Traffic jams are annoying, but they are also responsible for extra CO2 emissions and plenty of wasted productivity. Greenway, Germany’s entry into Microsoft’s 10th Imagine Cup student technology competition in Sydney this week, wants to do nothing less than put an end to traffic jams. To do so, the three-person team has developed a mobile app, which is basically a very smart turn-by-turn navigation system, and a cloud-based routing and tracking service that ensures that drivers use streets as efficiently as possible. Ideally, the Greenway team says, its app can cut driving times during peak traffic hours by half. What’s cool about the service isn’t the impressive underlying technology, though, but also the team’s innovative business model.
Here is how Greenway is tackling this problem: most of the time, drivers choose the most direct route between two points and because of this, traffic tends to converge on a small number of roads, making traffic jams inevitable.
What would happen, though, if you could route cars more efficiently and have them use underutilized roads? To find out, the team developed an algorithm that constantly monitors where cars are in a city and then routes them as efficiently as possible, keeping in mind where all the other cars are as well. The team built a number of impressive traffic simulations to validate its approach. In addition, it’s also running a small pilot project in Germany right now that has already validated the team’s approach.
The idea here is to ensure that cars are distributed in the most efficient way possible. To do this, Greenway, for example, uses its algorithms to predict where a driver will be in the future and it then basically reserves a certain stretch of road for this vehicle.
This being a Microsoft event, the app is currently Windows Phone-only and the backend runs on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service, but the team plans to release clients for other platforms, too.
Ideally, of course, every car in a city would use Greenway to make the system work perfectly, but even just having 10% of all cars use it is enough to provide the system with enough data to achieve most of its goals. Greenway can also substitute data from its own users with publicly available traffic data and the team plans to work with GPS manufacturers to integrate its service into their apps and hardware devices.
That’s also where the team’s business model comes in. Whenever a user opens the app, Greenway will show two sets of data: one for a regular, non-optimized route and one for Greenway’s optimized route. This data includes driving time and the mileage a user can expect to get on these routes. Users who choose the Greenway route then pay a fraction of the money they save in gas using the app, but never more than $0.30.
Greenway is among the 20 teams chosen to advance to the next round in Microsoft’s student competition today and the team will get another chance to pitch its project in front of a jury later this week as it competes for the cup. Greenway is also one of three nominees for Microsoft’s Environmental Sustainability Award at the event.