Xerox researchers have taken their frustration with traffic congestion to the streets. They’re using expertise in data analytics, control systems, sensing, imaging and video to create new transportation  applications that help reduce congestion, increase safety on the road and take the pain out of finding a parking spot.
“Today you can find our scientists and ethnographic researchers standing on bridges and roads  or camping out in city parking lots collecting data and observing driver behaviors,” said Sophie Vandebroek , Xerox’s chief technology officer and president of the Xerox Innovation Group . “Our expertise in imaging and human behavior is now being applied to new areas such as analyzing real-time data – including video of traffic and parking patterns -- to help improve traffic safety, increase driver satisfaction, simplify a municipality’s infrastructure or make cities greener by decreasing traffic-related pollution.”
Despite the economic downturn and rising fuel costs, more cars are competing for capacity on roadways and parking spaces. The result? Congestion–a problem with consequences that extend far beyond drivers’ inconvenience:
The cost based on wasted fuel and lost productivity reached $100 billion in 2010 – more than $750 for every U.S. traveler (according to the 2011 Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Report).
The amount of wasted time totaled 4.8 billion hours – 34 hours for every traveler.
“Adding intelligence to systems is how government and transportation agencies around the world can do more for less,” said Cees de Wijs, Xerox group president for International Transportation and Government. “At Xerox we are focusing our innovation to simplify the complexities of modern integrated transport, resulting in greater convenience, reliability and savings for users and governments and transportation agencies.” De Wijs is speaking on the topic this week at the 19th World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems in Vienna, Austria.
Here’s a peek at Xerox innovation that is clearing the way for smoother travels ahead:
Imaging Technology / HOT and HOV Lanes: HOT (high occupancy toll)  and HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes can help move more people, more efficiently through the same number of highway lanes. While they can reduce emissions and improve overall air quality, enforcement is a challenge, requiring police officers to monitor lanes in person. Xerox researchers have developed an image-based prototype that accurately identifies how many occupants are in a vehicle using automated image processing techniques. These techniques could also come in handy in cities that have enhanced their carpool lanes by allowing single occupant vehicles to use them by paying a toll.
Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR): Many of today’s toll-collecting systems  rely on a combination of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and ALPR video camera technology. Transportation experts believe video-based tolling has the potential to eliminate toll booths and other congestion-causing highway collection points. But for now governments interested in using this technology must invest in the infrastructure, install cameras and wait months for an ALPR system to be “trained.”
Xerox researchers are using their expertise in optical character recognition to develop an ALPR system that not only is reliable but can be rapidly “pre-trained” for specific jurisdictions. While the industry is still years away from removing toll booths, Xerox’s innovation means forward-thinking municipalities can begin benefitting from ALPR technology today. The researchers are exploring how advances in processing information captured by video cameras (such as license plate recognition) can be used to support other safety needs. For example, it could help law enforcement officers rapidly scroll through videos to search for suspect vehicles - which might assist in capturing criminals on the run.
Smart Urban Parking Services: Xerox ethnographers and computer scientists are helping drivers find parking more efficiently. Their insights and analytics help determine parking availability and make the most of existing parking real estate scattered throughout a city by offering new services including merchant-reserved parking, reserved parking, curb-cut (curb space in front of a garage) parking, and commercial loading zone management.
Parking Demand Management Services: Xerox researchers developed a parking pricing engine that adjusts parking rates based on driver demand for spaces and availability. Using advanced data analytics, it increases and decreases rates based on demand to reduce traffic congestion and pollution generated by drivers hunting for on-street parking. The parking engine has been integrated as a module into Xerox’s new Merge parking management system, which is a single portal for managing a city’s meters, pay-by-mobile phone, sensors, enforcement, and collections.
Public Transportation: Xeroxscientists at XRCE are analyzing existing ticketing data  so that city transportation agencies have a better understanding of how travelers are actually using public transit and can better respond to their needs. The data can be combined with demographics, the availability of other kinds of transportation and weather forecasts to simulate ridership and predict the impact of changes to the infrastructure. This ongoing analysis of massive amounts of data is visualized in a city dashboard monitor.