ClearPath for Android could be the ideal traffic app for Angelenos

by Phil Owen

I am relatively new to living in Los Angeles, and take full advantage of the Google Navigation app on my Galaxy Nexus while getting acquainted with my surroundings. However, Google Navigation is problematic for residents of The City of Angels.

I live near the 101 Freeway, and every time I drive anywhere, Google Navigation tells me to get on that oft-congested highway, even if doing so will add several miles to my trip. A suggested route, like the one provided for driving to the University of Southern California, that adds several miles is not insignificant. In truth, following Google Navigation is not always a bad idea. If I'm going someplace during the day, between rush hours, the freeways aren't too congested, and traveling on them at 60 miles per hour is better than going 35 and having to constantly stop at traffic lights.

But Google Navigation wants me to take the freeway no matter what time of day it is, and on the way home from a local event at USC, it wanted me to take the 101 while traffic was at a standstill. What's worse is that the app knew that traffic was atrocious, as indicated by my route being highlighted red, and it wanted me to go that way regardless. I tried to pull up an alternate route, but the app offered none.

I made my own route through surface streets that got me back to my home far more quickly than Google's route, using the Navigation map for guidance. So, in essence, I'm left to find my way around LA using a regular map just like in the old days. Ah, technology.

ClearPath re-routes you to avoid gridlock

Fortunately, the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering is trying to fix this navigational problem. Using the vast infrastructure built into the LA METRO system, USC constantly collects data on traffic patterns, and they are using this data to try to help the L.A. county government deal with myriad traffic concerns. To that end, they are building a navigation app called ClearPath which has a simple and obvious yet very smart idea: to use the data they have to map users through less congested routes. One wonders why Google has yet to come up with a solution to this issue.

On January 29, a representative showed off ClearPath at USC’s event GLIMPSE: A Digital Technology Showcase, so we could get a better understanding of how it works. He demonstrated how at different times of day, the ClearPath app would send people making the exact same trip through all sorts of different routes, which would save the driver as much as fifteen minutes against Google's projected travel time for its inflexible route.

The infrastructure involved is quite complex. They use traffic cameras and integrated road sensors to collect information on traffic patterns, and so ClearPath can not only interpret traffic data in real time, it can also theoretically predict patterns. Some of those patterns, of course, can be obvious, such as how at 8:30 in the morning the freeways will definitely be jammed. But it also predicts how weather (which does occasionally happen in L.A., believe it or not) and accidents will affect traffic flow. And thanks to that infrastructure, ClearPath should be more accurate in telling users where traffic is particularly slow.

Unfortunately, ClearPath is not yet available for consumers, and so I can't test it in the field. But its logic is sound, and it is something that would be useful if it actually works as intended. This will definitely be something folks who live in or are visiting Los Angeles will want. I just hope to be use ClearPath before I memorize the entire layout of the city, which should happen in the next couple months.

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