisional driver wants to make that left hand turn, blocking those in his lane that want to go straight, waiting for the oncoming traffic to break. Happens all the time in DC.

Re:In wich direction? (1)

carlos_benj (140796) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692988)

How will the system be able to decide for wich direction there is a trafic jam? This gets even funnier when intersections this happen on an intersection of roads (where most traffic jams occur).

Wow. Don't know where you live, but in the Phoenix area most traffic jams happen on the freeway and an accident on one side bring traffic on both sides to a crawl so everyone can have a look. In fact, leaves blowing across the road or a bunch of styrofoam scattered along the shoulder can bring traffic to a crawl (seen both instances). Other times traffic will be stop and go for miles until you get to a certain point and traffic mysteriously starts going again with no discernable reason for the slowdown.

Good idea but...... (1)

Fraz (95727) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692748)

Great idea. I like it. I wish I'd thought of it.

But what happens when there is a coach full of executives? A coach with 60 people and 60 mobile phones. Would the system read this as 60 cars full of people?

Good idea but some problems I think.

My Plan (5, Funny)

finny (107762) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692759)

is to cut my commute in half by buying loads of second-hand cell phones and packing them into a fleet of station wagons strategically driven by hired teenagers.

Saturation... (1)

march (215947) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692763)

The problem with this is that since the cells can only handle a maximum number of users, the "top" of the curve will be chopped off, not showing the true "jam".

Have you ever tried to phone home in a traffic jam?

Mobile positioning and the law (3, Interesting)

jonelf (99217) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692774)

The police here in Sweden has been using mobile position for a couple of years now. It's been used in some high profile crimes like the murder of two police officers a couple of years back.
(80% of the swedish has access to a cellular phone in their home, actually there are more celluars than cars)

Here in Sweden we're not as concered as the USA citizens of the Big Brother/1984 scenarios. Just check out our national statistics [] also everyone in sweden has a nationwide unique number based on our birthdate. Great to use a unique identifier in databases...

Swedens biggest mobile operator has a service where you can find your friends []
though I have no idea why you would use it.
Mobile Friendfinder in swedish and only for swedish people [] .

British use (2, Interesting)

vohlish_n (261634) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692803)

This seems to be a system in development for the UK. We have a lot of motorways, and other major routes, which do not go anywhere near cities, major offices, and especially not pedestrians. In the cases where they do (for instance, the M6/M5/M42 through Birmingham) I would have thought the software would learn that 70% of the phones in a specific area are slow-moving/stationary due to being inside an office block and that if the percentage does increase, it is a possible traffic alert.

There are less advanced ways but more reliable means of doing this, using bridge-mounted devices to measure the speeding of vehicles (on the motorway below the bridge). We already have a system in the UK that does this - I'm not sure about the rest of Europe.

On a slightly off-topic note, there is currently a game in the UK played via your mobile (link from called x-fire, that uses this kind of mobile location methodology to determine how close you are to other players in the country. It's electronic paint-ball! Kind of fun. [originally this came from Sweden I think]. It disturbed me that a company could access the location data of my cell-phone without me having to sign a release-form. Just a simple phone call to an automated system is all it takes to set yourself up in the game.

Re:British use (1)

hplasm (576983) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692844)

Could also be read as:-
I would have thought the software would learn that 70% of the phones in a specific area are slow-moving/stationary due to being on the M6/M5/M42 through Birmingham

Not a problem (2)

YanceyAI (192279) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692826)

I don't have a problem with this any more than I would a helicopter passing over me and recording the visual "data" of me sitting in a traffic jam. A more relevant analogy would be someone tracking the data of how many phone lines are paid for in a certain city block to measure population density (versus flying over and counting houses). As long as there's no eavesdropping, there's no problem.

This is great.... (2, Funny)

SageLikeFool (547462) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692843) least until somebody develops some sort of auto-gyro apparatus that is able to hover relatively short distance above the ground. That is the technology I am waiting for. Just think of the possibilities available with that technology! News stations could theoretically use this amazing technology to fly employees above city streets to report on traffic buildup as it happens! This Cell information using company better hope these vehicles remain science fiction for a long time to come, otherwise it could seriously cut into their bottom line.

Use insect swarming algorithms... (1)

Snart Barfunz (526615) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692865)

Put a CPU & wireless network card in every car. Any car powered up becomes part of a computing fabric, aware of all the other cars and their position, abd able to intelligently route & prioritise traffic.

Re:Use insect swarming algorithms... (1)

JeanPaulBob (585149) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693100)

The downfall of that being the governmental override that tells the car, "The *best* route would be right through this conveniently located police station."

Misunderstanding. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3692867)

Mobiles in Buildings: They would effectively count as "noise" to the system. They are the same every day, the system is looking at unusual build ups of mobiles in one area.
(crowd control?)

People with 15000 mobile phones in their car: as long as they are moving, it's irrelevant.

Odds of succeeding, bloody low. You may as well use the AA traffic systems which have already been installed. (Those big blue poles)

You can tell when there's a big crowd (in Japan) (4, Interesting)

hqm (49964) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692868)

In Japan where essentially everyone carries a mobile phone, at a big event such as a fireworks display, you can tell when
there is a critical density of people around because your
cell phone cannot acquire a channel.

DaimlerChryslers fleetnet (1)

Lars -1 (308687) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692884)

DaimlerChrysler has been working on systems like these for a long time. Check out for an example.

Fleetnet is about ad-hoc networks. Cars build up connections while they are in radio contact, and can exchange data. Suppose an accident happens on the highway. Cars directly behind could detect that an accident has happened, and start slowing down. Cars passing by in the other direction could pick up the information and start sending and warning other cars they drive by, warning them about the upcoming traffic jam.
The nice thing here is that the system is decentralized, and this makes it (in theory) harder to profile single users. Also, the information lives only in regions where it is relevant.


Passive traffic (1)

carlos_benj (140796) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692919)

They are using both passive cellular traffic (what you get when the phone is switched on) and active (drivers phoning up to say they'll be late - in standing traffic, I hope) to look for clusters of immobile cellphones along major routes.

Hmmm. Passive traffic could be a term for a traffic jam.

I don't think it means drivers calling to say they'll be late. That would be active. Passive is probably something like a "Hey, I can be reached from this antenna's coverage area." signal.

Re:Passive traffic (1)

carlos_benj (140796) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692932)

Doh. Too early in the morning yet. Didn't see the "and active" between the two parenthetical asides. Shoulda just stopped with the passive traffic == traffic jam comment.

Costs: Give and take (1)

l0wland (463243) | more than 12 years ago | (#3692959)

Here in The Netherlands there's a radio-station called Radio 538 which uses RDS to display the spots where cops do their mobile speed-checks.

It'll cost you some extra money as it's a commercial 0900-phonenumber which you have to call to tell the highway and spot where you saw the check, but on the other hand other people will do the same for you.

If everyone invests a little, the earnings are big enough :-)

whatever (0, Offtopic)

tzanger (1575) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693054)

drivers phoning up to say they'll be late - in standing traffic, I hope

Blow it out yer ear. Just because you can't chew bubble gum and walk at the same time doesn't mean the rest of us should be hampered. If you can't drive without being distracted you shouldn't be driving, period.

where's my royalties? (1)

rfischer (95276) | more than 12 years ago | (#3693107)

Mention the idea [] on Slashdot, and it appears three months later.

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