September 26, 2006

Inrix Traffic Study – Great GPS Traffic Data Covering Many More Miles

Advantage: “Dust Network.”
Why FM based and TomTom fed traffic is better than XM.

Inrix, a pioneering real time traffic data delivery company, has announced that it has independent confirmation that it delivers comparable data quality, on substantially more roads than competition: Traffic.com. In my conversation yesterday with Bryan Mistele, the CEO of Inrix, I learned quite a bit about how the Inrix system works and how we, as consumers and GPS owners, can benefit from it. What makes the two companies' systems different is that Traffic.com relies on road sensors, only. The Inrix model takes a different approach and takes the road sensor data as well as aggregating data from over 620,000 GPS equipped fleet vehicles that transmit traffic conditions on the road, even if it doesn’t have a traffic sensor on the road. This is the key to getting more road coverage, extending down onto surface roads that are not often covered by traffic sensors.

Inrix recently had an outside firm do road-driving tests in several markets around the country. The test lasted two to three days and had test vehicles driving throughout the city at different times of the day. The conclusion was that traffic flow information from both Inrix and Traffic.com were comparable for the roads that they both covered, as both were pretty good at estimating the travel time along a route. However, Inrix covers a far greater number of roads due to the reach of its Dust Network of fleet vehicles. In Boston, that means that about twice the number of miles of road coverage, while in Washington DC, they cover eight times the road mileage versus competition. That is significant. Which one would you want?


What’s it mean for you and me as GPS users?
These days many GPS systems are coming with traffic capabilities. Inrix provides data to ClearChannel and FM-TMC equipped GPS units (most units, including most Garmins, Cobra, Magellan, Mio, etc) as well as TomTom, who provides data over a Bluetooth connection via mobile phones. Some people get traffic data via XM satellite (some Garmins, some OEM in-dash models), and this data feed is provided by Traffic.com.

What this all means to you is that the Inrix based systems are currently and will continue to get a lot better than the alternative. As Inrix covers more roads with its Dust Network, you won’t have to adjust or change anything. Your Inrix fed traffic ready GPS will simply display the expanded coverage. Cool.

So for instance in my area, Boston, Inrix covers 565 miles of roadway and 8 highways, extending to the second beltway around the city (I-495), and on some surface roads that are not considered major highways, i.e. Storrow Drive and Memorial Drive; two very important roads to Boston Commuters. The competition covers 214 miles of roadway, 4 highways and does not extend beyond the first beltway (I-95, ot route 128 as locals know it); oh yea and no Storrow or Memorial Drive coverage. BIG difference.

Where’s the future going for Traffic info and feeds to a GPS?
1) In the near term mapping sites like Google and Yahoo that will be able to use Inrix’s predictive algorithms as well as real-time data feeds to help you navigate smartly. Let’s say you want to travel from Boston to NYC starting at 5PM. The live traffic feeds may help you for the first portion, but the predictive modeling that Inrix can provide will help you realize that there will still be some traffic issues around NYC 3 hours later. Look for this predictive data implementation late this year.
2) Predictive traffic fed to your GPS – imagine planning your ride home today to arrive at a certain time with the knowledge that your new GPS knows what the traffic should be including the effects of the stadium concert, the fact that it is raining? It could rely on predictive models that Inrix has developed to figure out that on THIS Friday, you need to leave the office early to make sure you skip the concert and rain traffic delays to make it to the dinner date you have. That can’t be too far in the future. Inrix has modeling capability in many of the top traffic markets across the US.
3) Consumers become part of the Dust Network – While there are 620,000+ fleet vehicles in the Dust Network, more is better here. If the market expands at a couple of million consumer GPS systems a year, you can start to see if even a small fraction of these helped out the Dust Network, things would get better in a hurry. So, if you opted into a system where your tracking data was uploaded anonymously to a server that fed the Dust Network, you could become a beacon for traffic conditions. The Dust Network gets more robust and maybe you get traffic service for a reduced rate. Sound pretty good?

Dash is talking about just such a system, although it is unclear if they want to share their data with people who own GPS units by other manufacturers (probably not). In reality, if TomTom (who already uses a Bluetooth mobile network to feed data to the GPS which could easily be adapted to be a two-way network) and Garmin participated with Inrix on the Dust Network, Dash would hardly have a reason to exist. That is unless Dash owns patents to prevent this. The result of mass participation would be a huge boost to the Inrix Dust Network and we get dramatically improved data. My thought is that Dash has a technology that needs the mass of a bigger GPS manufactureer.

Ah, one can only dream of the possibilities.

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Posted by Scott Martin at September 26, 2006 9:04 AM

Recent Comments

I have seen the data myself, and you can request a copy at the Inrix website. Overall, the data shows Inrix and Traffic.com to be comparable in prediction times versus each other for the roads that have road sensors. Any advantage was within the error of the test. I don’t have the facts on how the Dash network performs versus real world driving across the board.


Posted by: Scott at October 2, 2006 12:14 PM

Has Inrix released these studies, yet? Is there a URL with the quality results? I'd be interested in knowing just how close the Inrix travel time predictions are, relative to real-world predictions. Especially on road sections that are exclusively covered by the Dust Network. (i.e. no road sensors)


Posted by: Kevin at October 2, 2006 10:36 AM

Yes, I know about this test that is going on with Traffic.com, and Brian and I talked about this technology and this particular test that Traffic.com is conducting. The data quality from similar offerings is reportedly not up to par at this point. Now, as more mobiles get GPS chips, and they can also report specific location, like the Dust Network can with GPS equipped fleet vehicles, that might change the game. I agree though, a nation of mobile phone users uploading traffic flow data (let's say around 150 million or so) would eventually trump the Dust Network if the technology is sorted out. Don't think that if the technology started to firm up that Inrix would ignore the opportunity.

Another issue I see is privacy, and the opt in/out problems. The Fleet companies that work with Inrix presumably get some sort of traffic flow services in return. They opt in because its of value to them. Until the same scenario happens for mobile phone users, I don't see a lot of mobile phone users opting in for the good of the people. The misconception of "Big Brother Watching" still looms large over these folks. Now GPS services on mobile phones is starting to gain speed, so maybe opting into traffic data uplinking would be a contractual condition of getting GPS services in return. (Or the big mobile phone companies just bury this in their fine print and you never know you are feeding traffic flow data back to them.) "Can you hear me now?"

The mobile phone tracking will be the end game though, right? With that network and enough computing power, you'll turn most roads into traffic monitored roads.

Can't wait, but for now, Inrix is it.


Posted by: Scott Martin at September 26, 2006 11:11 PM

Traffic.com is also working on anonymous cellular.

"In the Salt Lake City area, Traffic.com will integrate another method of data collection by using traffic flow information from cell phone data, a kind of 'probe data.' Traffic.com will use technology from AirSage, a corporation that creates quality traffic information from anonymous cellular signaling data, to provide UDOT with real-time speed and travel times for major roads."

http://corporate.traffic.com/news/press_releases/Release_SLC_GreenLight.htm


Posted by: J at September 26, 2006 9:18 PM
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