Sunday, May 14, 2017

Putting STOP signs on the Google Map

Can we put up traffic signs on something like Google maps using a suitable app to display them to drivers of vehicles at the appropriate time? You might wish to experiment, starting with

The other day my wife and I saw a distressing scene at a street corner; three girls who were sharing a scooter had been in a traffic accident. A car running along an intersecting street had hit them and one girl had a bleeding injury on her face. There was crowd around them offering help. The car involved was there on the side of the street and a young man who seemed to be the one who had driven that car was involved in helping the unhappy girls.

It is often pointed out that traffic is chaotic in India. Part of this is due to the absence of any enforcement of traffic discipline. Part of this due to the absence of essential traffic signs such as a STOP sign to show that traffic on the intersecting street have the right of way. Millions of vehicles rush through intersections free of any discipline. Any aggressive driver gets his way, till the day he crosses the path of an even more aggressive one!

Many drivers have a navigational aid mounted on their dashboard or windshield. The map app will use stored data to identify when your vehicle is reaching an intersection and if you have the right of way there. If not, it would flash a stop sign. You would bring your vehicle to a complete stop for a moment and then cross the intersection carefully. The app could warn of speed breakers, prohibited turns, one way streets, your exceeding the speed limit etc.

Do virtual street signs absolve the local government of their responsibility to display real-world signs? No, all they can do is to increase your chances of being alive as and when they fulfil their responsibilities!

Joking apart, there is a necessity for the government to get involved. They should participate in any project in this area to put relevant information on maps. They should ensure that there is a standard for encoding this information. The basic information should be made available in the public domain. What about the app developer? Why should he spend a lot of effort to build this national infrastructure? Well, we will give him the rights to display "paying" signs in addition to traffic signs - like the following:

What about liabilities of the app developer? That is no problem; they will show you a link named Terms and Conditions. As usual, you would ignore it and click on "I accept". The 5000-word T & C would include a line absolving the app developer of all and any responsibilities! (Warning! It may not be as simple as that! But you can worry about it when you have a prototype to show the lawyer!)

Lastly, what are the limits to this technology? Will one day even traffic signals will be run off cyber space? Data from users of navigation devices gives statistical information to servers as to how many vehicles cross which intersections and in which direction. Can one use such data from these servers to drive real-world traffic signals in a highly adaptive manner? 



Srinivasan Ramani said...

There has been an interesting exchange of comments on this topic on Linkedin. Read the following:

Sundeep Wagh, FCA
A very good suggestion Sir. But in the first place was it right for three girls to ride a two wheeler ? That should have been the first STOP sign. People need to use civic sense and a moral sense. Otherwise all efforts are futile. We cannot blame law enforcers if people take pride in breaking the law

Srinivasan Ramani
Good discipline is found in countries where there is some monitoring and swift and sure punishment is given to those who ignore traffic rules. The punishment does not have to be disproportionately high, but has to be adequate to ensure deterrence. But before we worry about that, we need to worry about deterring the traffic police from collecting private revenue!

Balakris Subramaniam
The driver phone can detect if the driver did not stop at a sign (combination of accelerometer, gps and google map) and automatically draw a small fine from his/her bank account.

Srinivasan Ramani said...

The comment by Balakris (above) makes me think of a wider mechanism. Users of navigational map apps can be invited to volunteer to a "responsible driver program". Under this scheme, their app will monitor their driving - jumping traffic signals, not stopping at STOP signs, exceeding speed limits etc. The app will access a prepaid digital wallet and pay fines. The app will also detect the use of parking areas and pay the parking fees.

A switch-off option will be available when the customer wants to opt out of the program for some time! But this time out would be recorded on their log!

The government should enact a law to have insurance companies give a significant discount to "responsible drivers". The discount would be higher if the user is willing to have an alcohol monitoring device attached to the steering wheel!