Friday, May 04, 2007

My submission to the "Doug Macdonald Challenge."

This was my submission to the "contest" in September 2006. I received an email that said "the newspaper didn't report what we were asking for, but thank you for playing." Doug Macdonald retired last month. No idea if anything came out of his "challenge."

Got any bright ideas to relieve traffic? State roads official offers $1,000 prize

This proposal does not maximize throughput. It endeavors to reduce the amount of traffic during peak periods by combing vehicle sensors with a tax incentive.

Owners of motors vehicles ("Users") would be given the opportunity to purchase a GPS device to be permanently installed on their registered automobiles. These devices would analyze the routes travelled and the times those routes were taken. A tax rebate of paid gas tax would be available to the users for reducing the travel times on the most congested roads at the most congested times.

The challenges to this program include: 1. Making unique hardware available for purchase and permanent installation on a WA registered vehicle; 2. Appropriate legislation/rules to protect/safeguard very sensitive user information (travel times/routes); 3. Costs of the vehicle sensors, collection mechanisms, and the rebates offered.

The hardware will require specific design, and the state will have to requisition its design, construction, and installation parameters. It would feature the ability to be mounted permanently on a vehicle, as it is important to assure it is associated with that specific vehicle. The VIN could be programmed into the unit on installation, and the design would assure that the device is disabled if removed from that vehicle. The device must analyze GPS position and time information. It must also allow download of processed information after comparing time/location data to the state structured formula. However, the data must only be collected in the aggregate - it is important the device not allow specific data to be recorded - only to compare current location and time to a "formula" configured by the state. (For instance, if the device detects that the vehicle avoided 520 during rush hours, it merely records a specific "credit." It must never record specific time and location data.)

An important consideration in this system is safeguard of this tracking data. That data could be used for insidious, unlawful, and dangerous purposes. The associated legislation and rules would make it clear that access of only aggregate data for purposes of applying for rebate of taxes paid is lawful. The device should complete the credit calculations internally, without actually recording specific location data; the system must allow "upload" of the credit formula devised by the state. Download of the data could be by direct modem, or via any digital method - an internal wifi system, or even cell phone system could be used. The user could have the option to review the data at any time through a computer interface to a home computer. I'd recommend all the software be open source, so as to allay any privacy concerns. The system need merely have the ability to "phone home" to download the data, and upload any updates to the formula.

Participation would be totally voluntary. Users would establish an account with the state for credit of the rebate offered. The state can authorize any level at any time. User's on line accounts would be via a web-based interface to apply for a partial refund of state gas tax paid. Determining the amount of gas tax pad by a user may be something of a challenge, but a simple solution may be to have the tracking device calculate it internally. The GPS receiver will know where and when fuel is added to the tank (a fuel level sensor would be added and calibrated for make/model of vehicle) so the unit would know precisely how much tax was paid, as a change in the fuel level on a specific date within the state makes it trivial to calculate. Through the user account established online, users can apply for a refund check as determined by the state.

Many factors require further consideration: who pays for the sensors and installation (Users? The state?) It is likely that non-WA residents would have to be allowed to participate as well. The software to run the sensor, data collection system, and rebate web interface may be quite complicated and extensive. In the end, we'd be compensating individuals not to drive. This is a very narrowly tailored program, and much cheaper and environmentally sound than building roads. Our roads are adequate, just not in certain place at certain times.

No property right is conveyed herein.

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