Innovation steers Inrix to expand traffic data
Seattle Times technology reporter
Provides live and predictive traffic information based on road sensors and GPS information
Customers: 20, including partnerships through TeleAtlas, MSN Autos, Cingular Wireless, Clear Channel.
New product: The Dust Network, which uses GPS data from 500,000 vehicles to collect location and speed information.
Coverage area: With road sensors, 20 cities and 5,000 miles are tracked; with the Dust Network, 50 markets and 35,000 miles to be covered by the end of the year.
More money: Raised $10 million in second round for a total of $16.1 million in venture capital.
Investors: Bain Capital Ventures; Venrock Associates and August Capital.
In the morning, Bryan Mistele checks his handheld device to see how long it will take to commute from his house on Redmond's Union Hill to his office in Kirkland.
He's found the biggest variable isn't what occurs on freeways, but what happens on side streets, which aren't tracked by the Washington Department of Transportation.
That's where Mistele's company, Inrix, comes into play.
At the Telematics Detroit 2006 trade show today, the Kirkland company plans to announce a new system that provides live traffic information for freeways, arterials and even side streets in most major U.S. cities.
The software also predicts traffic conditions minutes, days, or even a year into the future.
In addition, Inrix expects to announce it has raised $10 million in venture capital. With the financing — its second round — the company plans to increase its geographical coverage area, including international markets such as Canada, Western Europe and Australia.
Its new investor is Bain Capital Ventures; existing investors Venrock Associates and August Capital also participated in the round.
In all, the company, which spun out from Microsoft Research in April 2005, has raised $16.1 million in capital.
Inrix's new traffic system, the Inrix Dust Network, collects data from more than 500,000 commercial vehicles and matches it with weather forecasts, accidents, sporting events, school schedules and other factors to track current traffic and forecast likely conditions later.
The information is available to the consumer through Web portals such as MSN Autos and through reseller agreements with Tele Atlas, which includes applications available through Cingular Wireless and TomTom, a portable navigation system.
Inrix, which makes money through licensing its data, also has partnerships with Clear Channel, the mega radio-broadcasting company.
"There's been a lot of research in the last decade on how you can get enough vehicles and get enough data," said Mistele, Inrix's president and chief executive. "We aren't the first to think of it, but we are the first to do it nationwide."
Mistele said only 20 cities have some traffic sensors, covering 5,000 miles of roads.
Inrix's new system covers 30 cities and 10,000 miles. Those markets include Miami, San Antonio and New York, each of which have had no data from road sensors, Mistele said.
By the end of the year, the company expects to expand to more than 50 markets and 35,000 miles of road.
Mistele said Inrix has partnered with taxi services, commercial fleets and others to get live data feeds using GPS to determine a vehicle's location and speed.
In the past, that kind of information has been difficult to gather, but Inrix offered the traffic information back to the cooperating companies as incentive, he said.
Inrix combines that information with the data on accidents, sporting events and school schedules. The GPS data alone would not be accurate enough, Mistele said.
Combining the two kinds of data makes the information 8 to 15 percent more accurate than sensors, which work on a 15-minute delay, he said.
"No one has actually analyzed the accuracy. Time will tell that," said Veerender Kaul, a research manager at consultants Frost & Sullivan's automotive and transportation group. "It's a good next step from real-time traffic."
Those who access the Dust Network data in Seattle — via Cingular Wireless or other portable navigation systems — will be able to find out how long it will take for traffic to back up at, say, the Interstate 5 and Interstate 90 interchange; how long before congestion clears up; how long it will take to get to the airport tomorrow morning; or what is the optimal time to leave for work.
Inrix said its partners and about 20 customers will start to deploy the Dust Network in the next couple of weeks.
Commuters and other drivers should receive that data — on computers, cellphones or on TV in some markets — as Inrix customers adopt the system.
Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published May 23, 2006, was corrected May 23, 2006. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of employees at Inrix.
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