This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project is an investigation of the feasibility of using anonymous tracking of cellular phones to generate traffic information on a road network. Delays due to congestion are expensive both in terms of lost time and in aggravation. Management of congestion is difficult due to lack of information on current conditions. While most information is gathered via expensive detector systems installed in the roadways, it is possible to determine traffic conditions by following the movements of sample vehicles, called probes. Many vehicles contain a cellular phone, and, due to a recent FCC mandate, which requires that all telecommunication carriers be capable of locating a cellular phone to within 125 meters, an opportunity exists to build a system where the movements of a large number of cell phones can be used to determine conditions on every road in a road network. This project will determine whether the location systems installed by the carriers can be used to generate traffic information. The results will enable the development of an area-wide traffic information system which can be used for the dissemination of travel information and for the study of traffic patterns on road networks.
Commercial application of the results of this project fall into 3 areas: traffic management, fleet operations, and information dissemination. Traffic information is valuable to the users of the road network. Traffic management includes the many public agencies around the country tasked to aid in the management of the roads. Fleet operators consist of large and small delivery vehicles. Information dissemination includes cellular phones, personal digital assistants, in-vehicle display systems, websites and radio. All three markets are significantly affected by traffic congestion, particularly unexpected congestion. Each market is large and commercially addressable by a traffic information system based on cell phone tracking.