IntelliOne Technologies, a company that specializes in using mobile phone network usage to measure roadway speeds, has launched a real-world test of its technology along the streets, freeways and highways of Tampa, Florida. Called Need4Speed, the test will run from Aug. 7 to 18.
The company's technology takes advantage of the fact that wireless devices in motion communicate constantly with multiple cell towers. Wireless carriers use this data to maintain and optimize their networks, but this information can also be converted into speed and travel time information for any roadway that has cell phone coverage.
The new service isn't the only example of a creative use for cell phone towers. In another recent study, scientists used dips in cell phone signals during storms to measure rainfall.
Updated every second
IntelliOne says its results are accurate to within 3 mph and updated every second, allowing more accurate readings than current collection methods—such as in-road detectors, cameras and helicopters.
"Most traffic reports today can be as much as 20 minutes old," said IntelliOne CEO Ronald Herman. "With live speed and travel times, you always have the best information and the best chance of getting to your destination on time and with the least amount of traffic stress."
The traffic-monitoring technology will be licensed to third-party vendors who will then make it available to the public, said IntelliOne spokesman John Brimelow.
"This would feed into a plethora of devices, from heads-up displays in cars, to cell phones and websites and media reports on traffic," Brimelow told LiveScience.
To address privacy concerns, the Atlanta-based company says the personal identification data of users will be stripped from cell phone signals before they are processed by IntelliOne's software.
However, users will have the choice of "opting-in," meaning their personal identification will be recorded by the system. This will allow the technology to function like tracking services that rely on global positioning satellites.
"If someone opts in, then they're saying 'I want you to know where I am and who I am,'" Brimelow said.
The company says their service could become available to the public in as soon as three months.
It's estimated that there are more than 190 million cell phone users in the United States.