Next Best Action on the Streets of Your Town

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Big Data Evangelist, IBM

When you're in a hurry, the next best action for all the drivers ahead of you is simple: pull over to the shoulder so you can zip through to your appointed destination.

That, however, is never going to happen, unless you're an emergency vehicle with lights flashing and siren blaring. Traffic congestion is our lot in life on this crowded planet. There are more than one billion cars on the roads worldwide, a number that's expected to double by 2020. If you live in any vibrant urban area, the best you can hope for is a road system designed, engineered and managed to keep the incidence of soul-crushing traffic jams to an absolute minimum. Ideally, you want the fabric of urban existence to automatically guide every person to the next best transit option and every vehicle to the next best path.

Smarter Cities are those communities whose transit infrastructures drive themselves, deriving real-time guidance from big data analytics. Dynamic optimization of a transportation system demands the most advanced predictive analytics, complex event processing, and other big data technologies. Systems such as these support intelligent traffic management through ubiquitous deployment of a next best action infrastructure of sensors, actuators, closed-loop response, and decision management components. What drives such a grid is dynamic assessment of system-wide metrics, including traffic throughput, travel times, air pollution levels, weather conditions, construction activities and accidents.

None of these concepts are brand new, and in fact forward-thinking urban administrators everywhere are putting them into practice. For example, IBM Intelligent Transportation Hub is already proving its value by helping cities around the world deal with gridlock-intensive congestion. The solution, available for premises-based deployment or as a subscription service on IBM SmartCloud, supports real-time optimization of urban transportation network by:

  • Aggregating, normalizing and visualizing traffic data in near real-time from many sources, including not only disparate databases but also traffic cameras, sensors and other field data capture devices;
  • Tracking the location, status and availability of all transportation assets;
  • Enabling deep traffic analysis and optimization through integration of historical and near real-time information about traffic performance, road capacity and conditions, and events;
  • Increasing awareness of and response to accidents, incidents and conditions that can impede efficient traffic flow;
  • Supporting predictive management and proactive remediation of traffic conditions, so that bottlenecks can be nipped in the bud before they become major urban chokepoints;
  • Facilitating real-time communication and collaboration among agencies to coordinate actions and resolve issues efficiently
  • Issuing real-time alerts to the public to call their attention to issues and recommend alternative roads, modes of transportation, and so forth

Clearly, the transportation networks of the world's cities are evolving rapidly into smart grids powered by next best action infrastructure. We see plenty of potential for new and emerging consumer technologies–such as smartphones, embedded vehicular communication systems, and self-driving vehicles–to provide decision support and  decision automation for real-time traffic management. Predictive assessment and dynamic usage pricing of available transport capacity (e.g., high-occupancy toll lanes, on-street parking) is another interesting consumer-facing technology that some jurisdictions are experimenting with.

Traffic optimization is, in the final analysis, about changing human behavior. Ubiquitous infrastructure, tools, guidance and incentives should quietly shape the decisions that we all make 24x7. If engineered comprehensively and seamlessly into the transportation system, next best action will improve quality of life for everybody. On the streets of your town, you'll experience the pleasure of continual, efficient, incident-free vehicular flow.