Google revealed in June that it would buy Israeli mapping software startup Waze for more than $1 billion. Its intent: to shore up its ability to offer real-time traffic information.
While that deal is still pending amid FTC scrutiny, it underscores the burgeoning market for apps and services that help drivers or commuters make smarter transportation decisions.
Indeed, Navigant Research estimates the investment by cities in intelligent traffic management systems could total $13.1 billion between 2011 and 2017. It's part of the larger smart city movement, one that has very real economic implications, starting with the amount of fuel wasted in traffic.
That amount is estimated at around 2.9 gallons per year, enough to fill the New Orleans Superdome stadium four times over, according to the latest edition of the annual Urban Mobility Report, published by Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
Put another way, that's a cost of about $818 per U.S. commuter, an expense I'm sure most of them would prefer not to bear.
Smart transportation helps commuters – whether they are driving or using public transit alternatives – made more informed decisions about what route to take. They alert people proactively, warning about situations such as construction that might affect roadways.
The Waze mobile app, available for both the Apple iPhone and Android smartphones, takes a community-edited approach to providing real-time map and roadway information. "It's like a personal heads-up from a few million of your friends on the road," the company explains on its blog.
"We’re excited about the prospect of enhancing Google Maps with some of the traffic update features provided by Waze and enhancing Waze with Google’s search capabilities," said Brian McClendon, vice president of Google's Geo operations, when the deal was announced.
Waze isn't the only startup on the smart transportation scene, of course. Telvent was acquired about two years ago by Schneider Electric, and several established companies on the smart cities scene – the likes of IBM, Cisco and Esri – have staked a claim. But here are three other companies pushing the envelope when it comes to smarter traffic reports – mainly by using innovate machine to machine (M2M) solutions.
The Spanish company's RoadSolver software is being used to monitor more than 932 miles of Spanish highways, where it tracks about 40 percent of all vehicles. It's at the heart of a smart traffic solution in Helsinki, Finland. The company's sensor technology audits mobile devices in vehicles, collecting data from up to 50 meters away. One sensor can be used to successfully track up to eight lanes of bidirectional traffic on a multilane highway, according to the Bitcarrier product brochure. Its focus is on real-time information, including speeds and travel times.
Around since 1993, Iteris honed in on the intelligent transportation in 2011. It has acquired two companies to flesh out that strategy, Meridian Environmental Technologies and Berkeley Transportation Systems. Its technology can be configured to provide personalized alerts about real-time roadway conditions, and it also provides predictive traffic analysis and safety information. In July 2013, the California-based company embarked on a three-year upgrade of South Carolina's 511 Traveler information system.
This company crowdsources information from about 100 million in-vehicle sensors and devices in 35 countries. Partners include Audi, BMW, the BBC, Ford Motor Co., MapQuest, Microsoft, Toyota and Vodafone. INRIX, based in Kirkland, Wash., also has teamed with Windermere Real Estate to create something called INRIX Drive Time, a service that figures out how much time it might take for a potential home buyer to drive to and from work.
Green arrow image by Uros Zunic via Shutterstock