Can Google’s Flow Platform Help Decongest City Traffic?

A parent company of Google, Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs aims to create the Flow platform designed to help the United States smooth out the heavy traffic seen in major cities. Sidewalk Labs is considered a “smart city” company and strives to solve the urban problems of today.

What is the Flow Platform?

sidewalk labsDescribed as a “transportation platform”, Flow has yet to be tested in a real-life setting, which makes describing it beyond its intended goal a little tricky. The developers of Flow, Sidewalk Labs, hope for the program to gather anonymous data gathered throughout a city and then give said information to city managers. With this method, city officials can generate ways to smooth out the discovered bottlenecks. Another goal of Flow will be to help city commuters find parking.

Flow also will utilize the information Google gathered through Google Maps and Waze. The CEO of Sidewalk Labs, Dan Doctoroff, said that Flow “has the potential to shorten commute times and provide reliable transport options for all citizens”. He said that to create Flow the company is “taking everything from anonymized smartphone data from billions of miles of trips, sensor data, and bringing that into a platform that will give both the public and private parties and government the capacity to actually understand the data in ways they haven’t before.”

Where will Flow be implemented?

Flow will be utilized first in the city that wins the Federal Transportation Department’s “Smart City” competition. The Transportation Department is offering $40 million dollars in grant money to its competition’s victor. Now the winner will also be the first city to have Flow used within it. The seven finalist cities–Austin, Denver, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Columbus, Kansas City, and Portland–will work with Sidewalk Labs to develop Flow, and give the company potential ideas for the program capabilities.

What are the long-term goals of Flow?

Self-driving cars may hit the streets as soon as 2020, but most cities currently have infrastructure stuffed with traffic and conditions unsuitable for autonomous vehicles. Therefore, one of Flow’s purposes will be to smooth the way for these self-driving cars.

Of course, the program’s main focus is to discover ways to de-clog heavy traffic areas within a city without having to spend millions of dollars on new roads. Sidewalk Labs desires to find a solution within the infrastructure that already exists by providing city officials with information about where roads can be built strategically in order to help ease traffic immensely.

Who will use the Flow platform?

Sidewalk Labs is currently trying to think of ways the company can profit from the Flow program, but Doctoroff believes it can “potentially build applications over time, some of which may be consumer applications.” There has also been talk about subscription-based model that cities pay to use in order to obtain the information Flow gathers and assimilates into digestible and understandable data. Doctoroff thinks the company will also consider partnering with both private companies and governments.

While it all sounds theoretical, Sidewalk Labs believes it will have Flow up and running in two years. It will be interesting to see if it can help reduce traffic, which is something all drivers would appreciate.

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