In the past, commuters relied on news broadcasts for traffic information. Now we have smartphones to tell us whether the highway is backed up, but even our iPhones and Droids can’t always give us up-to-the-millisecond information–especially in rural areas with limited cell phone signals. Our cars, however, might be able to.
MIT’s CarTel project, a distributed mobile sensor network and telematics system, is examining how wirelessly connected cars might be used as real-time traffic sensors. Researchers working on the project have been analyzing driving patterns of GPS-equipped Boston taxicabs for the past four years in an attempt to build algorithms that collect and disseminate information about road conditions.
A good information-dissemination algorithm should thus ensure that two
cars passing each other in opposite directions, with only a fleeting
wireless connection, will exchange high-priority data — say, that a
tractor trailer has jackknifed across three lanes of traffic on the
nearby interstate. On the other hand, it should also ensure that two
cars stuck at a light together, with plenty of time on their hands,
exchange lower-priority data as well — like the location of a
particularly nasty pothole.
Now that MIT researchers have developed an effective algorithm, testing can begin. The new algorithm might even be included in future versions of the Ford Sync in-car communication system. And if that happens, traffic nightmares will become a whole lot easier to avoid.