Tracking Traffic With Your Mobile Phone

Summary:  You and hundreds of other drivers have your cell phones switched on in morning traffic.   Can all of your cell phone signals be used to track the flow and speeds of traffic?

Imagine your weekday commute with no traffic, grid lock, or standstills.  Imagine your commute with no accidents grinding traffic to a halt.  Imagine electronic highway signs able to warn you of slowing traffic miles in advance, as the traffic 10 miles ahead of you slows.  Imagine knocking up to 50% off your daily commuting time.  Now, imagine that these improvements come at in at a significantly lower cost than the $1 billion the government uses on the helicopters, radar, and in-road sensors that inadequately control traffic now.  Sounds great, right?  I mean, you’d be willing to do a lot for that kind of payoff, wouldn’t you?

Well, it looks like that time is nearing, but it’s not without its own potential price.

Companies like IntelliOne and AirSage are using cell phone tracking to monitor how fast traffic is moving (or not).  With the permission of wireless companies, these companies are able to calculate where cell phones are and how fast they’re moving by using data from cell phone towers.  Your phone will be “pinged” twice a second when you’re on and about twice a minute when your not.  You can also get all of this information sent to your phone in real-time so you can get off the freeway before the truck that just jackknifed five miles ahead.


If this seems a little “big brother” to you, you’re not alone.  It seems that plenty of people are uncomfortable with the idea of having their motions tracked, even with the potential payoff.  While it has been made clear by Delcan Corp., IntelliOne and AirSage that all of the information gathered is anonymous, many people and privacy protection services are concerned that this will weaken our right to privacy.  Others are up in arms simply because when they signed up for their phone service no one told them that they would be tracked.


But not all of the cell phone providers are willing to supply this data.  While Sprint has already signed on, Cingular has not and “would only do so with strong privacy protections in place.”