Jennifer van der Kleut
Aside from being able to nap–without the fear of crashing, of course–during the entire ride to and from work each day, what’s one of the biggest dreams most drivers have about their daily commute?
We’d have to guess, it would be green lights all the way.
Well, if the Washington, D.C.-based startup ThruGreen has its way, that won’t be a dream, it will be a mere tap of an app away.
David Nguyen, founder of ThruGreen, describes himself as “obsessed” with the challenge of finding ways to reduce congestion, particularly as someone who lives in one of the most congested areas of the country. Nguyen said he often marvels at the fact that we still rely on decades-old, analog traffic systems that can’t think intelligently in ways to more efficiently process commuters through intersections and down highways without huge backups.
“There are ways we can work on improving this, and that’s largely what we’re focused on,” he said. “Basically, traffic lights nowadays just don’t have enough info, so the lights never seem to match up with real conditions.”
Nguyen compared the situation to how connected and self-driving prototype cars need to gather a lot of user data to learn and improve their software–but today’s traffic lights aren’t built to gather and learn from data.
“Plus, human drivers are very unpredictable. And then, add on top of that the sheer number of cars on the roads during peak hours in the D.C. area,” he added. “We’ve got so much more capability now. So that’s what I’m working on – applying modern technology to something that’s been relatively unchanged for 40 to 50 years.”
ThruGreen is working on an app that is basically like registering one’s trip with all the traffic lights on the way ahead of time, Nguyen explained.
“The vision is, you get into your car, tell your phone or car where you’re going, and all the traffic signals on your way will be green for you,” he said.
“The app communicates your route and destination to a server, and that server collects [route information like that] from multiple people using the app, and works out logistics and figures out the best way to route everyone so that the lights turn green for everyone as they are approaching,” he said.
Nguyen’s startup, ThruGreen, is just one example of a life that largely centers around all things transportation. Nguyen has already had a long career in the industry, having worked in regulatory affairs in the trucking and auto industries for many years.
As a self-proclaimed transportation nut, Nguyen and his buddies, Greg Rogers from the ENO Center for Transportation, also based in D.C., love to talk about transportation issues. So they started what they like to call Connected CarTalk mobility-themed happy hours earlier this year through the site Meetup.com.
Those who join the group on Meetup meet for happy hour at various locations in D.C., network, and talk about all things to do with traffic, transportation, and the advent of connected-car technology. Nguyen said the group has been thriving since it sprouted.
“We’ve had pretty consistent attendance, with around 40 people at each event, and it seems people are making good connections at these events,” he described.
In fact, the meetups have been so successful, yet another idea came out of them.
“Eventually Greg and I thought, why don’t we have a podcast so we can have some really good conversations?”
Thus, The Mobility Podcast was born. Rogers and Nguyen, together with Greg Rodriguez and Pete Gould, have been broadcasting 30- to 60-minute conversations rounding up industry news, trading opinions on legal issues and ideas for dealing with traffic, and more, for a few months now.
Last month, the group even welcomed their first on-air interview, with Courtney Erlichman of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University and Roadbotics.
Nguyen said he, Gould, Rodriguez and Rogers are encouraged by the response they are getting to The Mobility Podcast so far, and are working toward making their broadcast a regular affair, with a 30-minute show being uploaded to their website every two weeks.
In the meantime, Nguyen said ThruGreen is plugging away, working hard, and hopes to have its first pilot project in a number of intersections up and running in a U.S. city within the next few months. ThruGreen has been working in partnership with eTrans Systems.
“We’re really excited about it,” he said.
See a demo video of the ThruGreen smart traffic app on their website.
Check out the Mobility Podcast online.
Learn more about eTrans Systems online.