Know with the flow

A system for detecting and reporting road congestion that uses vehicles as sensors to monitor the flow of traffic will be employed on the streets of Athens during the 2004 Olympic games.

The City Floating Car Data (CFCD) system, designed at Berlin’s Fraunhofer Institute, is said by team leader Werner Schönewolf to offer a vast improvement over existing traffic detecting methods which depend primarily on stationary traffic detectors.

Developed in collaboration with Volkswagen subsidiary Gedas, the system uses GPS, a GSM unit and a processor to transmit real-time traffic information to a central computer as the vehicle travels along a section of road. It then uses the speed and position of the vehicle to detect heavy traffic.

While the original plan was to install the system on private vehicles, system accuracy would depend on at least 10,000 cars being fitted with the technology in a typical metropolitan area, said Schönewolf. The team has therefore decided to install the concept on commercial fleets such as buses that spend all day on the road.

Ian Atkinson, technical director of Scottish telematics firm Applied Generics claimed this is an unnecessarily expensive way of capturing traffic information. He said that Applied Generics has jointly developed a system with Ericsson which uses the signals from drivers’ or passengers’ mobile phones to gauge traffic information on motorways.

However, while the Scottish system represents an ‘interesting’ use of a pre-existing network, Schönewolf dismissed mobile phone-based traffic measurement techniques, claiming they are inaccurate and incapable of determining the data required to manage city traffic.

The CFCD concept recently underwent feasibility tests in Frankfurt where 200 participants, mainly regular commuters who used the same route every day, had their vehicles equipped with the system. That experiment, said Schönewolf, provided significant data on the main routes in Frankfurt. But Athens should provide the acid test.

Schönewolf said the Greek capital’s reputation for traffic chaos will present the system with its sternest trial yet.