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.

TCI at CES

A four-legged car.
A four-passenger air taxi.
A self-cleaning litter box for your favorite four-pawed creature.

An athletic mouth guard that measures impacts an athlete takes over the course of a season.
A laptop that helps tweens learn coding.
Devices for the differently-abled, plus a challenge to reinvent the wheelchair.

It’s the Consumer Electronics Show, 2019!

The CES, which opened to the public in Las Vegas today, is not only enticingly full of fun and futuristic gadgets, but also heavy on displays and proposals for what’s ahead in the world of mobility. CES, according to one insider, has become as much about tomorrow’s automotive technology as it has about life-raft sized TVs and internet-connected litter boxes. So much so that a team of TrafficCast’s top officials are in attendance to see where TCI needs and products and mobility’s new products and ideas can intersect. TrafficCast CEO Al McGowen and Executive Vice President Nick Kiernan and other officers are using floor time to connect and idea-exchange with other mobility professionals throughout the week. (Meet Nick Kiernan – https://trafficcast.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/nick-of-time/)

Mobility highlights include an all-electric motorcycle, so close to production that it has a price tag – $29,799, and its maker, Harley-Davidson is accepting pre-orders. Concept cars and connected vehicles are also explored, as vehicle technology is a prominent feature of CES 2019, earning its moniker as one of USA Today’s best automotive shows.

Meet Kelly

Learning about geography is what Kelly Kittle likes about her job as Manager and Lead Operator at TrafficCast’s Middleton, Wisconsin office.
“It has given me a broader sense of location.” says the Sun Prairie, Wisconsin native. “I like that my job has increased my knowledge of places.”
Kelly is in her third year of curating traffic situations and events in various US cities, from accidents to constructions to developments resulting from natural disasters big and small.
Kelly’s sense of geography has not always been limited to Wisconsin, however. For the past 15 years, she has traveled across several Midwestern states to participate in square dancing conventions, a lively past time she enjoys with family members.

Fa La La La Fiesta

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We wore colorful Christmas sweaters, we brought corny jokes. We traffic-talked, and spoke of holiday plans. Who else has an office party in two locations!?

Talking about the TraffiCcast holiday parties, first in Wilmington, Delaware, and a couple of merry and bright days later, in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Even though we stepped away from our maps for a few hours, rest assured that holiday road and highway coverage continues. As you contemplate your holiday journeys, tune in to where you get your traffic information, knowing we are watching the roads for you, so you know when and where to go.

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.

Nick-el for your Thoughts

“There are so many things to learn! How are we all going to transport outselves in the future? How can we make interactive maps that are more useful? How can we stay in the forefront of providing data that helps direct-connected and autonomous vehicles?”

These are the questions that keep Nick Kiernan, Trafficcast Executive Vice President of Sales and Business Development thinking and going in the transportation and mobility field after some 20 years.

Kiernan spent his early career in media, starting at CBS Radio Network in New York. In previous decades, traffic reporting was largely done from helicopters. Kiernan thought there had to be a better way. Cameras were cheaper and less weather-dependent than helicopters, and the internet had to be involved in traffic reporting! Nick Kiernan came Trafficcast in 2005, and helped launch early commercialization. Nick works from Trafficcast’s Middleton offices, still with a hand in shaping the future of traffic data collecting and reporting.

When not connecting with clients and Trafficcast employees (Nick springs for an occasional office pizza party), he enjoys cycling with his wife, Susan, and spending time with his daughter Laura, a Carleton College student, and son Cole, a senior at Madison West High School.

#trafficcast #mobility #traffic #trafficdata #flow