May 7

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

TrafficGauge rocks

Last year, I accepted membership in a buzz marketing experiment called the Silicon Valley 100, in which people like me who are deemed to be "influencers" are offered various free products to test. I accepted with some misgivings -- was I selling out? -- but accepted after being assured that there was absolutely no expectation of endorsement of any of the products.

In the year or so since, I've received a fair share of products to test out. But I've never been inclined to say anything about any of them until I got my TrafficGauge. I was initially skeptical: one more special-purpose device to tote around. But I was immediately won over.

How stupid does this thing look? A small handheld device about the size of a Treo or a Blackberry. On its face a low-res map of Bay Area freeways (other cities also available). Turn it on, and it stays on. When there's no traffic, the map shows nothing. If traffic is slow, heavy dashed lines appear on the freeways affected. If it's stop and go, the dashed lines flash. That's it.

Now I know I could get this information on my phone, or even get real time traffic fed to my Garmin Streetpilot GPS. But having a dedicated device is surprisingly useful. I keep it in my glove compartment, and pull it out when I'm in doubt about which route to take. It's always on, and so there's no user interface to fiddle with, just a quick glance. I find it particularly useful at times when you wouldn't normally expect traffic -- for example, when I was heading home from Startup School (Palo Alto to Sebastopol) on a Saturday afternoon. It saved me from going home through Berkeley (my usual preferred route to the North Bay) by warning me of a slowdown (most likely due to an accident) at a point where traffic is normally light.

What's also interesting about this device is the very fact of its single purpose design, and the fact that its low-power display and sensors stay always on, running for months on a couple of AA batteries. It's a sign that special purpose hardware providing access to internet data services may eventually be commonplace. (I remember a nice presentation years ago by someone from IBM in which he compared pervasive computing to the spread of clocks: the clock tower was equivalent to the mainframe, the grandfather clock to the minicomputer, the clock-radio to the PC, and the embedded clocks you see everywhere to the future of computing.)

tags: specialized services  | comments: 3   | Sphere It

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Comments: 3

  Thomas Lord [05.07.06 07:05 PM]

Very kinda, sorta cool. Frustratingly close to super, duper cool.

Yr main perspective, all the big trends in HW and mashups, dead on.

What's with the business model here? What's the story behind those particular little boxes? Why am I paying a separate monthly fee for network plus their little mash-up? $0.17? Should be a fraction of a penny here.

How about factoring that little box into two parts. One, cigarette case, does generic networking and gives me a local, personal, wireless lan. That box should serve many of these little display tables. The other -- a generic, $70 display divice with minimal inputs. The mash-ups: those are how to sell the hw and franchise bandwidth -- they shouldn't cost more than grid time plus a tiny bit of insurance of service. So, as per trafficgauges disclaimer, perhaps WSDOT (their disclaimer is buggy from an SF perspective) stops providing the free data? Why should my investment in the little box evaporate? I should just switch it to weather. Or my email alerts. Or my sales team virtual white-board. Whatever.

Now back in the real world: lemme guess. These guys have patents out the wazoo ("a device for displaying traffic information ....") and the hw similarly. The HW is channel-limited and undocumented. It doesn't matter that some of us have been calling for generic configurations like this for years once money can lock up the space behind particular applications and screw developers and users alike. It doesn't matter that if I just point my Palm at the right web sight during commute time the effect is pretty much the same.

"And you're so close...", T-rock, Berkeley


  Nilofer Merchant [05.07.06 10:15 PM]

I love the fact that you joined the influencer group with trepediation. Of course, most companies (PR or the vendor themselves) typically wouldn't be that obvious as it makes the idea of you being an influencer cheesy.

But I'm glad you did or how I would I ever know about the Traffic Guage and your opinion on it.

Sounds like it's an early generation idea. It's taken commonly known information and sorting it through their app to provide an insight. This kind of thing will become more prelevant and hopefully OEMed by Car manufacturers and Garmin products so it's automatically included. But that's a rev or two down the road.

  Peter Rothman [05.09.06 06:19 AM]

One of the problems with devices like this is that once everyone has them, everyone gets similar traffic warnings and detour advice. This results in traffic problems on the typically used secondary routes and the alternatives quickly become as bad or worse than the original route.

I studied this a few years back as part of a proposal for "smart highways" that never got funded. What's the answer? Don't tell everyone the same information at the same time. In other words, the globally best traffic avoidance system isn't accurate (or honest) at the level of the individual driver.

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