Where does Beijing’s real time traffic info come from?

In response to the results recent Beijing Energy Network – Environmental Challenge Open competition, which is is summarized by event judge, Kunal Sinha (Ogilvy & Mather) here, I thought I would just make a few comments on where real-time traffic information comes from in China.

Real Time Traffic - Central Beijing. (Google Maps)

Use of real-time traffic information for implementing smart-routing through GPS systems would be great for reducing traffic jams, and the emissions and energy consumption associated with them.  However, real-time traffic information comes from a complex data monitoring, evaluation and reporting mechanism that is far from perfect.

At this time in China, most real-time traffic data (as well as digital maps) come from two big GPS data companies, Autonavi and Sennavi ( I think that’s the English name).  They sell that data to Google, Baidu, municipal governments and other companies.

According to my understanding, they get this data from a number of sources:

  • Taxis with GPS/GPRS systems mounted inside – These companies pay the taxi companies for the data provided by these GPS/GPRS systems.  The taxis drive normally, and report back their location and speed to the system which analyses their travel pattern.  The data from each car individually is not reliable because you never know why a car is stopped.  So I think they only accept data from these cars when they have a fare (the meter is running, so the car is not likely to stop and wait around — correct me if I’m wrong).  Only when there are many cars reporting their travel can the system make accurate predictions about the traffic situation at any particular location.  So, if there are no or few of these taxis in a particular area, other methods need to be used to gather traffic data.
    • This is particularly important, and is the major reason that traffic data is only available for major roads, and not for small roads:  if there are no reporting vehicles in a particular place, there is no way to know if there is a traffic problem or not.
  • Road sensors – road sensors can show when traffic is stopped or moving — but these are expensive and need to be calibrated from time to time.  Therefore, it is difficult to install them on smaller roads.
  • Cameras – Like road sensors, cameras can detect when traffic is stopped or moving.  I wonder if this is a potential area of expanding data on smaller streets regarding traffic movement, but this also brings into question of privacy and national security of video data.
  • Call-in reports – these call in reports, while up-to-date, cannot be relied on to always report traffic issues, and need to be verified.  They also require actual people to answer phones/inquiries, meaning increased labour cost.

After data is collected, it has to be processed, and judged for accuracy.  If data is suddenly unavailable, historical systems have to be ready in order to predict the likely traffic situation.  Finally, the data is broadcast by FM-radio signal across to GPS terminals across the city, or through the internet on portals such as google or Baidu maps.

Needless to say, this is a capital-intensive and heavily regulated service, and is not easy to get into as a new entrant.  Apparently, data is available on major roads in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu and several other major centers.

In this way, it seems that Beijing in particular has challenges for providing a large number of alternative routes around traffic jams based on real-time traffic information. First, most providers of real-time traffic data are already on major roads.  Data about smaller roads (as possible alternative routes) will be extremely limited and at best, unreliable.  Secondly, due to Beijing’s ring-road / large city block structure, there are relatively few alternative routes to take once one has already set off, particularly on cross-city trips.

I guess there must be other challenges to solve here, but these are some of the key ones.  I hope somebody can figure them out!

By the way, iCET is working with Autonavi to try and offer a GPS-based GHG emission handheld application (it’s only for Symbian phone at the moment, and only in Chinese).  The first beta edition can’t do it yet — but it is already in Autonavi’s Minimap platform.  After a bit more work, we should have real GPS-based transport emission data in a handheld application based on mode of travel, including specific vehicle emissions.

Guo Mao Land Planning: No e-tower in this plan! And…what up, Baidu?

Today I was walking through Tower 3 of China World (Guo Mao T3), and noticed a scale model of Guo Mao and the surrounding area in the lobby.  I snapped a picture:

Guo Mao Scale Model

Guo Mao Scale Model...minus one building...hmmm

Sorry it is kind of dark, my phone’s camera is not great.  Anyway, I was looking at the model…Guo Mao T1, check.  Guo Mao T2, Check.  China World Hotel, Check. Kerry Center, Check.  Kerry Center Hotel…Check.  What’s missing?  What’s missing?  Oh Dear, it’s the E-tower!  My office building doesn’t exist in Guo Mao’s vision…Is this a picture of things to come?  Are the rumours of no more E-tower within 6 months possibly true?  It was an awfully luscious-looking, green parking long in E-tower’s place…

Anyway, just for fun, I decided to look on Biadu and Google Maps to see what they had on the topic, and found some really interesting results.

First, Baidu is 3 years out of date on its 3D map of Beijing’s CBD.  What the heck?  The little old that was torn down in the first few weeks I was at iCET is still in the picture.  Guo Mao T3 is nowhere to be seen, and there is a giant construction site around the e-Tower (which is in the picture!  yay!)  What up, Baidu?

Second: Google is up to date.  T3 and e-tower are all there.

Guo Mao's model of itself, Baidu's 3D map (ancient) and Google's satellite image of Guo Mao

Conclusions / Observations:

  1. What the heck is Guo Mao Planning for this area?  Why was that guy coming around to all the units in e-tower a few months ago offering to buy?  Is the E-tower going to be here still in a year?
  2. Baidu…honestly, why do you have a 3 year-old 3D map of Beijing’s CBD?  Is it that hard to keep up on Beijing’s highest-profile commercial district?
  3. Google — should be in China.  It provides high quality, up-to-date data that is easily accessible and useful.

And that’s that!

iCET Launches its Green Car Sina Microblog

Sina Microblog, otherwise known as weibo, is the hottest thing in China.  What is Weibo?  It’s basically a copy of Twitter, but just like many Chinese products copied from the west, it is newer and improved.  Sina Weibo already has its own picture sharing service, is integrated with mobile phones and computers, and has all sorts of value added services.

iCET’s microblog, found at http://weibo.com/greencar2011 has been online for 2 days, and is making a big splash.  Focused on spreading information about the environmental impact of different models of vehicles in China, it has attracted the attention of fans and foes of vehicles alike.

If you’re a Sina weibo user, come on over and add the @环境友好汽车 microblog to your 关注 list.  If you’re not a Sina weibo user, sign up at weibo.com!  And if you are not in China — ho ho, Sina Weibo is coming at you, if you’re not already happy with Twitter, I guess.

And if you want to know more about the Environmentally Friendly Vehicle program, shoot on over to http://www.greencarchina.org

Environmentally Friendly Vehicle Weibo Screenshot

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Calgary Shindig in Beijing – Mayor Nenshi on the Scene

Last week, Calgary Mayor Nenshi was in Beijing to drum up support for Calgarian companies in China.   Given all the controversy about the Airport Tunnel, the Mayor had to show up in Beijing late…but just in time for his visit with Beijing Mayor, Guo Jinlong.

or... Naheed Nenshi met with Mayor of Beijing from China

Calgary Mayor Nenshi and Beijing Mayor Guo Dodge Flower Arrangement to Discuss Challenges of Population Increase Source: www.ebeijing.gov.cn May 26, 2011.

Mayor Nenshi mentioned that Beijing has over 600,000 immigrants per year, is building out more than 300 km of subway, and perhaps saw Calgary’s problems in perspective.  He did mention that no matter what, cities all face the same problems of economic development, waste disposal and infrastructure, and these are things every mayor has to discuss.

I might remind Mayor Nenshi that Beijing’s population is also about 21 times greater than that of Calgary, so 300 km of subway in Beijing compared to 18 km is also about about right!

Anyway, Mayor Nenshi, 加油! It’s not easy pushing one city in this great big country — but Calgary does have a lot to offer to China.  And not just oil!  But history, green technology, natural beauty and appreciation for the natural environment.

Mayor Nenshi also made another important visit, to the China World Trader’s Hotel for the Calgary reception in Beijing.  And who was there,  but me?

or...the Mayor and Rob

Mayor Nenshi Out with his Cowtown Laoxiang in Beijing, Rob - May 26, 2011

A good time was had by all, some great Calgarian companies – including some Green ones – got their name out in China.  I hope they get what they were looking for!