Real-Time Traffic Info Gets You Past Jams

View up-to-the-minute traffic information--and routes around current jams--on the Dash Express in-car GPS navigation device.
View up-to-the-minute traffic information--and routes around current jams--on the Dash Express in-car GPS navigation device.
Imagine being able to see traffic jams miles in advance, so that you don't get stuck in them. Dash Navigation's new service promises to give you that ability by using data collected from GPS devices in thousands of cars to detect slowdowns and direct you to the fastest route on-the-fly. Dash Express is the first traffic service with the two-way connectivity necessary to obtain real-time information on how fast cars are moving, according to the company. Similar systems are on the way, however, for cell phones and for satellite-radio receivers.

How does Dash's GPS data collection improve on the traffic information that motorists get now? GPS vendors such as Garmin, Magellan, Pioneer, and TomTom offer real-time traffic reporting options on their devices through FM- or satellite-radio add-ons; but these services are based only on reports of stalled cars, accidents, and construction slowdowns from numerous government and private sources.

And though these GPS devices receive traffic information and then calculate alternate routes to avoid problem areas, they don't report details regarding current speed, location, and other data, so the system doesn't receive real-time data on the actual traffic flow occurring along a given route or along alternate routes. Often the result is unnecessary rerouting and inaccurate drive-time estimates.

Dash Navigation will soon sell a GPS navigation box that mounts on a car's dashboard. The Dash Express device, which features both cellular and Wi-Fi capabilities, will anonymously communicate back to the Dash database the vehicle's location and speed. "As you are driving, you are putting real-time information into the system," says Eric Klein, Dash's senior director of product marketing.

The arrangement assumes, of course, that a legion of Dash drivers will be hitting the road. But what happens when your specific stretch of highway has insufficient data? "In addition to these constant updates," observes Klein, "the Dash Express comes preprogrammed with historic traffic data for all major roads, so it has an idea of what the road conditions are, at any particular time of the day."

Dash uses data from Microsoft spin-off Inrix, whose proprietary technology predicts traffic delays by analyzing weather, GPS data, road sensors, construction schedules, previous accident patterns, and other information. Dash Express combines the data it collects from customers' GPS receivers with the details from these other sources to compute instantly the best three routes to your destination and the expected drive time along each. To select your preferred route, you simply press a button on the unit's touch screen, after which a voice provides turn-by-turn directions.

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