Sensors use Bluetooth to compute travel times on Ike

June 1, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The Illinois Department of Transportation is using the Bluetooth technology from your cell phone to get travel times and data on traffic jams.

One of the fallouts from the resurfacing of the Eisenhower Expressway, aside from sitting in traffic, is the loss of travel time information. When crews grind down the pavement, they also grind out the wire sensors that generate the travel time and congestion data. So, IDOT has hired a firm from Wisconsin to install temporary sensors that will compute that data using your cell phone.

"We simply detect the Bluetooth signal that might be going by a passing antenna, we time stamp that, we look for that same Bluetooth signal some miles down the road, we do another time stamp, and we take all that information back to our data center and do a simple compute of the travel time," said Neal Campbell, CEO, Trafficast.

IDOT will be installing 22 of the sensor boxes on light poles throughout the 27 mile construction zone. The sensors will pick up the media access control, or MAC address, not just from cell phones, but from Bluetooth enabled cars, navigation systems, even laptops. Bluetooth signals generated from people on the El will be filtered out to keep data accurate. Once compiled, the information will be sent to IDOT's computer system center in Oak Park and input on their website - all in a matter of seconds.

For those motorists worried about privacy issues, officials say they needn't be.

"There's absolutely no connection between the MAC address of a Bluetooth device and the actual person's identity," said Campbell.

IDOT has a one-year contract with Trafficast, but when the year is up, they will keep the two dozen sensor boxes.

"By using this particular device, we're actually hoping to be able to re-use it in other locations in the future and maybe put it in places where we don't have permanent detection," said Steve Travia, IDOT bureau chief, traffic.

Some locations IDOT is looking at include portions of I-80, US 41, Route 83 and any other highway construction zone, as needed.

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