Texas to be U.S. transportation testing ground

IBM to test telematics and analytics to track and manage traffic, accidents, and highway construction in the Lone Star State.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read

Texas is about to become IBM's test subject for a series of telematics transportation technologies with the blessing the U.S. Department of Transportation.

IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano plans to announce the news in Houston on Wednesday at the 20th annual meeting of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA 2010), along with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Texas Transportation Institute Director Dennis Christiansen. The partnership between IBM and Texas will closely follow the federal intelligent transportation research agenda put forth by Secretary LaHood and the Obama administration.

LaHood announced Tuesday that the Department of Transportation is offering $775 million for transit agencies across the U.S. to upgrade their bus systems, and he plans to announce yet another initiative during a speech at ITSA 2010 on Wednesday regarding vehicle-to-vehicle communication (aka IntelliDrive), according to the DOT.

Vehicle-to-vehicle technology would give cars standard communication by combining a system similar to Wi-Fi with the global positioning system. Drivers would be warned in short advance of an impending collision, sudden lane change, or if the car in front of them is suddenly braking hard. An estimated 76 percent of crashes involving unimpaired drivers could potentially be prevented using the technology, according to DOT statistics.

IntelliDrive research initiative put forth by the Department of Transportation would allow vehicle-to-vehicle communications. IntelliDrive

IBM's proof-of-concept and pilot programs, which follow the DOT initiative of implementing IntelliDrive technology among other things, will be rolled out in conjunction with the Texas Transportation Institute at both the state and local level in Texas.

The programs will include road sensors and predictive analytics for determining future traffic patterns. While the ability to provide real-time traffic information already exists for some cars and GPS devices, they generally cannot predict future traffic. The predictive analytics transportation tools will allow transportation managers and drivers to make decisions and changes as much as an hour in advance.

The programs, if successful, could serve as a model for how other states could implement and run the systems, according to IBM.

Big Blue pointed to its current success in Finland as proof that its systems could work well in Texas. The Finnish Transportation Agency is using IBM's telematics and analytics systems to cohesively view and maintain its highway system for road conditions, accidents, and traffic patterns. The Finnish agency said in a statement that the time it would normally take an employee to manually collect the necessary information to produce an analysis in some instances was two to three weeks, as opposed to the instantaneous access to such data with the IBM system. As a result, the switch has saved them time, manpower, and money, the agency said.

"Smarter systems would connect and collect the data of vehicles, government agencies, freight carriers, travel service providers, weather patterns, and even individuals using social media. To get insight from that data, it would apply analytics--the sophisticated mathematical models that detect the patterns and spot the correlations--to transform real-time information into predictive actions," IBM said in a statement.

It's unremarkable that IBM would recommend telematics and analytics tools for collecting and relaying data as the answer to America's poor travel infrastructure woes at the country's leading transportation technology conference. The company has been developing telematics and infrastructure technology for the last seven years and has spent an estimated $10 billion in analytics alone, according to company statistics. IBM has an XML-based data retrieval architecture that would allow vehicles and transportation agencies to share real-time traffic data among highways and cars. It's also developing tools that would allow trucking companies to analyze vehicle performance remotely in order to manage maintenance and avoid breakdowns.

If the federal government or U.S. states were to make the move to such systems, IBM could be a likely provider. As IBM pointed out as part of its Wednesday announcement, it has 4,000 analytics consultants, including business analytics, already trained.