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Microsoft Transportation

MS Clearflow To Help Drivers Avoid Traffic Jams 243

Posted by kdawson
from the get-me-outa-this dept.
Pioneer Woman writes "Microsoft announced plans to introduce a Web-based service for driving directions that incorporates complex software models to help users avoid traffic jams. The system is intended to reflect the complex traffic interactions that occur as traffic backs up on freeways and spills over onto city streets and will be freely available as part of the company's Live.com site for 72 cities in the US. Microsoft researchers designed algorithms that modeled traffic behavior by collecting trip data from Microsoft employees who volunteered to carry GPS units in their cars. In the end they were able to build a model for predicting traffic based on four years of data, effectively creating individual 'personalities' for over 800,000 road segments in the Seattle region. In all the system tracks about 60 million road segments in the US."
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MS Clearflow To Help Drivers Avoid Traffic Jams

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  • by davidwr (791652) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:29AM (#23023524) Homepage Journal
    Does KD use Microsoft Spell-cheque?
  • well ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by JaffaKREE (766802) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:29AM (#23023526)
    Traffic James *IS* a dick.
  • Seriously. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Smidge204 (605297)
    That Traffic James is a total dick. Constantly swerving between lanes and cutting people off. The faster they get him off the roads the better we'll all be.

    (Headline currently reads "MS Clearflow To Help Drivers Avoid Traffic James" - hope they fix that...)
    =Smidge=
  • I really hate Traffic James... they're everywhere. I mean, how can one man be in so many places at once? Santa's being given a run for his money... And yes, if the title gets edited, it really was "MS Clearflow To Help Drivers Avoid Traffic James"
  • Do you suppose at any point during the development of this, someone somewhere at MS thought to shout "KICK OUT THE JAMS, MICROSOFTERS!" [makemyday.free.fr] at the top of their lungs?
  • Stop Traffic Jams (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mikya (901578) <mikyathemad@CHICAGOgmail.com minus city> on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:34AM (#23023610)
    I have a way to help stop traffic jams without fancy algorithms: stop tailgating the person in front of you. That way every time that person slows down slightly you don't have to slam on your brakes, thus requiring people behind you to slam on theirs causing a buildup of cars that aren't going anywhere even if traffic isn't that heavy.
    • by BlowHole666 (1152399) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:37AM (#23023648)
      Sure if you would just get off your cell phone, get out of the left hand lane and drive the speed limit. I would not have to tailgate.
      • by tjstork (137384)
        Sure if you would just get off your cell phone, get out of the left hand lane and drive the speed limit. I would not have to tailgate?

        And, what entitles you to break the law? If someone tailgates me, I have been known, on occasion, to accidentally drop a soda at their windshield.
        • And that is littering so what entitles you to break the law?
          • No, it's assault.

            So I may shoot him, for self-defense is a recognized legal concept.

            On a more serious note, I think we've just simulated 'road rage.'

            There are no Kumbayas on the Internetz, are there? :(
            • by tjstork (137384)
              No, it's assault.

              So I may shoot him, for self-defense is a recognized legal concept.


              For what, spilling a soda accidentally? Now you are driving around aggressively and shooting people the road.. Clearly, its reasonable to for people in the front being tailgated to take pre-emptive action against tailgaters, if they are shooting people and trying to run them over!

              Moral of the story is that you shouldn't be driving like a jackass. The roads are a utility for transport and not a convenience for you lack of
              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by Stanistani (808333)
                Yet another sad example of why Slashdot needs an ISO standard for sarcasm and humor tags.

                Let's get Microsoft on the job immediately.

                We need a six thousand page brief and some corrupt committee members, stat!
      • by FooAtWFU (699187)

        Sure if you would just get off your cell phone, get out of the left hand lane and drive the speed limit. I would not have to tailgate.

        Oddly enough, driving below the speed limit in the left-hand lane doesn't seem to be the problem in these parts. Going faster than the speed limit, especially in the left-hand lane, is another matter... Eeeevery once in a while driving in the left lane I find myself being high-beamed as someone comes up behind me, and I look down and notice, "holy cow, I'm going nearly in the 65 zone - better pay more attention to speed and slow down - wait, there's some guy back there who doesn't think I'm going fast ENOU

        • It's just courtesy, if someone behind you wants to pass, leave the left lane for a a few minutes and let him break the law as that is his business.
        • You can go 5-10 miles above the speed limit and people will still do that. They tailgate, they weave in and out of traffic, they start doing funny things with their lights, all just to avoid doing *only* 10 mph above the speed limit... it's quite dangerous.

          But then again, I live in New Jersey. YMMV :)

        • by squizzar (1031726) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @11:34AM (#23025178)
          I'd suggest what is called 'defensive driving'. If someone wants to belt it along at ludicrous speed, then let them do it, it's probably best not to be near them. Getting in their way will only encourage them to try something stupid to get round you.

          If people looked at driving as a cooperative effort - try and let everyone drive at the speed they want to - then everyone ends having a lot smoother journey. If everyone only acts in their own interests it all gets a bit more stressful and scary.
          • Prisoner's Delimma (Score:3, Insightful)

            by IdahoEv (195056)

            If people looked at driving as a cooperative effort - try and let everyone drive at the speed they want to - then everyone ends having a lot smoother journey. If everyone only acts in their own interests it all gets a bit more stressful and scary.

            I've always thought that traffic is basically one massive game of Prisoner's Delimma [wikipedia.org]. Defecting (swerving lanes, cutting people off) can gain you a bit of time relative to traffic, but only at the cost of slowing overall traffic down. The more people do it, the w

      • by bunratty (545641)
        Drivers regularly tailgate me when I'm driving the same speed as the car in front of me and passing cars to the right of me. I'm usually going above the speed limit and paying full attention to my driving. What's up with that? Do they think they're magically going to speed me up by tailing me? I guess so, because they often try to pass my on the right, and of course fail because the cars in that lane are going slower.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jefu (53450)

          Of course they do - but even if you do speed up, they'll still tailgate you, and if you get out of the way and let them pass, they'll tailgate the person in front of you, then the person in front of them and so on.

          Don't you realize? They're special, and their needs and wants trump all those of the people driving around them.

          I'll usually try to get out of the way when I reach a break in the slower lane - or if they're particularly insistant, I'll slow down until I can merge right (US) safely, then mov

      • by EllisDees (268037)
        The left lane is for passing only. If you're in it and someone is tailgating you, it's because you should either be going faster or should get the hell out of the lane.
        • by bunratty (545641)
          Drivers regularly tailgate me even when I'm passing and cannot possibly go any faster because I'm already going as fast as the car ahead of me. I guess they're peeved that I'm driving a full three seconds behind the car ahead of me. I do this because the drivers ahead of me often stop quickly because they're tailing the cars ahead of them, and also people regularly tail me so that I need to make sure I brake slowly so they won't run into me. If everyone stops tailing, we can all drive faster and in addition
        • by Tony Hoyle (11698)
          It really depends on which country you're in... in this country passing on the left is a traffic offence.
    • by Silver Sloth (770927) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:44AM (#23023712)
      Better still - use public transport.

      Ok, ok, I know this sounds like a troll but seriously, when we have a situation where traffic speeds in major cities is declining endlessly we need to look to long term solutions, not tinkering with the symptoms.
      • by dkleinsc (563838)
        Better still: Live close to the office if you have the option. The less distance you have to travel, the less chance something will happen along that distance to screw up your commute.
        • by interiot (50685)
          That's not a scalable solution (unless you consider living in an ever-shrinking apartment because all of the suburbanites took your advice and moved into the city with you to be scalable). Trains avoid that problem, and they're better than expressways because they transport more people per route.
      • by interiot (50685) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @10:46AM (#23024512) Homepage

        Ding ding.

        Go to Tokyo at rush hour, and observe. The only slowdown that occurs is when one train becomes too full, and people have to wait ~3 minutes for the next one. I never saw a situation where people had to wait for more than one additional train, because the trains can hold a lot of people because they're packed like cattle-cars. On the other hand, Japanese seem to be much better at being fairly quiet and avoiding talking on their cellphones when in such dense quarters, while Americans seem to think that the subway is the best place for talking really loudly on the phone.

      • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @10:56AM (#23024660) Homepage

        Better still - use public transport.

        Ok, ok, I know this sounds like a troll but seriously, when we have a situation where traffic speeds in major cities is declining endlessly we need to look to long term solutions, not tinkering with the symptoms.

        I don't know about your city, but in my city, taking public transport to and from my office would take 2-3x as long on my commute by car, and likely involve at least one transfer.

        The problem with public transport, is if it doesn't actually improve my day and make my commute better, I'm not taking it. It's that simple. Make it faster and more convenient to get to my destination, and I'll consider it. I'm not really willing to add 2 hours to my day.

        It really is that simple (for me at least). I'd love for public transport to be more usable, but, it isn't. Until it is, the vast majority of people will stick with their cars.

        Cheers
        • I don't know about you
          I live two miles from my office and cycle. It's fun, it's free and it keeps me fit.

          However I also totally agree with what you're saying. If I didn't live so close I would be in the same boat. What I'm saying is that, in the long run, making traffic flow more efficient doesn't solve the problem. Making public transport more efficient (and nicer) does.
      • Average speed of Traffic in London is 10mph the same as the horse and cart 100 years ago ....

        It was because of traffic jams that the London Underground was built ... It did help for a while ..
      • Better still - use public transport.
        Where and when available. In some cities, such as Fort Wayne, Indiana, there are parts of town such that the walking time to the nearest bus stop is close to the driving time straight to the destination. And there are periods of 60 hours straight when no public transport runs at all: Citilink buses in Fort Wayne do not run at night, on Saturday evenings, on Sundays, or on any of six holidays.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SCHecklerX (229973)
      Actually, it's usually that impatient dick that passes on the right and then swerves back to the left, causing a ripple of red lights back for miles. It takes only one idiot like that to cause a jam.
    • That's true, but reducing the distance between you and the car in front of you does increase traffic density, and thus throughput at a given speed.

      Not that it's safe or I'm advocating it, mind you, but traffic flow dynamics aren't a simple thing.

      • by jsiren (886858)

        That's true, but reducing the distance between you and the car in front of you does increase traffic density, and thus throughput at a given speed.

        Not that it's safe or I'm advocating it, mind you, but traffic flow dynamics aren't a simple thing.

        Only up to the point where one ripple (like an impatient traffic james who passes on the right and cuts off somebody in the left lane) causes a standing wave of brake lights...

        Captcha: reinvent - some nations need to reinvent rail transit...

      • by Hatta (162192)
        Good. Better to have everyone traveling smoothly at a slower speed and safe distances than to have people packed in at unsafe distances constantly braking and accelerating.
        • Good. Better to have everyone traveling smoothly at a slower speed and safe distances than to have people packed in at unsafe distances constantly braking and accelerating.

          Problem is it doesn't work. Where I live, if you leave a nice cushion, someone will move in and cut you off. So what you do is optimize the distance to maximize braking time, which means minimizing the opportunity for cars to cut you off.

          Traffic's getting nastier all the time. I try to avoid driving.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Sorry, that wouldn't work, because then the guy behind you would switch lanes to get in front of you. Then the guy behind him, and so on, forcing you to slow down to maintain that distance.
      • by bunratty (545641)
        When I don't tailgate, the drivers behind me do often try to pass me on the right. That almost never works, because the reason I'm in the left lane is because I'm going faster than those on the right. If the driver behind me switches lanes, they need to slow down.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PJ1216 (1063738) *
        Not really. Normally if you keep going the same speed as the car in front of you, but keep a safe distance, the guy behind you is normally intelligent enough to see there's a car in front of you. its the car thats passing a whole bunch of cars on the right that will try to squeeze in there when he/she realizes they can't go any further at their speed. All in all, its the really slow people and the really impatient people that cause traffic. if you're not passing the cars in the lane to your right, you'r
  • Clear type (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:35AM (#23023620) Journal
    Microsoft's Cleartype technology makes text more blurry. So what can we expect from Microsoft's Clearflow?
  • by rarel (697734) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:35AM (#23023626) Homepage
    ... it gives a whole new meaning to the word "crash"!
  • by Skeetskeetskeet (906997) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:35AM (#23023628)
    Both probably couldn't give me directions to the nearest hooker.
  • by JamesRose (1062530) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:37AM (#23023642)
    Sometimes it just feels like people are conspiring to avoid me, finally I've got some proof!
  • the blue map of death?
  • by CmdrGravy (645153) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:43AM (#23023692) Homepage
    This sounds like a sensible idea but if it becomes widespread then the metrics it has used for it's monitoring of the traffic conditions are going to change as people choose new routes based on it's suggestions with the upshot that previously clear routes are now congested.

    My own journey to work changes based on the time I leave the house and my local knowledge of the area and problme junctions so I can normally make my way down side streets and 'rat runs' without encountering much traffic. The last thing I want is for anyone else to be told these routes and start to clog them up. It is amazing though the difference it can make if you take what is in theory a slightly longer route to get around stupidly placed roundabouts or congested main roads.

    I guess ultimately if people had a perfect knowledge of the traffic situation the congestion would even out so everywhere is just congested at rush hour rather than extremely congested but the basic problem, in the UK at least, is that there just aren't enough roads. Here in Birmingham during the recent building work in the city centre there were some traffic conditions which would just lead inevitably to total gridlock as jams backed up across islands causing more jams which looped all the way around town to hold up the traffic in the original jam even more. We just need more roads.
    • More precisely: Too many cars at a given time.

      There are several ways to solve this problem:

      1) build more efficient roads, i.e. better traffic control, better lane design, better/fewer intersections, better signs, etc.
      2) build more roads, but only up to a point
      3) reduce the number of cars on the road at peak times
      3a) reduce the number of cars
      3b) spread the load out over time

      Mass transit and congestion taxes are ways to do 3a. Getting employers and schools to shift work times is a way to do 3b.
    • by n3tcat (664243) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @10:02AM (#23023916) Homepage
      We just need more roads

      Or less cars. Use the bus!
    • by amplt1337 (707922)

      the basic problem, in the UK at least, is that there just aren't enough roads.

      Or, alternatively, that there are too many cars.

      Anyway, as you've pointed out, what this really is is a shortcut simulator to having good local knowledge of the area you're driving in -- it's a substitute for experience. What they basically have is a complex system that predicts where traffic will be. But what's better than prediction is accurate, current reporting -- and we already have an awesome technology for detecting and avoiding traffic jams, called a "radio." Pretty much every major urban area h

      • Pretty much every major urban area has at least one station that will give you "traffic on the 9s" or whatever during peak hours.

        Which does shit for you when you're not fully familiar with that city. Or, sometimes, even that part of the city.

        680 News in Toronto, for example, has, as you say, 'Traffic on the Ones.' But it's often a confusing little thirty second block where the traffic guy rips through an incredible amount of data, using local nicknames, initials, and what not, and yeah, often suggests

        • by amplt1337 (707922)

          Given that if you're using a GPS you're already not familiar with the local streets, assuming that you're therefore not familiar with the traffic flows and alternate routes is a fair assumption to make.

          Right, assuming you're using a GPS. The article is talking about predictive features to be incorporated into MS Live, which (at least as described in the article) is a website competing with Google Maps.
          If we assume they have a GPS, then you don't need a predictive model -- you just need actual data, displayed in a format that's clear, easy and safe to read while hurtling at 70 mph in a ton of steel.

      • by Tony Hoyle (11698)
        That what TMC is for. Ideally it gives your GPS system realtime updates of traffic flow so it can reboot.

        Unfortunately it has issues...

        1. It takes several minutes (sometimes tens of minutes) to update and only covers major routes, not cities where a lot of the jams are.
        2. The radio version (RDS-TMC) only works where there's a fairly strong radio signal.. generally, in cities.
        3. The mobile version is OK, but I have an iphone and it doesn't support mobile data... grr... so I have to carry a second phone to
    • by MartinB (51897)

      Here in Birmingham ... jams backed up across islands causing more jams which looped all the way around town to hold up the traffic in the original jam even more. We just need more roads.

      2 points of information:

      1. For non residents of the English Midlands: an Island is a roundabout.
      2. Increasing transport capacity has been clearly proven to result in more traffic; it does not reduce congestion in anything other than the very short term. Predict and provide has been shown time and time again to be a fai
  • They are making assumptions that Trafic Jams around the world/US is the same as Near Redomnd WA. I know traffic in my area on i90/i87 is actually fairly good except for when there is a car accident and often the traffic occures before it can get reported. But down in CT. on i84 and i91 Traffic is always heavy and traffic jams are just from to many cars on the road. Vs. accedents. Also some states have commuter lanes so there may be heavy traffic on the road but you have a couple of poeple in your car so
  • Traffic jam warning (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Malevolent Tester (1201209) * on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:45AM (#23023716) Journal
    Traffic is backing up 10 miles after a driver crashed reading Live.com when he should have been paying attention to the road
    • Have you ever thought this could be used to monitor traffic congestion during specific times of the day. So if the user is going to be driving between 4:30 and 5:00 PM Microsoft will spit out different directions then it would if the user was driving at 8:00 PM at night.
  • by multipartmixed (163409) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:51AM (#23023776) Homepage
    Some cop with a pink mohawk?
  • by beyonddeath (592751) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @09:55AM (#23023840)
    The first thing I thought, and I have thought the idea of analyzing traffic flow on a wide scale could give the individual an edge, as soon as the masses know the way around traffic, the jam will just move. So unless this algorithm can automatically figure out where traffic is stuck, and route the users in many different ways, this will eventually not work. Not to mention that in many cases (ie try entering downtown toronto from etobicoke), there are only so many ways to go. In my example you have some side streets, bloor, eglington, gardiner, lake shore. But they all suck, and if you suggest the small residential roads, you'll probably sit just as long waiting to turn from road to road. I've tried. But if it helps at all its worth it imho, its not my money!
  • Aye, 'tis been a while since I heard the name of the Hound of the Highway, Traffic James.

    Jim Axelman was once an ordinary man. He had a wife, three kids, even a Labrador retriever named Buddy. But his life was changed forever as he drove to work on fateful day. You see, he was trying to change lanes while talking on his cell phone and jamming out to some Led Zeppelin playing on the classic cock station when he unfortunately cut off a Gypsy minivan-mom. The Gypsy, being a member of the same PTA as Jim, knew who he was and cursed his name to the Heavens. Since that day, he's been forced to drive the streets.

    His blinkers never work. If you're in a hurry, he slows you down. If you're not rushed, he tailgates. He can't stop for food or bathroom breaks, his odometer never changes. He forever wanders the Earth in his dark blue Geo Metro.

    It's been said that some nights, on an empty country road.... you can still hear the a never-ending play of Kashmir on the wind.
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Thursday April 10, 2008 @10:03AM (#23023938) Homepage Journal
    Before Microsoft ever even did BASIC, Gates and Co had an abortive project called Traf-o-Data, which was somehow to help city planners with traffic management. Now Microsoft has come full circle. I wonder what's next.. after hearing so much about C# as the language of the future, are we going to get a big deal of BASIC?
    • Gates and Co had an abortive project called Traf-o-Data

      That was not only the name of the product, it was the original name of Microsoft too.

      Up until the 1970s traffic counters recorded the "hits" on their sensors on paper charts. Legions of clerks then counted the dots on the charts by hand in a manner not unlike the infamous Florida recount (looking at "chads" all day). The tallies were then given to "computers" (that was the job title for the person, not a machine in many if not most cases), or statisti
  • making bad Windows Vista Display Drivers pun.

    This service should work great! Traffic jams are caused by bad drivers and we know the people at Microsoft are experts with those.

    post'em if you got'em.
  • chicago and new york city fare pretty well, but most sprawling american cities have awful rail service. they were built from the ground up based on road transportation rather than rail. this is not good

    east asia and europe has left us in the dust when it comes to rail service . while we spent most of the 20th century ripping up what we built up in the 19th century, other parts of the world remained committed to rail or at least let it limp along on life support. the usa pretty much killed rail: ripped up th
  • Is it just me? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zappepcs (820751) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @10:25AM (#23024210) Journal
    Where are the details? I've seen several attempts to use such data, and the way that traffic works, the slow-down is clear by the time it is posted to the Internet, and what shows green is red when you get there. Without a tactical HUD and real time data, such things are little more than novelties.

    Everyday I drive past one intersection that has a slow down on good days. When there are traffic problems ahead, you cannot tell until you are in the traffic jam already. Normally, it takes 2-3 minutes and you're moving again. Some days it's merely a slow-down. Traffic analysis will never show when that stretch of road is fully in congestion and the only prudent course is to get off the highway.

    I don't even care how many volunteers were in the study, modeling traffic has been done before and it does not predict the daily problems that you have to deal with.

    Nothing short of a HUD with real time data will help. Well, voice assistance from a system with real time data will help also, doesn't require a HUD.

    The point is that modeling won't do it. Only monitoring in real time will do it. Without real time data, by the time you get to the decision point half the other drivers are already clogging your escape route.
  • TomTom, a dutch navigation systems manufacturer, is already equipping their latest systems with this technique, but I haven't heard any reviews or feedback, so I'm not sure if and how it works.

    If this works, it could be quite a relief ... traffics jams are terrible in the Randstad, the conglomeration of The Hague, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
  • Lets hope it works better than MapPoint [theregister.co.uk]...
    And it's not the only time they screw [theregister.co.uk] up [theregister.co.uk] either.
  • This morning watching almost a hundred other cars getting zero MPG it occurred to me why Raleigh NC has some of the worst air quality in the nation. You see the traffic lights here are designed to slow things down and to generate lots and lots and LOTS of traffic tickets (We write the same number of tickets as Houston, roughly 7x more people than we have).

    And you literally have to plan your trip around avoiding left turns in Raleigh because you could wait a half hour to make one. Either there's no left turn
  • "This is embarassing. A good idea showed up in the research lab again. Fortunately not in our main operations where we only copy ideas from competitors. This has to to stop or people might start thinking we are innovative." -BG
  • I just tried it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Thursday April 10, 2008 @01:36PM (#23026978) Journal
    It gave me different directions to and from work. I guess this means it's accounting for traffic jams. I did notice that it doesn't ask what time you will be making this journey. In my experience lesser known streets are faster during rush hour, and larger streets and expressways are fastest at off-peak times.

    Microsoft also needs to update their maps of Chicago. I-355 goes all the way to I-80 now. I thought it took Google a long time to fix that. Wow!

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