Network of Traffic Spies Built Into Cars in Atlanta

A fleet of vehicles equipped with computers and GPS units is helping transportation engineers understand how to keep traffic flowing--even in rush hour

5 min read

1 April 2004--There's something unusual about Randall Guensler's 1999 white Ford Explorer, but you wouldn't know it if you passed him in traffic. Hidden under the carpet beneath a rear seat is a metal box containing electronics and a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit wired to the vehicle's engine-diagnostic computer. The box tracks the SUV's position and speed and sends that information to a remote server over a cellphone network.

A professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Guensler wants to get rid of the congestion that increasingly clogs the city's metropolitan area. To understand better how such traffic knots form, he and a team of transportation engineers have used the GPS-enabled monitoring device to "bug" about 500 vehicles owned by drivers who, for the sake of science and fewer traffic jams, were willing to participate in the experiment. Whenever a driver is behind the wheel, the monitor gathers data, which is transmitted to a central server at Georgia Tech during off-peak hours.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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