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

Zurich, Switzerland's largest city, is two years into a five-year evaluation period, during which it is testing more than 80 BlipTrack sensors to measure real-time travel times and analyze road traffic on 50 main routes. In the city, rapid growth is putting pressure on the city's transportation infrastructure.

Susanne Roggendorf, a principal with DTV-Verkehsconsult, the company that installed the technology, says that before deciding to pilot the BlipTrack sensors, her firm evaluated systems that use cameras in conjunction with automatic number [license] plate recognition (ANPR) software. But the higher cost of that technology, compared with the Bluetooth sensors and accompanying software, as well as the privacy concerns associated with collecting license plate numbers, led to the decision to use BLIP Systems.

Zurich is testing more than 80 BlipTrack sensors on 50 main routes.
The company had already evaluated the use of Bluetooth technology to measure traffic flow, and released a research paper on the topic in 2013. Roggendorf says the BlipTrack sensors' antenna design and the ability to add a Wi-Fi radio to the sensor unit in the future, as a secondary means of data collection, won them over. (Portsmouth is already using BlipTrack sensors with integrated Wi-Fi receivers.)

The sensors in Zurich are placed into position at a road intersection in a section that the city's planners want to monitor in order to inform strategic planning decisions. They generally remain in place for one month before being moved to another location. In this way, the city obtains as much data about traffic patterns as possible.

If, in the future, the city decides to place sensors permanently, Roggendorf says, it could use the data in a smartphone app that would offer commuters real-time traffic information, and perhaps help them decide between driving, taking public transit, walking or biking.

In Denmark, the Port of Aalborg uses BLIP Systems technology to track traffic flow as part of a traffic-management and safety program. BlipTrack sensors are also employed at more than 25 airports around the world (including the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport), where they are used to calculate expected wait times—at security gates, for example—based on how many travelers are standing in line at any given time.

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