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5/20/2013
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Dublin Points Big Data Tech At Traffic Jams

Ireland's capital teams up with IBM to use real-time data to streamline bus traffic.

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The Dublin City Council (DCC), which provides housing, water and transportation services to 1.2 million people, is using big data strategies to help the area's bus traffic move smoothly.

Collaborating with IBM, Dublin's road and traffic department is combining real-time data streaming with traffic information from a variety of sources, including road sensors, videocameras and GPS updates from the city's 1,000 buses. Traffic controllers use the data to overlay real-time locations of Dublin's buses on a digital map of the city.

The traffic management system, based on IBM's InfoSphere Streams technology, allows Dublin's traffic managers to quickly visualize potential problems in the city's bus network. For instance, officials can pinpoint an area experiencing delays and identify the source of the problem before it spreads to other routes.

The city's traffic controllers work with local transit providers to monitor and manage a vast network of bus lanes, roads and tramways.

[ The U.K. should plow its public-sector data into new services and economic growth, says a new study. Read: U.K. Has $10 Billion Of Public Data, Study Concludes. ]

According to Naveen Lamba of IBM's Smarter Government team for transportation and public safety, the Dublin system demonstrates the value of actionable, real-time information.

"A big part of our solution is the predictive element. You can influence the outcomes as opposed to reacting to what's happening out there," said Lamba in a phone interview with InformationWeek.

"The value of this data is high as soon as it's produced," he added. "Five to 15 minutes later, the value goes down drastically, and 10-minute old traffic information is of very little use, other than to go back and analyze what happened."

Managing public transportation in a densely urban area can be a real headache if not handled in real time. Archiving data from a variety of sources for later analysis, for instance, won't help alleviate traffic problems that are happening now.

"There are all these field devices -- GPS, cameras, all sorts of things that are producing data," said Lamba. "We're pulling all of that data together from all these disparate sources and creating a composite view."

Real-time information can also help Dublin traffic planners answer longer-term questions, such as where to add additional bus lanes, or whether bus start times need to be changed.

By using analytics on data collected on each bus run, Dublin officials, bus operators and IBM researchers have been able to determine that buses departing at later times during rush hour were passing some buses that had departed earlier. They're now trying to determine why this occurs, and what steps are needed to correct the problem, according to IBM.

By collecting and merging real-time data from a variety of sources, Dublin officials hope to solve this and other traffic-related problems in a timelier manner.

"Until recently we had a fragmented view of the overall health and real-time status of Dublin's transport network, making it very difficult to identify traffic congestion in its early stages because the causes of a delay had often moved on," said Brendan O'Brien, head of the DCC's technical services, roads and traffic department, in a statement.

DCC and IBM Research are involved in other traffic control projects as well, including one that brings meteorological data into the system to enable operators to limit the impact of extreme weather conditions on commuters. "We've not gone very deep quite yet, but weather is one of the inputs in identifying how traffic would be impacted," said Lamba.

The collaboration between IBM and Dublin began in 2010, when the company built its Smarter Cities Technology Centre in the Irish capital. The IBM lab there focuses on big data, analytics and optimization research to develop intelligent urban and environmental systems, the company said.

Urban transformation requires IT innovation. Here's how five U.S. cities are forging ahead. Also in the new, all-digital Future Cities issue of InformationWeek Government: Video surveillance provided valuable clues to the Boston Marathon bombings, serving as a lesson to other cities. (Free registration required.)

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