Sunday, December 30, 2012

Integreen Brings Open Source Traffic Monitoring To Italy

Integreen Brings Open Source Traffic Monitoring To Italy

The best way to fight an enemy is to start by learning everything you can about it, which is exactly what the team at Integreen are looking to do in the Italian city of Bolzano. By using the latest technology and banking on open source software, Integreen hopes to provide the city management with enough traffic and environmental data to help them more effectively implement environmentally conscience programs such as mass transit.

Bluetooth Traffic Monitoring

Integreen’s goal is to use the relatively new technique of Bluetooth traffic monitoring to gather data on vehicular and pedestrian traffic throughout the city. By putting Bluetooth scanners at known locations and combining the resulting data, Integreen can extrapolate data like traffic density and average transit times without requiring costly and hard to maintain traditional vehicle counters.
There are of course, some limitations to this technology. Naturally, any vehicle (or at least, occupant riding in said vehicle) needs to have a Bluetooth device, and even then, it must be set to the so called “Discoverable” mode. While this does significantly lower the amount of data you will be able to gather (compared to say, a device which measures pressure on the road), it has the distinct advantage of being many orders of magnitude cheaper and easier to deploy.
Even with the limited sample size that Bluetooth traffic monitoring provides, there is still a wealth of data to be collected. As long as you have a handful of devices that you can track around through the city, you’ll be able to determine average transit times and locate the areas of highest congestion. You’ll never be able to get an accurate idea of how many vehicles are with Bluetooth traffic monitoring, but you can certainly determine where the concentrations of them are and how fast they are moving around.
Still, an educated guess can be made by comparing the physical vehicles with the detected Bluetooth devices and finding a rough average. If one road is equipped with the hardware required to count physical devices, and that is compared with the detected Bluetooth devices in the same area, a rough average can be found.
If you can estimate that 25% of vehicles have discoverable Bluetooth devices with this method, it would be safe enough to multiply the number of discovered Bluetooth devices in other parts of the city by 4 to get a rough idea of how many physical vehicles there are.

Scanner Development

For this project, Integreen needed a low cost, rugged, and highly efficient device which could be deployed for long stretches of time. Answering the call was the ever popular Raspberry Pi ARM development board, which gave the team at Integreen a powerful and efficient Linux computer at a fraction of the cost of commercial traffic monitoring systems.
Combined with off-the-shelf Bluetooth hardware, a battery pack, and placed in a weatherproof plastic enclosure, the Raspberry Pi became the perfect hardware platform for Integreen to conduct its research with.
Internals of Raspberry Pi Monitoring Device
So far, four such devices have been constructed and strategically located around Bolzano. The team at Integreen is still fine tuning the operation to determine the best location for their Bluetooth scanners, and how to correlate their data to the real world traffic situation. So far, the team has focused on physically counting vehicles passing over a stretch of road, and comparing that to their Bluetooth scanners running various different configurations.
With continued experimentation, the team hopes to both learn about the ideal placement of these devices, and adjust their software to return the maximum amount of data possible.
On the software side, developer Paolo Valleri has been working on adapting multiple FOSS software projects for use in the project.

Open Data

By opening up the development of their Bluetooth traffic monitoring system, Integreen is helping more than just the city of Bolzano. Their project can serve as an inspiration for other communities who could benefit from this type of data but either cannot afford or don’t have access to traditional traffic monitoring systems.
It doesn’t seem like much, but having access to this kind of information can be a huge advantage for small towns which might not otherwise be adequately represented when it comes time to spend development money. Being able to determine the flow of traffic is essential in many aspects of city planning and management, such as ensuring the safety of intersections and planning bus routes and stops.
Information that can make or break these kind of everyday services shouldn’t be locked up, it should be in the hands of everyone who lives in the community.
With the published details on their hardware setup and backend software, Integreen is laying the groundwork for a whole new generation of low cost vehicle monitoring It’s not unreasonable to imagine a future where traffic data is crowd sourced by concerned citizens with their own Bluetooth traffic monitoring devices all over the city, helping to ensure the quality of life in their own communities.

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