In Two European Cities, the IoT Could Help Unknot Traffic Quagmires

Sensors can't make congestion disappear, but two cities in Europe think they can help planners improve traffic flow.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 28, 2016

Traffic problems cannot be managed unless they are first measured. This is why city planners in the United Kingdom and Switzerland are testing sensors that they hope will help them improve traffic flow in their respective urban centers.

The technology, deployed by BLIP Systems, consists of BlipTrack sensors mounted along city streets. The sensors collect the MAC addresses transmitted via Bluetooth (and, in some cases, Wi-Fi) by the smartphones of passing commuters. The BlipTrack sensors then encrypt and timestamp those numbers and send them to the server, hosted by BLIP Systems, where the system's software filters and analyzes the data. By combining the data collected by all sensors, the software generates an accurate picture about each road user, such as travel times, dwell times and movement patterns.

Portsmouth has installed Bluetooth Wi-Fi sensors on poles throughout the city.
Following an 18-month evaluation of the technology, Portsmouth, a city of 855,000 on the southern coast of the United Kingdom, has installed five BlipTrack sensors along key routes throughout the city. "The journey time is the key part of the data for us," says Less Gilbert, an assistant traffic engineer for Portsmouth City Council, "providing physical proof that travel times into or out of the city are reasonable or not—especially during major [roadwork], large-scale events or serious incidents on the [road] network."

Road engineers analyze the collected data to help pinpoint the source of congestion. They then experiment with changes to infrastructure, such as the addition or removal of traffic lights at key intersections, in order to smooth traffic flow. The engineers watch the journey time data especially closely after they add a traffic light, Gilbert adds, to make sure it does not cause unexpectedly slow sections on the roads.

Christian Carstens, BLIP Systems' marketing manager, says the BlipTrack software filters the smartphone Bluetooth radio signals coming from outliers, such as vehicles stopping on the route, bicycles or pedestrians. It does this by determining what a "normal" driving time is for vehicle traffic, based on aggregating the speed with which devices along a particular route are moving. "The normal driving time will vary during the day, depending on the traffic," he says.

Eventually, Portsmouth might add real-time travel times between key points in Portsmouth, based on the BLIP Systems data, to its live traffic webpage, which also includes video feeds from cameras mounted on two sections of M275, the main highway that serves Portsmouth.

Simply enter a question for our experts.
Sign up for the RFID Journal Newsletter
We will never sell or share your information
RFID Journal LIVE! RFID in Health Care LIVE! LatAm LIVE! Brasil LIVE! Europe RFID Connect Virtual Events RFID Journal Awards Webinars Presentations