New Systems Help Drivers Avoid Traffic Jams

Microsoft and Inrix each hope to help drivers avoid lengthy traffic snarls through improved data services.

Microsoft is supplying better information to customers on Live Search Maps with a new system that includes data regarding side streets, the company said Thursday, the same day that Inrix, which has ties to Microsoft, introduced its traffic alert system across the U.S. Inrix collects data from highway sensors deployed by state departments of transportation, but adds data collected by a commercial vehicle fleet, along with information that could help predict traffic patterns such as school and sporting-event schedules.

As for Microsoft, its ClearFlow system combines data about highway traffic collected from sensors with information about nearby side streets, which typically don't have sensors. The idea is to help drivers determine whether to avoid a crowded highway if side streets are just as slow.

The system considers details about smaller side streets, such as how close the street is to the highway, how many lanes the street has, what kinds of shops are nearby and how many intersections occur per mile.

Microsoft has been using the technology in Seattle for two years but is now using it in 72 cities in the U.S. and Canada. The system in Seattle recomputes data about 820,000 street segments every several minutes, Microsoft said.

Microsoft has incorporated ClearFlow into some existing features on its Live Search Maps page. For example, Live Search Maps already lets users choose to receive directions based on traffic. That feature is now enhanced with the ClearFlow technology, Microsoft said.

For now, ClearFlow only applies to services that customers access from a computer, but it's expected to improve Windows Mobile offerings later this year, said a representative from Microsoft's public relations firm.

Inrix licensed real-time traffic technology from Microsoft Research in 2005. It then built onto that technology and, in September last year, Microsoft licensed Inrix's traffic data for use on sites including Live Search Maps.

On Thursday, Inrix said that MapQuest plans to offer customers nationwide traffic alerts based on its new offering. Customers will be able to receive alerts on their mobile phones or find the information online. Inrix says its data spans 106 metropolitan areas plus 45,000 roadway miles in urban and interurban areas that don't have road sensors.

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