Live Traf­fic Report

Real-time Traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on in today’s Live Traf­fic Report

How modern GPS apps use Big Data for rou­te gui­dance and traf­fic jam avo­id­ance. Over­view of the cur­rent sta­te of tech­no­lo­gy of GPS apps and real-time traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on used in the live traf­fic report like the one here we devolped.

Deve­lo­p­ment of Live Traf­fic report

Real-time traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on has deve­lo­ped signi­fi­cant­ly in the last few deca­des. In the ear­ly days, only noti­fi­ca­ti­ons from the poli­ce or ADAC (the Ger­man equi­va­lent of AAA) were read over the radio. Then induc­tion loops, sen­sors on bridges, and the trans­fer as data streams to navi­ga­ti­on systems were added. A waters­hed moment came with the tran­si­ti­on to crowd-sourced big data, in which a huge amount of raw data from smart­phones and cars is used to paint an unpar­al­le­led detail­ed pic­tu­re of the traf­fic situa­ti­on. For navi­ga­ti­on soft­ware this means a big chan­ge in live traf­fic report, which we will show­ca­se at the exam­p­le of MapTrip.

Real-time Traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on in the past

In the old days, live traf­fic report, what was under­s­tood as live traf­fic report at this time, was only read back on the radio. “Traf­fic is backed up for 5 km on the A3 bet­ween x and y due to an acci­dent.” You had to listen intent­ly while dri­ving to deter­mi­ne whe­ther you were affec­ted or not. If you were, the pas­sen­ger had to pull out a map and pos­si­bly look for alter­na­ti­ve routes.

Live Traffic Report
Blau­punkt radio with ARI but­ton. The radio would auto­ma­ti­cal­ly rai­se the volu­me for traf­fic noti­fi­ca­ti­ons when the but­ton was pres­sed. The yel­low light indi­ca­ted that the traf­fic sta­ti­on was being recei­ved. Source:

The live traf­fic reports were announ­ced and can­cel­led with the so-cal­led Hinz trill, by which the car radio reco­gnized a traf­fic report as such. The Hinz trill could also be com­bi­ned with other melo­dies of the respec­ti­ve radio station.

Traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on was pri­ma­ri­ly dis­se­mi­na­ted by the poli­ce and ADAC back then, to which sen­sors on bridges and induc­tion loops embedded in the road were added later on. If the poli­ce was cal­led to an inci­dent, they would report the sta­tus to the traf­fic edi­to­ri­al offices of the local radio sta­ti­ons, who would then read the infor­ma­ti­on in the next broad­cast. Con­se­quent­ly the traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on was not real-time at all and no com­pa­ri­son what we under­stand nowa­days under live traf­fic report.

The first navi­ga­ti­on systems with traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on used so-cal­led TMC mes­sa­ges. The­se were basi­cal­ly the same edi­to­ri­al traf­fic jam noti­fi­ca­ti­ons that were read on the radio, and they were also trans­mit­ted by radio. The dif­fe­rence was that the­se mes­sa­ges could be recei­ved by a navi­ga­ti­on soft­ware and auto­ma­ti­cal­ly dis­play­ed on a map and fac­to­red into the rou­te planning.

This was a major step for navi­ga­ti­on systems. But we all expe­ri­en­ced first hand just how defi­ci­ent this tech­no­lo­gy of live traf­fic report real­ly was. You could spend hours in a traf­fic jam while the navi­ga­ti­on system would have you belie­ve that the road was wide open. Or the navi­ga­ti­on system would gui­de you around a jam through the most absurd detour, even though the con­ge­sti­on was long gone. The­re was ple­nty of fru­stra­ti­on to go around, yet still ever­yo­ne wan­ted to have the traf­fic info.

Live Traffic Report
Live Traffic Report

Traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on todays live traf­fic report

As smart­phones beca­me the norm, enti­re­ly new per­spec­ti­ves for gene­ra­ting traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on emer­ged. The pio­neer was Tom­Tom in 2008. The loca­ti­ons of mobi­le pho­nes were pin-poin­ted in a col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve effort with Voda­fone. This infor­ma­ti­on reve­a­led how traf­fic was moving along on the free­ways. Mer­ged with the tra­di­tio­nal TMC infor­ma­ti­on, it was thus pos­si­ble to bet­ter map out the over­all live traf­fic report. 

Crowd-sourced big data for live traf­fic report 

Even­tual­ly a dif­fe­rent pro­cess pre­vai­led, which did not requi­re the coope­ra­ti­on of a mobi­le pho­ne com­pa­ny. Instead of pin-poin­ting a loca­ti­on in the cel­lu­lar net­work, so-cal­led Floa­ting Car Data (FCD) was used. This requi­red a lar­ge num­ber of smart­phones to regu­lar­ly dis­c­lo­se their GPS posi­ti­on. If the num­ber of par­ti­ci­pa­ting pho­nes is lar­ge enough, the actu­al traf­fic situa­ti­on can be ascer­tai­ned with a high degree of accu­ra­cy. This is a text­book big data appli­ca­ti­on. The more raw data available, the bet­ter for live traf­fic report.

Free navi­ga­ti­on apps as a data source for live traf­fic report

It is this prin­ci­ple why navi­ga­ti­on apps are free to use. Goog­le Maps, Here Maps, or Waze (also owned by Goog­le) are basi­cal­ly apps that coll­ect data. During use, the apps send GPS posi­ti­ons, i.e., floa­ting car data, back to the com­pa­nies, who then use this infor­ma­ti­on as an addi­tio­nal ingre­di­ent to gene­ra­te traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on for the use in live traf­fic report.

For live traf­fic report on free­ways it is rela­tively easy to gene­ra­te traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on from GPS data. But in inner cities the chall­enge is to distin­gu­ish the GPS data from pede­stri­ans to peo­p­le who are in their car but stuck in traf­fic. So the source that is used for the raw GPS data is impe­ra­ti­ve. If a lot of data is used from taxi fleets, for exam­p­le, you can expect good covera­ge of the inner cities, but the chall­enge then is to avo­id show­ing the wrong sta­tus at taxi stops. If a lot of raw GPS data is obtai­ned from trucks, you can expect good free­way covera­ge in your live traf­fic report, but not inner cities.

This is one of the chal­lenges that traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on pro­vi­ders have to deal with. They have to make sure that they have a balan­ced mix of sources for their raw data. But we belie­ve the most important aspect is the sheer mass of raw data.

Goog­le does it with mass

This is why all roads lead to Goog­le. With its Android ope­ra­ting system, Goog­le has by far the lar­gest source of GPS raw data for live traf­fic report – here floa­ting pho­ne data – available. Off the record, many navi­ga­ti­on spe­cia­lists from BMW, VW, or Mer­ce­des will admit that – in addi­ti­on to their pro­prie­ta­ry built-in navi­ga­ti­on system – they also have Goog­le Maps run­ning as a back­up. Unfort­u­n­a­te­ly, Google’s traf­fic data can­not be used sepa­ra­te­ly, as the com­pa­ny does not make it available.

Here and the auto­mo­ti­ve industry

Ano­ther play­er on the mar­ket that is of gre­at inte­rest to us is Here. Through the acqui­si­ti­on of Here (form­er­ly Nav­teq) a few years ago by a con­sor­ti­um of the Ger­man auto­mo­ti­ve indu­stry, all sen­sor data of the cars is acce­s­si­ble in theo­ry. Very accu­ra­te infor­ma­ti­on about the speed, wea­ther, speed limits, or icy roads is available. We can’t wait to have access to the Here data and inte­gra­te it in Map­Trip! (Update 2021 — Here data is available — plea­se ask our sales team).

Live Traffic Report
The live traf­fic report in a WDR traf­fic stu­dio. You can see the Tom­Tom traf­fic page in the top cen­ter of the screen. Source:

Many ingre­di­ents for the best live traf­fic report 

Today, traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on that is gene­ra­ted redac­tion­al­ly is on the frin­ges. But it still mat­ters becau­se it offers peo­p­le important con­tex­tu­al infor­ma­ti­on. There’s a signi­fi­cant dif­fe­rence bet­ween a traf­fic jam being cau­sed by a cons­truc­tion site, icy roads, high traf­fic volu­me, or due to a road clo­sure. This is why even today, auto­ma­ti­cal­ly gene­ra­ted traf­fic data is still sup­ple­men­ted with edi­to­ri­al live traf­fic report.

Mode of transmission

Live traf­fic report in the Radio

TMC mes­sa­ges can still be recei­ved over the radio. This is an attrac­ti­ve solu­ti­on for some users in the field of tele­ma­tics as it is the most cost-effec­ti­ve way to get live traf­fic report. But this means of trans­mis­si­on is very limi­t­ed and not sui­ta­ble for the vast amount of traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on trans­mit­ted today.

Live traf­fic report by Internet

Map­Trip and other modern navi­ga­ti­on systems use inter­net con­nec­tions to obtain traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on for their live traf­fic report. The trans­mit­ted data volu­me still plays a cri­ti­cal role in the pro­fes­sio­nal envi­ron­ment and in lar­ge fleets. But it is important to intel­li­gent­ly sel­ect the infor­ma­ti­on that is actual­ly nee­ded and use data com­pres­si­on algo­rith­ms to redu­ce the cost of trans­mit­ting the data to a minimum.

How does the navi­ga­ti­on system get traf­fic data?

Live Traffic Report

Live traf­fic report in the future 

We belie­ve that traf­fic data will con­ti­n­ue to evol­ve signi­fi­cant­ly. On the one hand, the qua­li­ty of traf­fic jam infor­ma­ti­on can still be impro­ved, and on the other hand the data can be enhan­ced far bey­ond mere infor­ma­ti­on about jams to all rele­vant infor­ma­ti­on for drivers.

Cur­rent­ness, covera­ge, and accuracy

The faster a traf­fic jam is reco­gnized and pic­tu­red as this in live traf­fic report, the bet­ter it is. But for navi­ga­ti­on it is also important to know whe­re exact­ly the jam starts and ends. In Map­Trip, we are alre­a­dy ana­ly­zing the speed of traf­fic on the free­ways. If speeds drop off signi­fi­cant­ly on short rou­tes, we inter­pret it as the far end of the traf­fic jam and Map­Trip issues a cor­re­spon­ding war­ning. The more accu­ra­te and cur­rent the infor­ma­ti­on, the bet­ter the war­ning works.

Traf­fic data from free­ways is the easiest to work with, as the hig­hest volu­me of floa­ting car data is available in this case. But it is also beco­ming incre­a­sing­ly important to have traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on available in inner cities in order to to pro­vi­de the best live traf­fic report and find opti­mal rou­tes through the traf­fic jungle in urban are­as. Today, this alre­a­dy works quite well on the major roads of big cities. But more and hig­her qua­li­ty data is always wel­co­me here too.

Live Traffic Report

Lane-accu­ra­te traf­fic data to be reflec­ted in live traf­fic report? 

Our request to traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on pro­vi­ders: On a free­way inter­sec­tion, trucks are get­ting backed up in the right lane, while traf­fic is flowing free­ly in the left lane. In this case, the pro­vi­ders of traf­fic data gene­ra­te a mean value from the sta­tio­na­ry trucks and the flowing traf­fic and out­put a traf­fic jam for this sec­tion of the free­way. This infor­ma­ti­on is wrong whe­ther you are dri­ving straight ahead or whe­ther you want to turn right.

Lane-accu­ra­te traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on would much bet­ter reflect reality:

Live Traffic Report
Live Traffic Report
Live Traffic Report

Rain, ice, fog

In the future, traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on will encom­pass much more than just describ­ing the traf­fic situa­ti­on. Net­work­ed fleets of vehic­les can, e.g., pro­vi­de infor­ma­ti­on about rain (winds­creen wipers on) or fog (fog lights on) via the cloud. Even icy road con­di­ti­ons could be repor­ted to other road users by iden­ti­fy­ing when the ABS system enga­ges in other cars.


Road traf­fic is very dyna­mic. As all com­mut­ers know from expe­ri­ence, it can make a world of dif­fe­rence whe­ther you lea­ve for work at 6 am or 6:15 am, or whe­ther you dri­ve home at 4:15 pm or 4:30 pm. For us as a navi­ga­ti­on soft­ware deve­lo­per, it means that the dri­ving time cal­cu­la­ted by Map­Trip is most likely pre­cise at 6:15 am, but it may be com­ple­te­ly off for 6:30 am. Even though our algo­rith­ms alre­a­dy take account of the likely deve­lo­p­ment of traf­fic, the data does not accu­ra­te­ly reflect the rea­li­ty during the­se dyna­mic pha­ses. We hope that the pro­vi­ders will be able to offer signi­fi­cant impro­ve­ments in the future.

How Map­Trip uses traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on in their live traf­fic report?

As dis­cus­sed abo­ve, traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on is no lon­ger about local dis­rup­ti­ons. In the past, the infor­ma­ti­on was recei­ved direct­ly by the navi­ga­ti­on devices and used to cal­cu­la­te the rou­te. But today, traf­fic infor­ma­ti­on is a mul­ti-dimen­sio­nal uni­ver­se of infor­ma­ti­on, con­si­sting of cur­rent, sta­tic, and pro­gno­stic data. And addi­tio­nal infor­ma­ti­on, such as speed limits, wea­ther con­di­ti­ons, or road con­di­ti­ons is also included.

This flow of infor­ma­ti­on can­not be sen­si­bly pro­ce­s­sed on mobi­le devices. The trans­mis­si­on or com­pu­ta­ti­on capa­ci­ty of smart­phones or navi­ga­ti­on devices would sim­ply not suffice.

This is why we deci­ded on a ser­ver-cen­tric archi­tec­tu­re for Map­Trip. The Map­Trip backend is con­ti­nuous­ly fed with the most up-to-date traf­fic data and can thus cal­cu­la­te the best pos­si­ble rou­tes. The navi­ga­ti­on soft­ware in the car only sends rou­te inqui­ries to the ser­ver and recei­ves the final­ly com­pu­ted and opti­mi­zed rou­tes back from the ser­ver. This approach has the advan­ta­ge that the ser­ver can inform the navi­ga­ti­on system about faster rou­tes at any time.

Over­view of advantages:

  • Opti­mal rou­tes and pre­cise arri­val times as all traf­fic is taken into account. (Cal­cu­la­ti­on on server)
  • Mini­mal use of resour­ces on the mobi­le device (thin cli­ent) as com­plex cal­cu­la­ti­ons are hand­led by the server.
  • Maps are always up-to-date as the ser­vers con­ti­nuous­ly recei­ve updates.
  • Road data stored local­ly on the mobi­le device also enables off­line navi­ga­ti­on when nee­ded (wit­hout live traf­fic report in this case)
Live Traffic Report
Three dif­fe­rent traf­fic views in the Map­Trip navi­ga­ti­on soft­ware. On the left is the rou­te colo­red accor­ding to the traf­fic den­si­ty, on the top right is a wide-area over­view of the traf­fic (flow data), and edi­to­ri­al live traf­fic report mes­sa­ges are dis­play­ed at the bot­tom right.

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