Cell phones used to test East Bay traffic

February 8, 2008 7:13:45 PM PST
An experiment is underway that could revolutionize the way we drive. U.C. Berkeley and the cell phone company Nokia are working together to see if cellular technology could be the key to keeping you out of traffic jams.

Ladies and gentlemen start your engines -- and your cell phones.

One-hundred cars and the cell phones inside them are part of a U.C. Berkeley and Nokia experiment that could dramatically reduce traffic congestion.

Global positioning systems or GPS technology in the phones can pinpoint a car's location within a few meters, and show speed within three miles per hour.

If all that information can be collected from every cell phone on the road, and made available over the Internet and even on your cell phone, you could avoid major traffic hassles.

"The travel time to your destination, the amount of congestion in front of you, alternate routes, what it your speed in ten minutes," said Alexandre Bayan from U.C. Berkeley.

Today's experiment in required the cars to drive a 20-mile loop up and down 880 between Fremont and Hayward.

Researchers were only collecting data from the cars today - it will then be tested for accuracy.

Berkeley and Nokia researchers say privacy technology developed by Rutgers University is a part of the equation.

"From a transportation perspective what you would like to have is you would like to know every little bit of information about everything about a car. But from a privacy standpoint, the less information given, the better. So our research focuses on finding the proper middle point between these two perspectives," said Bayan.

"We won't tattle on you and say that you are going faster than the speed limit, we won't report speeds faster than the posted speed limit, and we don't record your precise speed, we record your approximate speed. But it is enough information for us to be able to understand traffic congestion," said Bob Ionnucci from Nokia.

Nokia expects GPS to become standard on all cell phone brands within the next couple years. With a cell phone in virtually every car -- this system of gathering traffic information would offer far greater coverage than what currently exists.

Upcoming experiments could use thousands of cars, with participants using them for their daily commutes.