Remember when you used to wonder, Why should I even bother turning on the traffic report this morning? It seemed unavoidable. No matter how hard you tried to plan ahead, the local traffic feed was unreliable at best. Then you got a smartphone and everything changed. But how?
The constantly evolving techniques used by traffic cameras have had a significant impact, but no matter how good a camera gets, it’s the technology of interlinking devices and collection analysis of that data that’s made all the difference. This massive amount of data collected from interconnected devices is known as Big Data.
As we become more efficient at Big Data analysis, the faster we can turn that real-time information around and feed it right back into your device. Thus, giving you true real-time analysis of the traffic around you, the traffic along your intended route, and options to help you expertly navigate for a generally less stressful trip.
In the beginning, traffic data was originally gathered from cameras, police scanners, and by watching from the skies via helicopter. Your local radio and news broadcasting networks made it their mission to provide you with the most accurate, up-to-date traffic reports available. At best, we had about a 20-minute delay between what was actually happening and the point in time when we received that information. This made the data almost useless. By the time it was useable to the listener, it was already old and inaccurate.
Frustrating to say the least. But these were the humble beginnings, allowing us a big-picture view of traffic patterns. It worked. Sort of. But we were still waiting on the inevitable change for the better as we witnessed our technology continue to advance.
Big Data collection changed everything—and it happened so quickly, the transition was nearly seamless, as organizations other than news and radio decided to get involved. Take Google for example. Google Maps has been around a while now, providing the platform Google developers needed to begin experimenting with and building upon. Fairly quickly, Google Maps integrated information from the Department of Transportation, gathered from traffic cameras and other more traditional data-gathering devices.
Then Google got into the phone game. Eventually, our phones used GPS navigation integrated with Google Maps. This was key. Google now had a way to gather data uploaded to Google’s servers across literally millions of devices traveling in real-time. Automated analysis of this data turned that data right back into those phones, creating the first ever, truly accurate portrait of traffic patterns, conditions and events.
Now that we can interact with and accurately monitor traffic data, we’re able to reap the benefits in ways we only dreamed about in the past. When you’re planning to make a trip, all you have to do is type in your destination, and within seconds, your GPS navigation plots out your course based on current Big Data information. You no longer have to guess when choosing your route. Choose from options based on mileage, traffic congestion or travel time, and your preferred option can be selected before you even hop in your car.
Big Data has finally given us a bit of freedom when planning a trip. It even factors in weather data and road conditions. Long road trips are much easier nowadays. Big Data allows for a more pleasant drive because you’re more aware of what’s happening on the roads. More Info means more happiness.
Not Just Traffic Anymore
On a big picture level, traffic is just one segment benefiting from Big Data analysis. We’re also looking at major advances in business marketing, product and service delivery, healthcare, social services, transit as a whole, and especially education.
Unfortunately, a lot of this Data isn’t as well integrated as our traffic and weather—but new advances and forward thinking means big changes for Big Data are on the horizon. Knowing how to ask the right questions will allow us to create new software and tools to develop our understanding in many additional areas in ways we’re just beginning to realize.
People are looking at Big Data and seeing the potential to address major issues that affect our society as a whole. In the near future, we may be able to use Big Data to analyze and answer big questions, like: Where is my business in relation to the marketplace? How is our education system working? How is our healthcare system working? How are our public safety systems working?
These are just a few examples of areas in which we have these Big Data systems producing a vast quantity of raw, unprocessed data—data that is not yet integrated and interconnected in the same ways as traffic and weather. Herein lies the problem. As of right now, the Big Data generated from these systems is analyzed like traffic and weather used to be, before Google and other modern technologies took over. These complex systems still rely on others to interpret this data for us—to tell us what they think it might mean, instead of allowing us to make decisions on our own.
How Not to Get Run Over
Big Data is our key to the future. Big Data is “The Now” and business leaders, concerned citizens, government leaders, non-profit leaders and educators are working to advance understanding of Big Data in their fields of work and study so we can evolve by analyzing all these data patterns. Just like traffic and weather. And just like traffic solutions, the Big Data leaders will be able to implement faster responses and strategies to real-time situations, whereas competitors may not.
When used properly, technology and information will create a more competitive marketplace, enhance business productivity, and allow us to target the specific needs of students, resulting in a tremendously better education system. Right now, we need to be gathering the right kind of data, which will allow for faster, smarter data collection in the future. Those who can extrapolate and implement this faster than others will ultimately pave the way in their fields, and—just like Google has done with traffic and GPS navigation—shape the world into a better place for all of us.