Finns test cell phone system to monitor traffic
- — 26 March, 2003 08:59
Finnish mobile operator Radiolinja Oy has developed technology to monitor traffic by tracking cell phones in cars without identifying the owner.
The technology, developed as an alternative to video-monitoring systems, could also be used to monitor the flow of crowds at public events or the number of cars passing roadside billboards as a tool for advertisers.
"We have a patent on the technology and hope not only to deploy it in Finland but also to sell it to other operators in Europe and beyond," said Hannu Turunen, who is responsible for telematic systems at the Helsinki operator.
The software system, designed to operate on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks, assigns cell phones entering a monitoring zone ID numbers and calculates the time required for the phones to pass measuring points, typically base stations, located a few miles apart, according to Turunen. "Speed is a function of time," he said. "So if the phones we're tracking require longer to cross between two points, we know there is congestion and can calculate the delay."
That information, in turn, can be transmitted to radio and TV broadcasters and other groups, including mobile operators themselves, providing traffic information services.
What's unique about the system, Turunen said, is that the owner of the cell phone remains anonymous, in line with European Union legislation on data privacy.
Radiolinja recently completed a pilot test in Finland, in collaboration with the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications and the government's technical research center VTT. The operator used its technology to monitor traffic on two busy highways around Helsinki.
"We found the results of the pilot very promising," said Juuso Kummala, a member of the IT research department at VTT. "We believe this technology has an advantage over camera-based monitoring systems that record license plate numbers. In countries where the weather conditions aren't ideal, like Finland with frequent snow and rain storms, cameras aren't always able to record data reliably."
Turunen sees opportunities for Radiolinja's technology beyond monitoring traffic congestion. "I can imagine our software being used in areas where you want to measure crowds at rock concerts or even cars passing by highway billboards," he said. "Technology that uses cell phones as a tracking tool instead of cameras can be more precise and easier to implement."