• The Traffic Stop: Rethinking Technology And Government Innovation

    by  • September 19, 2014 • Uncategorized

    Anyone who drives has seen the sight – the car pulled off to the side of the road with a police car, lights flashing madly, parked in behind it. My kids play a game trying to see how many different cars they see during a road trip pulled over by police. Drivers get pulled over for a number of reasons but the most common reason is exceeding the posted speed limit. According to Statisticsbrain.com on average 112,000 people per day (yes, that is per day) receive a speeding ticket and at an average cost of $152 per ticket issued results in over $6 billion generated for government just from speeding tickets. That means that government agencies in the U.S. receive on average $300,000 in revenue per year per police officer just from speeding tickets.

    Beyond radar and laser detectors, jammers, license plate covers and all of the other technologies drivers employ to try to avoid the dreaded speeding ticket, the newest technology in the age-old driver v. traffic officer battle seems to be crowd sourced information. For example Waze (and other similar apps) is a social navigation, GPS, maps, and traffic app that is available on both the Android and iOS platform. Besides crowdsourcing information on traffic flow, accidents, debris in the road, other Waze users also enter when they see a police officer on the road. Using location services like cellular and Wi-Fi triangulation, GPS networks, and other beacons, Waze can track your location and let you know when a police officer has been identified near you. So it is a legal way to know when there is a police officer right around the corner.

    The technologies that enable Waze may also be the basis for the replacement of the traffic officer and the traffic stop. Since Waze and other navigation apps knows where you are at, they can accurately calculate your speed at any given moment. In fact on Waze you can enable it to show your current speed on your screen and if you slow down too much it will ask you in you are in traffic. So not only is your location known, but so is your speed. And in most cases, if the car is relatively new vehicle this information is already being captured and transmitted by the onboard computer. This technology could feasibly also track when you don’t stop at a red light, or go the wrong way down a one way street, or a multitude of other traffic violations. The only thing missing is positively identifying the driver as compared to someone just riding in the car. That is where the FBI’s Next Generation Identification System (NGI) comes in.

    The NGI, built by Lockheed Martin and recently launched, is large facial images capture system that includes a database to store millions of face pictures and the analytics software to effectively compare and identify facial images. Assuming that it were legally possible to combine the tracking technologies behind Waze or the onboard navigation system with cameras and the NGI system, it become technically feasible to issue accurate speeding tickets without the involvement of a human police officer. No need for traffic officers anymore and the revenue generated per police officer goes up.

    This is all really cool for law enforcement and public safety agencies, but what does this mean for other government agencies? The key take-aways for all government agencies are that:

    1) Innovation will be found through present technologies. Most innovations in government services will come from new ways of mixing current technologies and not necessarily new technologies. This example employs a mix of all of the four pillars – Social (Found in Waze and similar apps), Mobile (the platforms for Was found both in the handheld phone and in the vehicle), Cloud (found in the storage architecture for the NGI and in the navigation apps), and Analytics (Found in the analytics necessary to determine the speed and in the facial recognition) – which are hardly new technologies but combined in new and unique ways to improve mission efficiency and effectiveness.

    2) Innovation will force examination of service and delivery mix. New technology mixes will force government agencies to rethink services and how they are delivered. In this case, the manpower necessary for traffic enforcement could be reduced and redirected.  In other cases such as disaster response, it may not reduce the workforce necessary but may increase the speed of response and the effectiveness of that response.

    3) Privacy needs to be addressed on the forefront. Any mixing of the four pillar technologies in government will have a necessary privacy component that needs to be included. Though I didn’t address it in the example above and will be digging into this a lot more in future blog posts and research documents, there is a definite privacy component that needs to be addressed including tracking information of cell phones and non-government apps, capturing and storing facial pictures, and then in combining the information.

    What do you think? Are there other examples? And what else do government agencies and contractors need to be thinking about?

    (Note: this was also published at IDC Community Smart Government Blog)