Imagine having your phone warn you if you’re driving too fast or if you’re approaching a red light.
For Bryan Mulligan, it doesn’t take much imagination. His Suwanee-based company, Applied Information, is developing a smartphone app called TravelSafely that will do those things and more for drivers in areas where the local government has set up the technology to interact with the app.
“We’ve got all of this stuff bundled together, and that’s where we came up with the idea of TravelSafely as a comunity,” Mulligan said. “It’s friends keeping friends safe using the connectivity of their cell phones with each other and with the infrastructure.”
U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall got a firsthand look at the technology behind the app — which won’t be released to the public until next year — this past week when he toured Applied Information’s office. He also got to see the test version of the system in action when Mulligan took him for a demonstration drive in the Suwanee area.
The TravelSafely app is in the testing phase with Applied Information’s employees using technology it has installed for local governments to see how it works. In Marietta, smart city technology has been installed, allowing fire trucks, for exmaple, to get to incidents sooner.
In Gwinnett, the test app uses information from 270 school beacons installed for the county last year to see how the technology works in school zones.
“We have a world-class expert within 50 miles of our district office and the best thing we can do is take advantage of that intellect,” he said. “I can go through the halls of Congress and there’s going to be 250-300 other members who don’t have access to a company like this, who don’t have access to innovators like this.
“To have folks willing to share their expertise with us means we’re going to get better policy at the end of the day.”
At its core, TravelSafely is a system that relies on the internet being the place where different pieces of technology talk to each other through the program’s system. That could include anything from cellphones that have the app communicating with each other, or beacons on public safety vehicles communicating with the phones that are in the near vicinity.
A beacon on a fire truck, for example, will send a signal about its location to the TravelSafely system, which will then send an alert to a driver who has the app on their phone to let them know the fire truck is approaching. The fire truck could even send a signal to traffic lights that it’s approaching to have it open a path for the truck so it can get to the scene of a fire sooner.
Similarly, the system can be set up so that it knows when a driver is traveling faster than the posted speed limit, when they are in a school zone, when they are approaching a red light among other things or even when a red light is about to turn green.
At one point during a demonstration drive with the Daily Post, an alarm suddenly came blaring from Mulligan’s phone as he approached a sign warning him to slow down. A Siri-like voice then came from his phone, offering him an additional warning.
“Speeding in low speed zone,” the phone said, prompting Mulligan to slow down.
“That’s the app working,” he said. “It knew I was in an area of danger. I was going too fast, and so it will alert me and tell me I’m going too fast. Over here, it’s telling me the status of the traffic light ahead.”
Since the app is in the testing phase, engineers back at Applied Information’s office decided to throw up a red light warning as the car Mulligan was driving approached the intersection of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Eva Kennedy Road — even though the light was really green.
It was just a test to see what the app would do if someone drove through the intersection despite the warnings.
“Red light alarm,” the app’s voice said as the car entered the intersection.
“This is the layer of safety that can help save some of these 40,000 lives that are lost each year,” Mulligan said. “We lose 40,000 people on the roads each year (because of accidents).”
Mulligan, who has worked in the transportation business for about 20 years, decided last year that although he had been talking about doing the TravelSafely technology for a while, he wanted to go ahead and do it.
“It was time to see if we could do something as a private sector to save some of these 40,000 lives we lose each year, and I just decided to do it,” he said.
Residents will have to wait a while before they can find TravelSafely in their app stores, though. Mulligan said the app won’t be able to the public until sometime in January at the earliest. It will be free, with Applied Information making money for it by selling communities the equipment to be a part of the system so drivers can use it in those areas.
As a member of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Woodall has some use for that expertise in addressing traffic issues. He said the issue facing the committee is figuring out how to address these issues, and whether that involves using traditional means or going in a new direction.
“How are we going to make roads safer,” he said. “We can build more lanes of interstate in order to keep congestion down or we can deploy technology to keep congestion down. What you’re going to find when folks are bringing their own solutions is that we’re going to get to make those choices. Are we going to go 20th Century or are we going to go 21st Century?”
“Free and reasonable people can agree to disagree, but we’re going to have a chance on the committee to give people a bigger bang for their taxpayer dollar if we can replicate what Gwinnett County has done in terms of its school zones, or what Marietta has done in terms of its emergency vehicles.”