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An App that Sees and Prevents Future Traffic Jams

Windows Phone app Greenway knows where the traffic will be before it strikes and gets you to your destination twice as fast.

Anyone’s smartphone can caculate the shortest distance between two places and even recommend a route to avoid traffic along the way. But what about an app that helps prevent traffic jams before they begin? That’s the premise of Greenway, a new program for Windows Phone that plugs its users’ locations, destinations, and speeds into an algorithm to figure out where and when traffic jams are likely to occur. Then, it provides a route to steer cars away from those roads. The route is called, appopriately, the “Greenway,” and it's optimized for traffic, time, and the amount of gas used based on data about where other drivers are headed at the same time.

As cofounder Christian Brüggemann told Technology Review, the app factors in data about a street, like the number of lanes and speed limit, to calculate the maximum number of vehicles it can handle before bottlenecks. Then the app redirects cars from busy streets so they don't tip past their carrying capacity. A Greenway user's phone will send updates to Greenway almost constantly so the app can redirect on-the-fly if its led a driver into a jam.

So far, the approach seems to be working. In a computer simulation of 50,000 cars, Greenway users show up at their destinations twice as fast as non-users. And they only burn up one fifth of the fuel. In Munich, a pilot group of a few dozen drivers is trying it out in real life.

One of the more interesting parts of the app is the business model. The app is free to use, but users who select the Greenway route will pay a small fee for the insider information: five percent of the cost of fuel they'll save by taking the Greenway, but never more than 30 cents per route. If it takes users longer than it should to get to their desintation, the information is on the house.

The founders estimate that for the app to truly be effective, they’d need to get at least 10 percent of a city’s drivers on board. To expand its market, the Greenway team is searching for the capital to code the app for the iPhone and Android and is hoping to strike deals with taxi companies. A $10,000-prize at the Imagine Cup in Sydney earlier this month, a technology competiton hosted by Microsoft, won’t hurt either.

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