Finding Low Tech Solutions for Nairobi’s Commuters

Many of the largest cities in the world are in developing countries.  The rapid urbanization seen in many developing countries is also happening in Nairobi, Kenya which has resulted in heavy traffic congestion.  A survey done in 2011 by IBM ranked Nairobi fourth in terms of “commuter pain”.  Much of Nairobi’s road system was developed over fifty years ago for a city with only 350,000 inhabitants.  Nairobi has swelled to almost ten times that size with 3.2 million inhabitants.

While almost 82% of the adult population in Kenya owns a cell phone, only 19% have a smartphone.  This puts geospatial technology like Google Maps and Waze out of reach of most commuting Kenyans needing to find ways around the gridlock.  To combat this problem, IBM’s Nairobi lab debuted a program last year called called Twende Twende which means “let’s go” in Swahili.  The mobile app uses image recognition algorithms to convert data from Nairobi’s aging network of traffic cameras into real-time traffic information sent to drivers via SMS.  For those streets not covered by traffic cameras, a separate algorithm predicts traffic patterns.  This information lets drivers who text the name of a street know traffic conditions and suggests alternate routes to gridlocked areas.

The IBM Commuter Pain Index, illustrated in this speedometer graphic, ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in 20 international cities. From right to left, cities are plotted from least painful starting with Montreal and gradually increase to the most painful city, Mexico City.

The IBM Commuter Pain Index, illustrated in this speedometer graphic, ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in 20 international cities. From right to left, cities are plotted from least painful starting with Montreal and gradually increase to the most painful city, Mexico City. Source: IBM

References

Andrew Kinai, Reginald E. Bryant, Aisha Walcott-Bryant, Eric Mibuari, Komminist Weldemariam, and Osamuyimen Stewart. 2014. Twende-twende: a mobile application for traffic congestion awareness and routing. In Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Mobile Software Engineering and Systems (MOBILESoft 2014). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 93-98. DOI=10.1145/2593902.2593926 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/2593902.2593926

Andrew Kinai, Reginald E. Bryant, Aisha Walcott-Bryant, Eric Mibuari, Komminist Weldemariam, and Osamuyimen Stewart. 2014. Traffic 411: a traffic congestion routing and awareness platform for Nairobi. In Proceedings of the 29th Annual ACM Symposium on Applied Computing (SAC ’14). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1475-1476. DOI=10.1145/2554850.2555148 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/2554850.2555148

Traffic along heile selasi Avenue next to Railway satation in Nairobi.  Photo: Demosh

Traffic congestion Heile Selasi Avenue near the railway satation in Nairobi. Photo: Demosh

 



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