Researchers at MIT are using computer networks and cabbies to tackle a routine problem that I, personally, can attest to: Boston area traffic jams. Called CarTel (get it?), the system creates a network by way of cell phone-sized black boxes. The boxes currently sit on board 50 cars and taxis in the Boston area. Drivers access the CarTel web portal for real-time info on their own vehicle as well as those around them. "Everybody's data is contributing to collective views of what congestion looks like," said MIT associate professor Samuel Madden.
Currently, CarTel tracks traffic data by logging a car's speed during different point during the trip. Madden said the system differentiates itself from similar sounding systems because it actually understands where traffic delays are, and recommends the best routes to avoid them. MIT professor Hari Balakrishnan said the system has already chopped 25% off his commute since January thanks to a little number crunching on the part of the computer:
It recommended a new route that, although a few miles longer than the approach suggested by some mapping web sites, is considerably faster in practice.
CarTel also has the ability to link into a car's diagnostic system and inform the driver when to get service or if something is malfunctioning. Don't tell it John Connor's present location. Time travel is one hell of a commute. [MIT]