Behind the Scenes at TrafficCast


When looking at your GPS for directions or for a way to navigate around hairy traffic situations, it’s likely not often you think too hard about how the information is getting there. After all, you have some place to go. But when you stop to consider the marvel that is your standard GPS, you may wonder just how it all actually works. While a lot of that data is coming from the help of satellites and road sensors with traffic tracking technology, a great deal of what you see relies on a human touch. So who are these mysterious traffic people and how do they do it? Keep reading and we’ll help demystify the process a little.

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The above picture shows a few of our Traffic Operators working the night shift in our operations center in Wilmington, De. This office, along with our office in Madison, runs from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. before handing off coverage to our partner office in Shanghai, China until 5:30 a.m. the following morning—meaning TrafficCast is a 24/7 operation. Traffic never sleeps and neither does our coverage. We divide all 50 states (along with areas of Canada and Mexico) into “markets” which are assigned to each operator. Operators work in the same markets each day, allowing them to learn the regions like the back of their hand. This familiarity allows them to quickly navigate areas and track any potential traffic impacts.

You’ll notice a wall of TVs in the front of the space. This helps us keep tabs on incidents impacting traffic from a variety of sources including: DOT highway cameras, Facebook and Twitter live streams, weather reports, national news, and more. Whether it’s traffic jams, derailed trains, wildfires, hurricanes, or a truckload of chickens running loose on a highway (yes this has happened, and quite recently at that) it all comes across our TV screens for operators to monitor. The more eyes on the road, the better.

You’ll also see each operator utilizes three computer monitors at their workstation. This means their heads are, quite literally, always on a swivel. While the TV wall helps the office track the most severe traffic situations, multiple monitors allow operators to survey their respective markets at a rapid pace. Monitoring Social Media, DOT, news, maps, and of course our own curation system to produce the most accurate and up-to-date information possible.

Hopefully this gives you a bit more insight to the work that helps guide you on your everyday journeys. For more information about what’s going on here at TrafficCast or for news on the latest and greatest updates on the transportation industry, follow us @TrafficCast on Twitter.

A Look into the Future at CES

We were fortunate enough to attend CES in Las Vegas once again this year and, as always, walked away inspired and in awe. There’s no better way to start off the year than steeping in the latest developments from the greatest minds in the industry. The tools, toys, and technology never fail to impress and if CES is any indication, there are mind-blowing times ahead in the auto industry. One could talk for days about the amazing things unveiled at the Mecca of Consumer Technology, but we’ll keep this brief. Listed below are just a few of the fascinating pieces of automotive tech we came across:

1. Hyundai Elevate Concept

This is certainly one of the stranger concepts that made its way to Vegas this year.  Dubbed “The Future of the First Responder Industry”, the Hyundai Elevate Concept is a vehicle sporting wheels with robotic legs that would allow drivers to not only drive, but walk, jump, and climb their way to their destination. These legs could help drivers navigate rough terrain or escape sticky situations like a flood or snow drift. It’ll be many years before something like this hits the road, but it certainly gives one pause when considering a world of walking cars.

2. Bell Flying Taxi

Also called “Bell Nexus” the flying taxi concept is a hybrid-electric aircraft capable of seating up to 5 people and carrying 600 pounds. While a taxi service is its main billing currently, Bell is keeping other options on the table in case the future of consumer flying cars fizzles out. In that case, the company would be looking into logistics services or use in the military. Making it a hybrid rather than fully-electric increases the vehicle’s range and load capacity, strengthening it’s potential for use outside of strictly consumer air travel.

3. Nissan’s Invisible-to-Visible Tech

Invisble-to-visible (I2V) projects images and information drawn from the Cloud and the vehicle’s onboard sensors, and projects them onto the interior side of windows. If this sounds like some kind of video game, that’s because the company behind the tech’s development is Unity Technologies who got their start in the gaming industry. Some possible uses include: projecting tour guide information when driving through unknown areas or receiving warnings about traffic incidents and dangerous road conditions. While this all sounds incredible, it is tech likely more suited for autonomous vehicles rather than human-operated, as the possibility of distraction seems high.

Power in Preparation: How Alaska Repaired Roads Just Days After Earthquake

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The earthquake on November 30 left some Alaskan roads looking like the set of a disaster movie. While there were thankfully no fatalities or serious injuries reported, the 7.0 magnitude quake wreaked havoc on asphalt and concrete. Roads were in shambles, but in just a manner of days, work crews managed to remedy the worst of the damage. The before and after photos are nothing short of incredible.

So how’d they do it? The answer lie in the state’s preparation for such an event. Alaska has quite a history of earthquakes, experiencing more than any other state in the country. In 1964 Alaska suffered a massive 9.2 magnitude quake, the second most powerful ever recorded. Four years ago, on the 50th anniversary of that event, the state revamped contingency plans and conducted emergency drills. Shannon McCarthy, a spokesperson for the Alaska DOT and Public Facilities, believes this practice was integral to the quick response.

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As soon as the initial tremors passed, bridge inspectors began surveying the 243 bridges in the impact zones. At the same time, contractors began putting together the broken jigsaw puzzles of roadways. Crews worked tirelessly around the clock through wet snow and high winds. Their efforts have returned Alaskan drivers to a semblance of normalcy at an astonishing rate. It should be noted though that these are temporary repairs. Whereas most Alaskan roads will survive for decades, these roads will need to be fixed again come summertime when working with asphalt is more agreeable.

It’s always heartening to see a region take tragedy in stride and there’s a valuable lesson to take from Alaska’s response: you can’t see the future, but knowing your history can be just as helpful.

4 Tips to Get Your Car Winter and Road Trip Ready

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It’s that time of year again: winter weather and road trips are upon us. The holiday season is one of the busiest times on the road and all the snow, ice, and wind don’t make matters any easier. While you may plan on doing plenty of driving, it’s easy to overlook your car’s maintenance needs. Our heads are filled with thoughts of family, friends, gifts, and parties so getting the oil checked takes a backseat. But it’s crucial for your car’s health and your safety to ensure your car is ready for harsh weather and long miles.  It only takes a little preparation to get to all your holiday festivities safely.

Here are 4 tips to get your car winter and road trip ready:

  1. Winter Car Kit

If you know you’ll be driving through icy or snowy conditions, you’ll want to pack up a few extra items in case of emergency. In fact, it’s a good idea to put together a winter car kit and just leave it in your trunk all season. A few essentials include:

  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Extra clothing/blankets
  • Water/snacks
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Spare tire
  • Small shovel

   2. Check Tires

Before you hit the road, make sure your tires have sufficient tread. Patches of snow and the ever-sneaky black ice can turn the road into a skating rink if your tires are smooth. It’s also important to pay attention to your tire pressure as it too helps your car grip the road . For every 10 degrees the temperature drops, your tires lose roughly 1 PSI.

  3. Monitor Coolant Level

Coolant ensures your car starts properly and protects your engine’s fluids from freezing over. It also prevents the formation of rust and guards against corrosion. Check your coolant levels early in the season so you know your safe all winter.

 4. Grab Winter-Grade Windshield Cleaner

There are types of windshield wiper fluid specially formulated to remain liquid in freezing temperatures. During the winter roads are treated with salt and/or sand to prevent hydroplaning in inclement weather. While the mix provides great traction, it can crust over your windshield and decrease your visibility considerably. You don’t want your windshield fluid freezing up on you in a time like that.

Could Talking Cars Eliminate Traffic Lights?

Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication is one of the major technologies set to reshape mobility as we know it—and that includes traffic lights. According to AAA, the average American spends nearly 59 hours per year sitting at red lights. Imagine how much quicker (and more pleasant) your daily commute would be if that number was brought down to zero. This could one day be reality.

As part of the UK Autodrive Project, Ford Motor Company plans to demonstrate its Intersection Priority Management (IPM) technology on the roads of a small town about 60 miles north of London. Ford has equipped test vehicles with V2V communications so they can track each other’s locations, travel speed, and direction. This information helps vehicles suggest speed alterations to drivers so they can pass one another safely at an intersection without ever having to stop. If this technology was applied to driverless vehicles in the future—which is likely given Ford’s ventures in autonomous vehicle testing—cars would be able to slow themselves automatically.

The thinking behind IPM is based on how human beings make their way through crowded areas. While walking, we typically don’t come to complete stops to avoid people in our path. We continuously adjust our walking speed or direction to prevent collisions. If the same process could be transferred to our vehicles it would spell the end of traffic lights and stops, creating a more efficient flow of traffic.

Watch the video below for a demonstration of this incredible technology:

Spaces on Wheels: A Glimpse of the Driverless Future

When you no longer have to drive, what will you do during your commute? Space10, Ikea’s research and development divison, and creative agency foam have teamed up to design answers to that question as part of their Spaces on Wheels project.

Once fully autonomous, cars will be more than just modes of transportation–they’ll be whatever we want. As Space10 creative strategist Bas van de Poel puts it, “Autonomous vehicles have the potential to profoundly change urban life for the better, but we also need a more holistic view on how we want to live”.

So the question is: what do we, as a society, feel would enrich our lives? The answers are bound to be varied and many, but Spaces on Wheels is an inspired start. The project offers a glimpse of what transportation could look like in the future. The ideas span from leisure to life-saving. There’s the traveling cafe which allows friends to catch up over coffee while still getting where they need to go; and the mobile health clinic, occupied by medical professionals, is designed to bring basic and life-saving services to remote communities.

There are seven concepts in total, designed either to enhance the commuting experience of individuals or improve communities’ access to essential goods and services.  

Check out the renderings of the Space10 designs below:

Wireless Charging: How One Startup is Helping Electric Cars Cut the Cord

The future of mobility is electric. We have the technology and given the ever-rising concerns surrounding global warming and fossil fuels, we certainly have the motivation. But with only about 20,000 charging stations across the USabout ⅙ the number of gas stations—electric vehicles aren’t yet practical for widespread use. While more designated charging stations are needed, one startup believes they have the technology to bring simplified car charging to homes, parking lots, and eventually the roads themselves .

WiTricity is working on a form of wireless charging called magnetic resonance. This technology draws energy from the electric grid through a wire which leads into a copper coil on the ground, creating a magnetic field. As a second copper wire attached to the bottom of a vehicle enters this magnetic field, an electric current is generated and used to charge the car’s battery pack. So to charge your vehicle, you simply need to pull into the spot and wait a few hours. WiTricity claims that this method is just as efficient as current cable charging systems. But unlike cables, coils can transfer energy straight through asphalt and pavement, allowing this tech to be used in parking lots and driveways. This capability is at the core of WiTricity’s loftiest goalturning cars into mobile power banks.

WiTricity wants to install their technology underneath roadways so cars can refuel while driving. But they’re being realistic about the complexity of making this happen in the coming years. CEO, Alex Gruzen, says cities and states won’t want to tear up hundreds of miles of roadway to install electric charging. For now, Gruzen has sights on airports and train stations with large stretches of taxi lanes. Cars could charge while they’re in line.  Eventually, WiTricity wants to see electric cars rolling around as giant batteries. They could store up electricity until needed and then divert back any excess directly into the grid either for payment or credits for free for their next refuel. While this practice of redistributing energy to the grid could exist with cable charging, it is likely much simpler and faster via the coil method.   

Check out this video demo of WiWtricity’s wireless charging:

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