Upgraded traffic messaging due Q3 2010

In Q3 2010, Suna will launch an upgraded traffic messaging service for capital cities across Australia incorporating data from potentially thousands of live probe vehicles. We spoke to Intelematics CEO Adam Game about what's in store.

In Q3 2010, Suna will launch an upgraded traffic messaging service for capital cities across Australia incorporating data from potentially thousands of live probe vehicles. We spoke to Intellimatics CEO Adam Game about what's in store.

CNET Australia: Firstly, when will this upgraded service be available to the public?

Adam Game: it will go live in Q3 2010. Right now we're targeting some time after June for all centres, with the main focus being the three major markets: Sydney, Melbourne and south-east Queensland.

Tell us in a nutshell what's happening.

AG: well, we're going beyond our current approach that basically leverages the sensor instrastructure from various state road authorities, such as VicRoads in Victoria and the RTA in NSW.

With phase two [of Suna's traffic messaging system] we'll be collecting high volumes of data from probe vehicles, tracking their location, speed and heading. This way we'll have a parallel view of traffic flow. We'll be automatically fusing this parallel data stream with our existing sensor data to smooth out some of the current weaknesses in our system.

For instance, the motorway network in Sydney, especially in the western suburbs, is only sparsely populated with sensors.

What are these probe vehicles?

AG: there are thousands of vehicles, including taxis, road service vehicles, courier vans, coaches and so forth that are currently being monitored via GPS tracking devices installed by their owners, and we're leveraging off that. In the future, internet-enabled navigation units [such as Garmin's just released Nuvi 1690] will be added to the mix.

How often do these devices report in?

AG: there are two types of device, one that sends a reading every 500 metres and others that send a reading every minute.

How will this probe data be used?

AG: so far we've collected a billion speed readings from probe vehicles and at the current rate we're adding about 100 to 200 million per month.

Once phase two is up and running we'll be using probe data to disprove false positives. For instance, if we see one car travelling at 60km/h through a road that sensor data says is clogged, then we know that the sensor data is probably inaccurate.

Working the other way, though, doesn't seem to work. Say, a probe taxi is going slowly down St Kilda Road. That could be because there's heavy traffic or the passenger mightn't be entirely sure of his/her destination.

AG: yes, you're right. While there's a high degree of correlation between probe data and traffic problems on motorways and freeways, it's a much harder task on arterial roads.

From our own experience, the traffic-messaging experience has been less than perfect. What's feedback been like for you?

AG: most of the feedback's been very positive. Our first priority when we launched was getting geographic coverage. Like I said before, when we started we lacked [detail for] some key roads, like Sydney's motorways and to a lesser extent Brisbane's too. So, our focus for the next 12 months is improving precision and in-filling blindspots.

The Australian scenario is also quite different from Europe and the UK. Here we have to concentrate on the arterial road network and that's challenging. Over there the primary focus [of their traffic messaging services] has been motorways and highways. Indeed,when we launched we were the most comprehensive urban [traffic messaging] service in the world.

Once the probe network is live it will assist in damping down some of the volatility of the sensor network reports.

When we've used traffic messaging-enabled GPS units, we've often driven through incidents that had yet to turn up on the system or reported delays that had already cleared. Will delivery of traffic messaging data over the internet fix that? And will the Suna upgrade help as well?

AG: the user experience will be pretty much the same regardless of the delivery method, whether it's FM [what most nav units use today], cellular or internet.

The unfortunate reality is that the technology is introducing a delay, as the TMC [traffic messaging channel] standard works on a three- to five-minute refresh cycle. So, inherently there's lag at both ends of the traffic warning system.

Currently most portable navigation brands are offering traffic throughout their ranges, but availability with in-car navigation systems is limited to aftermarket units and just the Ford Falcon and Nissan X-Trail.

AG: Toyota is currently offering traffic messaging as a dealer-fit option, but penetrating automotive markets has been slow because of their long development cycles and lead times. We should be available in well over 50 per cent of vehicle brands by the end of this year.

You also supply traffic data to Google Maps, will this upgrade affect what we see on Google Maps.

AG: yes, the upgrade applies to both streams.

To give you a bit of background, we have two main real-time data feeds.

One's for the Suna TMC network and is either broadcast via FM or via an internet feed. The TMC network advises devices of exceptions to the norm, rather than the status of every single monitored road. It also explains cause and effect [for example, lights out at intersection causing a 20-minute delay with an average speed 5km/h], where the second [Google] feed doesn't.

The second feed is not standards based and is part of our Congestion Monitor product. It's what we send to Google and includes raw travel time and traffic flow info. As this feed supplies data on every monitored road, it requires a large pipe and is thus far not used in the navigation industry.

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