Recently in Intelligent Transportation Systems Category

From Gizmodo: Google Killed Map Traffic Estimates Because It Just Didn't Work

If you're wondering how road traffic's gonna slow you today, don't turn to Google Maps anymore—the site's killed its estimates. Not because it wasn't popular. It turns out those road calculations didn't exactly correlate to, you know, reality.

The Atlantic describes the discovery of perturbed Maps users, who complained to Google when they noticed the change. Its answer?

[W]e have decided that our information systems behind this feature were not as good as they could be. Therefore, we have taken this offline and are currently working to come up with a better, more accurate solution. We are always working to bring you the best Google Maps experience with updates like these!"
Translation: traffic didn't work. And as the Atlantic's Nicholas Jackson asks, how could Google be sucking down so much locational data from Android drivers and be botching it to the point that they pulled it down entirely? [The Atlantic]"

A big defeat for the biggest information provider. But using in-vehicle GPS on mobile phones as a probe is coming, and will eventually get it right (approximately, if lagged). The problem of course is that traffic is dynamic, and even a 5 minute lag will be quite off if there is an incident or something non-steady state. However as a signal of whether things are normal, it probably works.


Information provision is probably best for what an individual will not know from routine behavior—random incidents and unfamiliar territory. The qualitative conclusion that incidents and the unexpected are where the greatest gains from traveler information are to be found reinforces the results from our simulations. Those models show that a low level of probes can provide useful information by rapidly detecting incidents, whereas a much greater number is needed to provide any gains from recurring congestion.

Tyler Cowan, an economist at George Mason, writes about driverless cars ..

Regulations Hinder Development of Driverless Cars -

"IN the meantime, transportation is one area where progress has been slow for decades. We’re still flying 747s, a plane designed in the 1960s. Many rail and bus networks have contracted. And traffic congestion is worse than ever. As I argued in a previous column, this is probably part of a broader slowdown of technological advances.

But it’s clear that in the early part of the 20th century, the original advent of the motor car was not impeded by anything like the current mélange of regulations, laws and lawsuits. Potentially major innovations need a path forward, through the current thicket of restrictions. That debate on this issue is so quiet shows the urgency of doing something now."

(Via David King.)

See also: Marginal Revolution

Autonomous cars interview

Will sends us a link AAH #101 – Burns, Baby, Burns – John's Journal on Autoline Detroit: ""

(At 26:00, there's a good discussion of autonomous cars by Larry Burns, former VP of R&D at GM, about legal issues etc.)

Wired's Autopia:

How Smartphones Can Improve Public Transit :

An interesting study of commuters in Boston and San Francisco found people are more willing to ride the bus or train when they have tools to manage their commutes effectively. The study asked 18 people to surrender their cars for one week. The participants found that any autonomy lost by handing over their keys could be regained through apps providing real-time information about transit schedules, delays and shops and services along the routes.

Though the sample size is small, the researchers dug deep into participants’ reactions. The results could have a dramatic effect on public transportation planning, and certainly will catch the attention of planners and programmers alike. By encouraging the development of apps that make commuting easier, transit agencies can drastically, and at little cost, improve the ridership experience and make riding mass transit more attractive.

Ars Technica on Calling all cars: cell phone networks and the future of traffic describing the Mobile Millennium project at Berkeley.


From Ars technica: Can we transport food like Internet data? Foodtubes says yes

Much of the world's food supply is transported via an inefficient, polluting, and dangerous system of highways and trucks. The overwhelming share of the fuel used to move food powers cumbersome vehicles, only eight percent is really needed to transport the cargoes themselves to supermarkets, according to one estimate.

So what's the alternative? Move the whole system underground and set up a "transport industry Internet," says the United Kingdom based Foodtubes Project, a consortium of academics, project planners, and engineers. Siphon veggies, corn flakes, cans of baked beans about in high-speed capsules (one by two meters) traveling through dedicated pipelines lodged below our cities. And why not? That's the way we transport water, oil, gas, and sewage, isn't it?

"All all conditions, day or night, delivery can be guaranteed," a Foodtubes PowerPoint presentation promises. "Whatever the weather, FOODTUBE will deliver the goods!"

I don't know why this is limited to foods, as opposed to any material goods. Of course it is reminiscent of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (written in 1887):

"I suppose so," said Edith, "but of course we have never known any other way. But, Mr. West, you must not fail to ask father to take you to the central warehouse some day, where they receive the orders from the different sample houses all over the city and parcel out and send the goods to their destinations. He took me there not long ago, and it was a wonderful sight. The system is certainly perfect; for example, over yonder in that sort of cage is the dispatching clerk. The orders, as they are taken by the different departments in the store, are sent by transmitters to him. His assistants sort them and enclose each class in a carrier-box by itself.

The dispatching clerk has a dozen pneumatic transmitters before him answering to the general classes of goods, each communicating with the corresponding department at the warehouse. He drops the box of orders into the tube it calls for, and in a few moments later it drops on the proper desk in the warehouse, together with all the orders of the same sort from the other sample stores. The orders are read over, recorded, and sent to be filled, like lightning. The filling I thought the most interesting part. Bales of cloth are placed on spindles and turned by machinery, and the cutter, who also has a machine, works right through one bale after another till exhausted, when another man takes his place; and it is the same with those who fill the orders in any other staple. The packages are then delivered by larger tubes to the city districts, and thence distributed to the houses. You may understand how quickly it is all done when I tell you that my order will probably be at home sooner than I could have carried it from here." Edward Bellamy (1887) Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (chapter 10, p.106)

I wrote a bit about Automated Freight Systems in
Published as: Zou, Xi and David Levinson (2005) Financing and Deploying Automated Freight Systems in The Future of Automated Freight Transport: Concepts, Design and Implementation. (ed. Rob Konings, Peter Nijkamp, Hugo Peimus) Edward Elgar pp. 227-242.

For the record, I am not a locovore.

Google's Self-Driving Car

Jean-Louis Gassee on Google's Self-Driving Car

The hardware and the software will fail, no question. The real riddle is determining the socially acceptable failure rate. Today, there are about 40,000 car fatalities per year. [In the US, actually slightly less -- dml] Note the euphemistic "car fatalities" or "car accidents", as if the drivers weren't to blame. You can imagine the news headlines when the first self-driving car fatality happens: Killer Robot! Killer Software! (A literal killer app?). Isaac Asimov, the author of the Three Laws of Robotics will spin in his grave.

Why Robot Cars Matter


Why robot cars (autonomous vehicles), as demonstrated by Google this week (and randomly captured by Robert Scoble in the video above), matter.

1. Safety - cars would be safe if only there weren't drivers behind the wheel. Driverless cars seldom get distracted or tired, have really fast perception-reaction times, know exactly how hard to break, and can communicate (potentially) with vehicles around them with Mobile Ad Hoc Networks. But this improves not only vehicle safety, it improves the safety and environment for pedestrians and bicyclists.

2. Capacity - 'bots can follow other driverless cars at a significantly reduced distance, and can stay within much narrower lanes with greater accuracy. Capacity at bottlenecks should improve, both in throughput per lane and the number of lanes per unit roadwidth. These cars still need to go somewhere, so we need capacity on city streets as well as freeways, but we save space on parking (see below), and lane width everywhere. If we can reduce lane width, and have adequate capacity, we can reduce paved area and still see higher throughput. Most roadspace is not used most of the time now.

3. Vehicle diversity - Narrow and specialized cars are now more feasible with computers driving and increased overall safety. Especially if we move to cloud commuting (as below), we can have greater variety, and more precision in the fleet, with the right size car for the job.

4. Travel behavior - if the cost of traveling per trip declines (drivers need to exert less effort, and lose less effective time, since they can do something else), we would expect more trips (my taxi can take me wherever) and longer trips and more trips by robocar.

5. Land use - if acceptable trip distances increases, we would expect a greater spread of origins and destinations, (pejoratively, sprawl), just as commuter trains enable exurban living or living in a different city.

6. Parking - my car can drop me off at the front door, and go fairly remotely to park, so we don't need to devote valuable space to parking ramps (garages) (we still need space, it is just far away), searching for parking is also less critical. On street parking can be abolished.

7. Transportation disadvantaged - children, the physically challenged, and others who cannot or should not drive, are now enabled. Parents, friends, and siblings need not shuttle children around, the vehicle can do that by itself. The differences between transit and private vehicles begin to collapse. We can serious consider giving passes to driverless taxis for the poor, since costs should drop with lower labor costs, and if the point below holds, paratransit services become much less expensive as well.

8. Reduced auto ownership - cloud commuting becomes possible.People no longer need to own a car, they can instead subscribe to a car sharing service.

Review of Transit Apps in NY Times Phone Smart - With Transit Map Apps, No Refolding Required

Among those interviewed:

Brendan Nee, one of AnyStop's developers, said the app was best suited to those who already knew their routes, and wanted to optimize the timing of their journeys. In that respect, longer-term visitors and commuters will find it more useful than tourists.

Brendan is one of my former students before defecting to the People's Republic of Berkeley. We wrote the working paper:

Nee, Brendan and David Levinson (2004) Value of Information for Transit Riders. back before there was real-time mobile information of any usefulness.

Brendan also orchestrated the data collection for the study that became Zhang, Lei and David Levinson (2008) Determinants of Route Choice and the Value of Traveler Information: A Field Experiment. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board 2086:81-92.

So exposure to academic research can lead to marketable products.

A link from AD in the NYT: U.S. System for Tracking Traffic Flow Is Faulted. I am not familiar with the system, but obviously publicly paid for data should be free to the public. I suspect this is a problem of either bureaucratic incompetence or crony capitalism in the previous administration. The technology (at least the travel time parts) will soon be obviated by crowd-sourced travel time information from GPS equipped cell phones, assuming someone can get critical mass on the number of "probe" vehicles.


Waze is a mobile smart-phone application that lets you see real-time traffic information from other Waze users, and share it. Basically, it uses your smart-phone as a probe. It also lets you update the network (of course if the network is still incomplete, real-time traffic data is almost assuredly sparse). This really depends on critical mass, as I described in this paper:

And lagged information may in some instances be worse than no (or historical average) information.

Recently published:

Zhang, Lei and David Levinson (2008) Determinants of Route Choice and the Value of Traveler Information: A Field Experiment. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board 2086:81-92 [doi]

A major strategy of federal ITS initiatives and state departments of transportation is to provide traveler information to motorists through various means, including variable message signs, the internet, telephone services like 511, in-vehicle guidance systems, and TV and radio reports. This is relatively uncontroversial, but its effectiveness is unknown. Drivers receive value from traveler information in several ways, including the ability to save time, but perhaps more importantly, other personal, social, safety, or psychological impacts from certainty. This information can be economically valued. The benefits of reduction in driver uncertainty when information is provided at the beginning of the trip by various means is the main variable we aim to measure in this research, in which we assess user preferences for routes as a function of the presence and accuracy of information, while controlling for other trip and route attributes, such as trip purpose, travel time, distance, number of stops, delay, esthetics, level of commercial development, and individual characteristics. Data is collected in a field experiment in which more than 100 drivers, given real-time travel time information with varying degrees of accuracy, drove four of five alternative routes between a pre-selected OD pair in the Twin Cities metro area. Ordinary regression, multinomial, and rank-ordered logit models produce estimates of the value of information with some variation. In general, results show that travelers are willing to pay up to $1 per trip for pre-trip travel time information. The value of information is higher for commute and event trips and when congestion on the usual route is heavier. The accuracy of the traveler information is also a crucial factor. In fact, there do not seem be incentives for travelers to use traveler information at all unless they perceive it to be accurate. Finally, most travelers (70%) prefer that such information should be provided for free by the public sector, while some (19%) believe that it is better for the private sector to provide such service at a charge. Over 35% of subjects are willing to pay for OD-customized pre-trip travel time information.

Keywords: Value of Information, Advanced Traveler Information System (ATIS), Real-Time Traffic Operations, Travel Behavior, Spatial behavior, Wayfinding Behavior, Route Choice.

Arterial traffic available on Google Maps for selected cities (including Minneapolis).

It seems they are doing it from Google Maps for Mobile, and getting automatic feedback of location from GPS-enabled online users (and thereby deriving speed). Clearly this is a good thing for traffic data nerds, and critical mass for arterial travel times is a good thing, even if Google winds up being the dominant provider.

From the blog Unqualified Reservations (via Daring Fireball) Wolfram Alpha and hubristic user interfaces

"... control interfaces must not be intelligent. Briefly, intelligent user interfaces should be limited to applications in which the user does not expect to control the behavior of the product. If the product is used as a tool, its interface should be as unintelligent as possible. Stupid is predictable; predictable is learnable; learnable is usable."

This applies as much to search engines as it does to transportation. Are you listening designers of ITS applications?

Who owns bus schedules?

Bus schedules are public data, aren't they?

From VentureBeat
Apple kills Routesy app, my iPhone gets less useful

Apparently, predictions of bus arrival times are not necessarily public data (this is disputed), so NextBus Information Systems (now separate from NextBus) has had the Routesy application for the iPhone killed.
Discussion here and here. (and a response here

Too bad it has come to this, NextBus had a nice thing going in Emeryville in the late 1990s.

More on DARPA Urban Challenge

From Tom's Hardware: DARPA Urban Challenge Coverage
"Victorville (CA) - In about 24 hours, robotic cars will be zooming around the former George Air Force Base in Victorville for the DARPA Urban Challenge and TG Daily will be covering the exciting event in force. For the next six days, 36 teams from across the country - and several from Germany - will compete for 20 spots in the actual race to be held on November 3rd."

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

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