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New Navigation Technology Predicts Traffic Conditions

From New Delhi to Beijing commuters spend more time than they would like stuck in traffic. In the United States, Los Angeles and San Francisco tie for second place for having the worst traffic jams, with Washington D.C. winning first place according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Some drivers depend on GPS navigation systems with real time traffic information to avoid congestion. There is now new navigation technology that claims it can provide the fastest route available by predicting traffic conditions before the driver leaves the house.

In Los Angeles, a driver spends sixty-one hours every year on the road stuck in traffic.

Christian Garcia knows what it's like. He delivers and installs televisions and is on the road all the time. "It’s a prison of cars. There’s too many cars, you can’t move around a lot," Garcia said.

Professor Cyrus Shahabi also knows about traffic jams. He lives more than 65 kilometers from his office at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. He says he always seems to be late.

"Everytime I walk into a meeting I would say I was stuck in traffic It sounds more now as an excuse than that really I was stuck in traffic, Shahabi said. That’s even with the help of a navigation system.

Shahabi and his PhD student Ugur Demiryurek decided to develop a smart phone app that will do what other navigation systems cannot. It’s called ClearPath.

"I would never think that my PhD work would actually become a product for people," Demiryurek said.

Shahabi says ClearPath uses historical data to predict the traffic.

"What’s unique is that we utilize a lot of data that’s currently become available including traffic data, weather data, and we analyze that so that we can predict what’s going to happen in front of you when you leave home," Shahabi said.

ClearPath uses two and a half years worth of traffic data from 9,000 sensors on the roads of Los Angeles. It also collects information on accidents.

"Now you are driving you have an accident in front of you but the accident is 20 minutes away and you know from historical data that that accident would clear by the time you get there. We can take that into account and send you toward the accident because we think by the time you get there there wouldn’t be any accident," Shahabi said.

Shahabi says unlike other navigation systems that only respond to current traffic conditions, a driver can enter in advance what time he wants to leave on a specific time and date, and ClearPath will give the fastest route. ClearPath also looks at the entire road network, including surface streets as well as highways, before the driver hits the road. He says systems like Google Maps do not.

"Once you’re at the freeway, they don’t look at the surface streets anymore. They only look at the freeways until they get you close to your destination. At that time they look back at the surface street," Shahabi said.

Ugur Demiryurek says they will launch the free ClearPath app for roads in Los Angeles in two months. In a year, he and Shahabi aim to have ClearPath available nationwide and overseas once they can collect traffic data from other cities.

"I thought always that L.A. had the worst traffic but now I know that Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, believe it or not, Singapore, Hong Kong definitely are examples that can immediately utilize this," Shahabi said.

Shahabi hopes to license this new technology to firms who already have navigation systems, such as Google and Apple.