68% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050, according to the UN. Urban living can generate great benefits – from education and employment to arts and leisure – but it also generates great challenges. Not least, how can millions of people move around these environments safely, efficiently and cleanly?
Many of the world’s most congested cities have substantial problems when it comes to traffic management. The INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard shows that in Bogota, Colombia, a huge 191 hours were lost per driver in congestion during 2019, followed by 19 in Rio de Janeiro and 158 in Mexico City.
Traffic congestion is a problem on multiple fronts. It clearly damages productivity, preventing people from getting to work or carrying out certain jobs effectively. It’s a huge environmental hazard, generating hefty amounts of pollution. And it’s a health hazard, both because of that pollution, and because of the mental health effects of living and working amid severe congestion.
Enter the Internet of Things (IoT). Myriad governments, smart city initiatives and private enterprises are now looking for ways to harness IoT technology in easing congestion and smoothing traffic management.
Like any IoT ecosystem, a smart traffic management solution, at its core, involves capturing traffic information from across an area, analysing it, and generating insights which then inform tangible actions.
For example, this might involve collecting data from IoT sensors embedded in vehicles, from connected road cameras, from live traffic feeds monitoring factors like speed, vehicle numbers and traffic flow, and even from weather stations or drivers’ mobile devices. Such data provides insight into traffic patterns at different times and under different circumstances.
The next step is to aggregate and visualise these insights atop maps of the road infrastructure, and to combine it with further data such as information on road traffic accidents and planned or unplanned roadworks. Even consumer apps can play a part if they choose to share data with third parties – navigation app Wave, for example, signed a data-sharing deal with traffic management startup Waycare back in 2018.
Collectively this builds both real-time and long-term insight which can be used for more informed traffic management. On a day-to-day basis, this might simply involve planning the flow of traffic around rush hours, controlling the flow of vehicles through particular bottlenecks and ensuring safety around areas like schools. On a longer-term, more proactive basis, it might involve active planning for one-off events like major sporting events, concerts and roadworks.
However, both forms of traffic management require another element in the ecosystem – traffic lights, signals, signage and other control measures which can be controlled remotely from the central traffic management system. These signalling devices also need to be able to differentiate between different vehicles and traffic modes – private cars, public transport vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and so on.
In other words, myriad different components need to integrate together seamlessly for a truly smart traffic management system – making these solutions a particularly exciting area of investment and innovation for IoT pioneers.
Smart traffic management is an increasingly important element in creating towns and cities that are not only productive and efficient, but also happy places to live and work.