I left office yesterday the usual time and was thinking to go and meet some of my friends around Bole Medhanialem. It used to take me only 10-15 minutes. However, yesterday was extremeley abnormal. It took me around 40 minutes, though i tried to be ‘smart’ and take the possible shortcuts. On my way back home, I was going from the millennium hall down to olompia and that was the time I decided to write this post. What can I possibly do atleast to save myself from the chaos? Not to come on this path anymore. But that was silly as I can’t avoid it. Then I started thinking of other solutions, which might also help others too. The next thing I did was to see if the idea can be realized given the Ethiopian situation.
The first thing that I did was talking to people around me what their opinion is about my idea. I was thinking, if people could send SMS to the server the traffic information in given format, so that the server can aggregate the traffic coming from these people and render it on a map. It will also be easier to look for alternatives ways before leaving office. If you are already caught in the traffic, you can send SMS with your location and the server tell you what to do and all these. However, I realized that it is not possible to text while driving 😦 I had to spend sometime looking for alternatives to this problem.
I saw that Google Maps has a built in service, which is diplayed as a layer on top of a map called Traffic. I tried to see how it represents the traffic data . Cities in the US, Europe, Asia, Austrailia and south America have their traffic mapped live on Google maps. The picture here shows Stuttgart’s traffic (why Stuttgart? by the time I checked, it was one of the cities having all the possible traffic density categories). The next thing I did was to check if that was possible in Addis too, which is not there as expected. How does google get the data to show a live traffic information?
I came across a blog by a Googler, he explains what the bright side of sitting in traffic is: Crowdsourcing road congestion data. Crowdsourcing is (according to wikipedia) a distributed problem-solving and production process that involves outsourcing tasks to a network of people, also known as the crowd. The idea of crowdsourcing was exactly the way I was thinking. But how does the Google way work? These days we have lots of smart phones in Ethiopia. (Too bad my iphone stopped working last week 😦 I was one of them) Most of the smart phones come with Google maps application on them if not, there is one out there on the respective app stores ( Android or Windows phone or blackberry … ). In addition, most smart phones do have GPS in them. Google maps, when location services is enabled, provided it has internet connection, it sends bits of data to Google which helps determine the traffic condition. The data that’s sent to google, as they say, is not personal except the speed and location of the owner of the phone.
Taking a rough estimate of smartphone holders in addis to be 20,000 of which half of them are willing to contribute, google could get 10,000 traffic information to map Addis’s traffic. If 200 of these are going to bole at a speed of 5Km/hr, google can show the graph as red, on the road to bole. On the other hand if it get’s 50 people going to gotera at a speed of 50Km/hr, well that could be green (this is an estimate of the general process of aggregating the information).
I am an optimist, I do believe that we can make it happen. When the idea of sending information to Google comes, people complain about privacy and all. People don’t want to be tracked, where they are going or at what speed they are driving, for that matter they might be in a taxi … or what ever. I am not saying the issue of privacy is not important here, but we all know how many of us really modified our account setting on Google when it changed the privacy setting. As I said earlier, Google says it doesn’t use the information for any other purpose other than traffic log, so let’s believe that… If you know anyone who have a smartphone, tell them to install Google maps if they don’t have and switch on location services. Whenever you are in your office or home, you can stop the service as the mobile service provider will be counting each Kb.