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MS Clearflow To Help Drivers Avoid Traffic Jams

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the get-me-outa-this dept.

Microsoft 243

Pioneer Woman writes "Microsoft announced plans to introduce a Web-based service for driving directions that incorporates complex software models to help users avoid traffic jams. The system is intended to reflect the complex traffic interactions that occur as traffic backs up on freeways and spills over onto city streets and will be freely available as part of the company's Live.com site for 72 cities in the US. Microsoft researchers designed algorithms that modeled traffic behavior by collecting trip data from Microsoft employees who volunteered to carry GPS units in their cars. In the end they were able to build a model for predicting traffic based on four years of data, effectively creating individual 'personalities' for over 800,000 road segments in the Seattle region. In all the system tracks about 60 million road segments in the US."

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243 comments

Traffic James? (5, Funny)

davidwr (791652) | about 6 years ago | (#23023524)

Does KD use Microsoft Spell-cheque?

Re:Traffic James? (1)

Kingrames (858416) | about 6 years ago | (#23024032)

" MS Clearflow To Help Drivers Avoid Traffic James"

No, it's spelled right.
the article was meant for me.

Re:Traffic James? (1)

FridayBob (619244) | about 6 years ago | (#23024226)

No, the question is, Why on Earth would I want to *buy* software -- from *&^! Microsoft! -- in order to avoid someone I don't even know and don't care about?

well ... (5, Funny)

JaffaKREE (766802) | about 6 years ago | (#23023526)

Traffic James *IS* a dick.

Re:but seriously (5, Funny)

TheMeuge (645043) | about 6 years ago | (#23023614)

I guess they decided to take phrases "computer crash" and "blue screen of death" seriously.

I could only imagine the program modifying GPS directions on the fly:

- Left turn ahead.
- Traffic ahead.
- Please turn right and over the railing
- Please fall 200 feet to the road below and proceed west on highway 53.

mod parent up Re:but seriously (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23023742)

That's funny, there. And really, what part of falling 200 feet off a cliff doesn't resemble microsoft software?

Re:but seriously (-1, Troll)

stubear (130454) | about 6 years ago | (#23024042)

Oh, you are so witty. I want to grow up to be just like you. Where ever did you get the idea to combine the "blue screen of death" and "computer crashes" with automotive computer systems?

Re:well ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23023868)

Yay for witty tags! The boring tags of recent weeks had become so dull that I'd almost given up on Slashdot - I was even about to go and do something useful with my life instead. This has restored my faith!

More funny tourettes-syndrome tags, please!

Re:well ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23024182)

I love MS for that. Not only Traffic James IS a Dick, but he is also my neighbor and if I can find a way to avoid him, that will be really great.

Seriously. (1, Informative)

Smidge204 (605297) | about 6 years ago | (#23023558)

That Traffic James is a total dick. Constantly swerving between lanes and cutting people off. The faster they get him off the roads the better we'll all be.

(Headline currently reads "MS Clearflow To Help Drivers Avoid Traffic James" - hope they fix that...)
=Smidge=

Re: ... Traffic James (2, Funny)

InfraredAD (904482) | about 6 years ago | (#23023562)

I really hate Traffic James... they're everywhere. I mean, how can one man be in so many places at once? Santa's being given a run for his money... And yes, if the title gets edited, it really was "MS Clearflow To Help Drivers Avoid Traffic James"

What next? Air traffic control? (0, Troll)

toby (759) | about 6 years ago | (#23023584)

Honestly, who could trust Microsoft to blow their own noses. Get real.

Re:What next? Air traffic control? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23023778)

I'd rather not trust suggestions by Microsoft software ("Hi, I see you're trying to drive to work!..."), particularly those which are based upon the decisions made by Microsoft employees. We've had too much experience with the results of their decisions.

Re:What next? Air traffic control? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23023944)

Actually, a large part of the US Air Force and civilian air traffic control system use Windows.

And I'm not talking about XP.... they use Windows 3.1.

That's why I don't fly anywhere. :)

Oh man! The day is filled with Bad Analogy ops (1)

thomasdz (178114) | about 6 years ago | (#23023594)

Now we have traffic james, offramps, city streets on the Internet. Do we have playground zones, back alleys, sidewalks? Oh probably. And will these traffic jams be faster than the speed of light from the tip of a finger to the knuckle or will speed be measured in how fast a VW Bug can drive the Internet to the Library of Congress?
Let the Bad Analogies begin.

TDz.

Well, I feel pretty good. (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | about 6 years ago | (#23023598)

Do you suppose at any point during the development of this, someone somewhere at MS thought to shout "KICK OUT THE JAMS, MICROSOFTERS!" [makemyday.free.fr] at the top of their lungs?

Re:Well, I feel pretty good. (1)

kshade (914666) | about 6 years ago | (#23024400)

Yes i'm starting to sweat
You know my shirt's all wet
What a feeling
In the sound that abounds
And resounds and rebounds off the ceiling
Now who could that be?

Stop Traffic Jams (5, Insightful)

Mikya (901578) | about 6 years ago | (#23023610)

I have a way to help stop traffic jams without fancy algorithms: stop tailgating the person in front of you. That way every time that person slows down slightly you don't have to slam on your brakes, thus requiring people behind you to slam on theirs causing a buildup of cars that aren't going anywhere even if traffic isn't that heavy.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (4, Insightful)

BlowHole666 (1152399) | about 6 years ago | (#23023648)

Sure if you would just get off your cell phone, get out of the left hand lane and drive the speed limit. I would not have to tailgate.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

tjstork (137384) | about 6 years ago | (#23023954)

Sure if you would just get off your cell phone, get out of the left hand lane and drive the speed limit. I would not have to tailgate?

And, what entitles you to break the law? If someone tailgates me, I have been known, on occasion, to accidentally drop a soda at their windshield.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

BlowHole666 (1152399) | about 6 years ago | (#23023972)

And that is littering so what entitles you to break the law?

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

Stanistani (808333) | about 6 years ago | (#23024048)

No, it's assault.

So I may shoot him, for self-defense is a recognized legal concept.

On a more serious note, I think we've just simulated 'road rage.'

There are no Kumbayas on the Internetz, are there? :(

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

Zcar (756484) | about 6 years ago | (#23024228)

So you feel justified in escalating a non-criminal violation into what is, at the least, a misdemeanor?

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about 6 years ago | (#23024128)

Sure if you would just get off your cell phone, get out of the left hand lane and drive the speed limit. I would not have to tailgate.
Oddly enough, driving below the speed limit in the left-hand lane doesn't seem to be the problem in these parts. Going faster than the speed limit, especially in the left-hand lane, is another matter... Eeeevery once in a while driving in the left lane I find myself being high-beamed as someone comes up behind me, and I look down and notice, "holy cow, I'm going nearly in the 65 zone - better pay more attention to speed and slow down - wait, there's some guy back there who doesn't think I'm going fast ENOUGH? Wow."

Also, I'm not sure why you need to tailgate cell phone users. Do explain.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

contrapunctus (907549) | about 6 years ago | (#23024408)

It's just courtesy, if someone behind you wants to pass, leave the left lane for a a few minutes and let him break the law as that is his business.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (4, Insightful)

Silver Sloth (770927) | about 6 years ago | (#23023712)

Better still - use public transport.

Ok, ok, I know this sounds like a troll but seriously, when we have a situation where traffic speeds in major cities is declining endlessly we need to look to long term solutions, not tinkering with the symptoms.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 6 years ago | (#23024396)

Better still: Live close to the office if you have the option. The less distance you have to travel, the less chance something will happen along that distance to screw up your commute.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1, Informative)

SCHecklerX (229973) | about 6 years ago | (#23023906)

Actually, it's usually that impatient dick that passes on the right and then swerves back to the left, causing a ripple of red lights back for miles. It takes only one idiot like that to cause a jam.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | about 6 years ago | (#23023932)

That's true, but reducing the distance between you and the car in front of you does increase traffic density, and thus throughput at a given speed.

Not that it's safe or I'm advocating it, mind you, but traffic flow dynamics aren't a simple thing.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

jsiren (886858) | about 6 years ago | (#23024276)

That's true, but reducing the distance between you and the car in front of you does increase traffic density, and thus throughput at a given speed.

Not that it's safe or I'm advocating it, mind you, but traffic flow dynamics aren't a simple thing.

Only up to the point where one ripple (like an impatient traffic james who passes on the right and cuts off somebody in the left lane) causes a standing wave of brake lights...

Captcha: reinvent - some nations need to reinvent rail transit...

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 6 years ago | (#23024318)

Good. Better to have everyone traveling smoothly at a slower speed and safe distances than to have people packed in at unsafe distances constantly braking and accelerating.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | about 6 years ago | (#23024406)

Good. Better to have everyone traveling smoothly at a slower speed and safe distances than to have people packed in at unsafe distances constantly braking and accelerating.

Problem is it doesn't work. Where I live, if you leave a nice cushion, someone will move in and cut you off. So what you do is optimize the distance to maximize braking time, which means minimizing the opportunity for cars to cut you off.

Traffic's getting nastier all the time. I try to avoid driving.

Re:Stop Traffic Jams (1, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 6 years ago | (#23023984)

Sorry, that wouldn't work, because then the guy behind you would switch lanes to get in front of you. Then the guy behind him, and so on, forcing you to slow down to maintain that distance.

Clear type (3, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about 6 years ago | (#23023620)

Microsoft's Cleartype technology makes text more blurry. So what can we expect from Microsoft's Clearflow?

A cloud of cars? (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 6 years ago | (#23023830)

Imagine the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applied on a macro scale!

Re:A cloud of cars? (1)

Yetihehe (971185) | about 6 years ago | (#23024240)

"In 200 meters turn left. Or right.
Your speed is now 90km/h and you are probably near San Francisco..."

Re:Clear type (2, Funny)

holyspidoo (1195369) | about 6 years ago | (#23024158)

Clearflow is based on Vista. It takes so much time to boot, by the time its ready, everyone is at work already and the streets are free. Genius.

I can imagine (1)

fluch (126140) | about 6 years ago | (#23023638)

I imagine the following message: "Traffic jam reported. Please press CTRL-ALT-DEL to reboot device!"

And also the slogan "where do you want to go to day" gets a very new meaning ;-)

No thanks (0, Troll)

sm62704 (957197) | about 6 years ago | (#23023658)

I use Microsoft software every day. I wish I didn't have to. When some other company makes something similar I'll look into it, but I have yet to see anything from Microsoft that isn't unreasonable and illogical, with all thought to look and none to functionality.

Knowing Microsoft the thing will probably break if you brake. It won't follow any standards (WE are Microsoft. We ARE the standard!), it will be unreasonably expensive, it will ask me where I want to go today and then take me somewhere else.

I'd rather have a retarded woman back-seat driving. She'd probably be more accurate and functional, too.

-mcgrew

(Yes, I'm still in a bad mood)

Re:No thanks (1)

BlowHole666 (1152399) | about 6 years ago | (#23023724)

Hmm well I have used Google maps on my pda and Microsoft live on my pda also and personally i trust the Microsoft version better. For some reason the Google version thinks performing a U turn is a smart thing to do in a busy city. Try it some time, use Google maps to get to directions and 6 out of 10 times it will tell you to do a U turn and then try the same directions with Microsoft and it will not ask you to do a U turn.

Swings & Roundabouts (4, Interesting)

CmdrGravy (645153) | about 6 years ago | (#23023692)

This sounds like a sensible idea but if it becomes widespread then the metrics it has used for it's monitoring of the traffic conditions are going to change as people choose new routes based on it's suggestions with the upshot that previously clear routes are now congested.

My own journey to work changes based on the time I leave the house and my local knowledge of the area and problme junctions so I can normally make my way down side streets and 'rat runs' without encountering much traffic. The last thing I want is for anyone else to be told these routes and start to clog them up. It is amazing though the difference it can make if you take what is in theory a slightly longer route to get around stupidly placed roundabouts or congested main roads.

I guess ultimately if people had a perfect knowledge of the traffic situation the congestion would even out so everywhere is just congested at rush hour rather than extremely congested but the basic problem, in the UK at least, is that there just aren't enough roads. Here in Birmingham during the recent building work in the city centre there were some traffic conditions which would just lead inevitably to total gridlock as jams backed up across islands causing more jams which looped all the way around town to hold up the traffic in the original jam even more. We just need more roads.

Not enough roads? No, too many cars (2, Insightful)

davidwr (791652) | about 6 years ago | (#23023900)

More precisely: Too many cars at a given time.

There are several ways to solve this problem:

1) build more efficient roads, i.e. better traffic control, better lane design, better/fewer intersections, better signs, etc.
2) build more roads, but only up to a point
3) reduce the number of cars on the road at peak times
3a) reduce the number of cars
3b) spread the load out over time

Mass transit and congestion taxes are ways to do 3a. Getting employers and schools to shift work times is a way to do 3b.

Re:Not enough roads? No, too many cars (2, Insightful)

lastchance_000 (847415) | about 6 years ago | (#23023982)

Let's add telecommuting in there. There's nothing about the work I do that requires me to be in the office more than one day a week (aside from the mandate from management). I'm sure many people on the road with me are in the same situation.

Re:Swings & Roundabouts (1)

amplt1337 (707922) | about 6 years ago | (#23024106)

the basic problem, in the UK at least, is that there just aren't enough roads.
Or, alternatively, that there are too many cars.

Anyway, as you've pointed out, what this really is is a shortcut simulator to having good local knowledge of the area you're driving in -- it's a substitute for experience. What they basically have is a complex system that predicts where traffic will be. But what's better than prediction is accurate, current reporting -- and we already have an awesome technology for detecting and avoiding traffic jams, called a "radio." Pretty much every major urban area has at least one station that will give you "traffic on the 9s" or whatever during peak hours.

Now, a real useful service would be a gps with an easy interface (I've used plenty that don't have 'em) that just gives you a map of the local area and shows you realtime updates of the traffic flow (say it colours the streets based on average vehicle velocity). The driver is probably a lot better at making decisions than the computer -- but that wouldn't really have anything to do with MS Live.

Re: more roads vs fewer cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23024264)

We just need more roads.

I think you misspelled "fewer cars." In most places, building more roads is not an option (at any cost).

I live a major city in the US, and I take the bus for a 12 mile commute to work that usually takes 16 minutes. In the mornings there are no HOV lanes to help us, so we're screwed when idiots jam the streets. It takes another 10 minutes if it even sprinkles. Ice adds 40 minutes. In the afternoon we get to take a 3+ occupant HOV lane that's almost always completely empty. On on days when the flow backs up past the start of the HOV lane, we have to sit in traffic for another 20+ minutes, but once we hit that point, it lets us literally pass 500 cars in a few miles before the next choke point (yes, I actually counted one day).

I've observed that at least 90% of the cars in my city only have one occupant. If everyone carpooled with at least one other person, there would be close to half as many cars on the road during rush hour. Let's be generous and say 1/3 fewer cars. At that flow rate, there would be no traffic problems. If everyone took the bus, the streets would seem empty.

We just need fewer cars.

I question the way of collecting data. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 6 years ago | (#23023700)

They are making assumptions that Trafic Jams around the world/US is the same as Near Redomnd WA. I know traffic in my area on i90/i87 is actually fairly good except for when there is a car accident and often the traffic occures before it can get reported. But down in CT. on i84 and i91 Traffic is always heavy and traffic jams are just from to many cars on the road. Vs. accedents. Also some states have commuter lanes so there may be heavy traffic on the road but you have a couple of poeple in your car so you can take the commuter lane and avoid trafic all togeter. Traffic Patterns varry differently across the country. Just collecting data from people who live in a particular areas may not get good information to make the decision.

Traffic jam warning (2, Interesting)

Malevolent Tester (1201209) | about 6 years ago | (#23023716)

Traffic is backing up 10 miles after a driver crashed reading Live.com when he should have been paying attention to the road

Re:Traffic jam warning (1)

BlowHole666 (1152399) | about 6 years ago | (#23023768)

Have you ever thought this could be used to monitor traffic congestion during specific times of the day. So if the user is going to be driving between 4:30 and 5:00 PM Microsoft will spit out different directions then it would if the user was driving at 8:00 PM at night.

hmm, does it learn? (3, Insightful)

beyonddeath (592751) | about 6 years ago | (#23023840)

The first thing I thought, and I have thought the idea of analyzing traffic flow on a wide scale could give the individual an edge, as soon as the masses know the way around traffic, the jam will just move. So unless this algorithm can automatically figure out where traffic is stuck, and route the users in many different ways, this will eventually not work. Not to mention that in many cases (ie try entering downtown toronto from etobicoke), there are only so many ways to go. In my example you have some side streets, bloor, eglington, gardiner, lake shore. But they all suck, and if you suggest the small residential roads, you'll probably sit just as long waiting to turn from road to road. I've tried. But if it helps at all its worth it imho, its not my money!

The Unfortunate Fate of Traffic James (5, Funny)

soulsteal (104635) | about 6 years ago | (#23023886)

Aye, 'tis been a while since I heard the name of the Hound of the Highway, Traffic James.

Jim Axelman was once an ordinary man. He had a wife, three kids, even a Labrador retriever named Buddy. But his life was changed forever as he drove to work on fateful day. You see, he was trying to change lanes while talking on his cell phone and jamming out to some Led Zeppelin playing on the classic cock station when he unfortunately cut off a Gypsy minivan-mom. The Gypsy, being a member of the same PTA as Jim, knew who he was and cursed his name to the Heavens. Since that day, he's been forced to drive the streets.

His blinkers never work. If you're in a hurry, he slows you down. If you're not rushed, he tailgates. He can't stop for food or bathroom breaks, his odometer never changes. He forever wanders the Earth in his dark blue Geo Metro.

It's been said that some nights, on an empty country road.... you can still hear the a never-ending play of Kashmir on the wind.

Re:The Unfortunate Fate of Traffic James (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23024402)

Actually, this comes from the well-known expression (usually abbreviated) "Home, James, don't spare the horses. And avoid traffic."

Where to go in a Jam (1)

headhot (137860) | about 6 years ago | (#23023922)

Here in DC, when the beltway is backed up, so is everything else. No amount of directions will solve the problem, there are too many cars and too few roads.

I have the Navigon 7100 which gets traffic updates, and durring rush hour(s) there is no way out of it, everything goes red.

Traf-o-data is Traf-o-data again... (3, Interesting)

tjstork (137384) | about 6 years ago | (#23023938)

Before Microsoft ever even did BASIC, Gates and Co had an abortive project called Traf-o-Data, which was somehow to help city planners with traffic management. Now Microsoft has come full circle. I wonder what's next.. after hearing so much about C# as the language of the future, are we going to get a big deal of BASIC?

Must resist... (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | about 6 years ago | (#23024060)

making bad Windows Vista Display Drivers pun.

This service should work great! Traffic jams are caused by bad drivers and we know the people at Microsoft are experts with those.

post'em if you got'em.

threadjack (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 6 years ago | (#23024134)

chicago and new york city fare pretty well, but most sprawling american cities have awful rail service. they were built from the ground up based on road transportation rather than rail. this is not good

east asia and europe has left us in the dust when it comes to rail service . while we spent most of the 20th century ripping up what we built up in the 19th century, other parts of the world remained committed to rail or at least let it limp along on life support. the usa pretty much killed rail: ripped up the lines and buried them under suburban subdivisions

but with gas prices climbing, it should behoove those in positions of power to update, revive, or pioneer rail services in major american cities. it's a matter of economic security nowadays, not an environmentalist's pipe dream. due to fuel concerns, environmental concerns, quality of life concerns (remember, this threadjack is under a story about traffic congestion), i think the 21st century will represent a renaissance in railroads

Clippy (1)

daveime (1253762) | about 6 years ago | (#23024190)

It looks like you are trying to drive the wrong way up a one-way-street - would you like help with that ?

Is it just me? (2, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | about 6 years ago | (#23024210)

Where are the details? I've seen several attempts to use such data, and the way that traffic works, the slow-down is clear by the time it is posted to the Internet, and what shows green is red when you get there. Without a tactical HUD and real time data, such things are little more than novelties.

Everyday I drive past one intersection that has a slow down on good days. When there are traffic problems ahead, you cannot tell until you are in the traffic jam already. Normally, it takes 2-3 minutes and you're moving again. Some days it's merely a slow-down. Traffic analysis will never show when that stretch of road is fully in congestion and the only prudent course is to get off the highway.

I don't even care how many volunteers were in the study, modeling traffic has been done before and it does not predict the daily problems that you have to deal with.

Nothing short of a HUD with real time data will help. Well, voice assistance from a system with real time data will help also, doesn't require a HUD.

The point is that modeling won't do it. Only monitoring in real time will do it. Without real time data, by the time you get to the decision point half the other drivers are already clogging your escape route.

Mr. L. E. Mming ... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#23024278)

I-7 is fully blocked - the quickest way to your destination is to drive off this cliff

Pilot here in the Netherlands for the same system (1)

YeeHaW_Jelte (451855) | about 6 years ago | (#23024348)

TomTom, a dutch navigation systems manufacturer, is already equipping their latest systems with this technique, but I haven't heard any reviews or feedback, so I'm not sure if and how it works.

If this works, it could be quite a relief ... traffics jams are terrible in the Randstad, the conglomeration of The Hague, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
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