The Traffic Data Research Group at the School of Information Sciences is the recipient of the University of Tampere’s annual science prize for its ground-breaking work, which utilises open traffic data.
“We are pioneers because the City of Tampere provides us with the best traffic data in the world,” says Jyrki Nummenmaa, Professor of Computer Science and director of the group.
The Traffic Data Research Group was founded in 2012, and its members keep changing. The core group includes about ten researchers.
“It is vital that we have had a large group of people who have been able to work independently. This is a good sign indicating that it is possible to conduct research at the University and to have an impact on several different levels,” Nummenmaa commends.
Research coordinator Jukka Lintusaari says that the formation of the group was influenced by several good things happening simultaneously. The information technology revolution was accompanied by the traffic revolution. As a result, there will be new jobs for as many as tens of thousands of people in the future when cities become intelligent and the flows of traffic can be predicted.
Professor Nummenmaa says that the key to the group’s success is the open traffic data it receives from the City of Tampere.
“Back in the old days, the University of Tartu had the best telescope in the world and that was why they were able to do the world’s best research in astronomy. We can get the world’s best traffic data from the City of Tampere and that, too, can be used to see things more clearly. The traffic data is open to everyone else, too, but we are here on the spot.”
Open data helps to avoid traffic jams
The researchers are using the traffic data to create applications, which help people to avoid traffic jams, make the traffic flow smoother and facilitate parking.
“Getting a picture of the traffic situation is very important. It means that we can understand what is happening and what the current status of traffic is. We can thus predict traffic jams and know where the traffic flows smoothly,” Nummenmaa explains.
The researchers process the traffic data and make applications for both consumers and administrative purposes. The chains of movement, which connect the different routes together, are important.
Lintusaari associates the sharing economy with traffic; it would enable the more efficient use of vehicles. For example, the utilisation rate of private cars is currently only two percent because cars stand still for 98 percent of the time.
“A private car is by far the worst investment a person can make,” Lintusaari says.
Large car companies have already set up systems to sell timeshare deals for cars. Lintusaari tells about a project in which the new neighbourhood of Hiidenranta in Tampere will feature jointly owned cars.
“New modes of traffic are being developed. Uber is one example; it is partly like a normal car and partly a taxi. It is hard to define.”
With the help of the new applications, the passengers can evaluate the quality of services and receive information about the best alternative routes.
Public transport is doing well in Tampere
Public transportation has done well in Tampere. Its share of the passengers has remained on a high level even though changes have been made and the system has been critiqued.
“The situation is worse in many other cities, which do not have the same electronic services,” says Researcher Tero Piirainen.
Lintusaari says that there are forty bus routes in Tampere of which perhaps ten are main routes. According to him, the other routes could be made to operate on call so that they would change according to the passengers’ needs.
Booking a parking place in advance
Open data and related services can radically change the way we park our cars. In about a year, Helsinki will introduce a service where people can reserve parking places in advance.
“When people are able to book their parking places in advance, a third of the traffic in the city centre will disappear,” Lintusaari promises.
The future will bring personalised traffic services with which for example cyclists can choose their routes and avoid noise and traffic jams.
In social media apps, passengers can comment upon and receive real-time traffic information.
“The official information channels are slow. If traffic gets jammed, the information is really quickly identified and disseminated via the open data and social media compared with the authorities first receiving the information, dealing with it and disseminating an announcement,” Nummenmaa says.
Research groups do not work according to organisational structures
The University of Tampere and Tampere University of Technology will be merged in 2018. Tampere University of Applied Sciences will also be included in the new higher education concern. The University of Tampere is getting ready for the change by calling its schools faculties again.
The School of Information Sciences will be divided into two as some subjects will join communication sciences and some the new Faculty of Natural Sciences. Which faculty will the traffic researchers join?
“Most of our group will not join the Faculty of Natural Sciences, but I probably will,” Nummenmaa speculates.
According to Nummenmaa, faculties are a meaningless concept from the point of view of a research group as research groups are not formed according to organisational units.
“Projects change homes according to funders. A faculty is primarily created for organising degree education, but there will also be research communities operating across faculty lines. I do not think that the faculties as such are a very big issue.”
Nummenmaa predicts that there will be pressure to find the best methods of putting together extensive research communities in the new university. Traffic researchers already cooperate across campuses and universities.
Text: Heikki Laurinolli