Smart Cities – How SAP Helps Clear Traffic Jams

Increasing urbanization makes it difficult for cities to control traffic. The Innovation Center Network cooperates with local traffic authorities to make traffic in metropolises flow smoothly.

Many cities are experiencing a rapid growth in public and private transportation caused by increasing urbanization and an expansion of the urban life style. This creates many challenges: denser traffic flow, greater traffic volume, and more traffic jams, which in turn increase the potential for traffic accidents.

Passenger transport in Germany has grown 20% since 1997 to roughly 50 million cars. The situation in other countries such as China, however, is far more extreme. By 2020, there will be 0.2 billion cars in China. Today, Beijing itself counts already more than six million registered cars and 1.6 million available parking spots. The world record for the longest traffic jam, 100 kilometers for ten days, has also been recorded nearby Beijing. Economically, congestions can have a huge impact: The city claimed a 12 billion US$ loss due to congestions in 2013.

Given these inevitable developments, local traffic authorities are traditionally very interested in planning and optimizing their traffic regulation. SAP has been working with several partners for many years to maximize the efficiency of Smart Traffic.

Norbert Koppenhagen, part of our Research & Innovation team, explains: “Smart traffic is one of the hottest topics in the competition for smart cities. It is also crucial in answering the question of how to organize a city and its infrastructure so that it is simultaneously more intelligent and more pleasant for the citizens.”

Smart Traffic in the city of Nanjing

Nanjing, once the capital of China, is one of the top 20 cities in China with a population just over eight million and continuously growing. The overall traffic volume is immense. Within the city there are about ten thousand taxicabs, seven thousand buses and one million private cars running in the city road network. Together with SAP, the city of Nanjing developed a next-generation solution, Smart Traffic, which includes the use of sensors and RFID chips to generate continuous data streams about the status of transportation systems across the city.

In total, over 20 billion sensor data are annually generated in the city and the challenge is to homogenize this data from different sources to dig value out of the Big Data amount. Smart traffic analytics using advanced analytical algorithms enable the city of Nanjing to make sense of these data. The traffic performance index system helps the city to set up quantitative measurement KPIs on city traffic running and thereby offers reliable support in traffic planning processes. For example, by proactively responding instantly to traffic congestions.

In general, Smart Traffic solutions, like electronic tolling, traffic management, parking guidance and reservation systems, navigation support, real-time traffic updates and passenger display systems help understand the as-is situation, for example the city’s dynamic travel patterns and determine the impact estimation to eventually mitigate impacts, such as congestions or occurrences of car accidents. In addition, the analysis takes place in a closed-loop process through smart learning functions that ‘learn’ from these prior patterns, impacts, decisions, and outcomes.

In order to keep track more easily of the high traffic volume and to take immediate action in turbulent and risky situations, one of Nanjing’s priorities has been to structure the city in meaningful dynamic compartments, i.e. city zones. SAP HANA is already being used to analyze massive amounts of location and related data sets from 10,000 taxis in Nanjing. These are captured with GPS in real time, for example to gain a first realistic, valid insight into travel patterns from taxis. The goal for the future is not only to analyze this data from taxis, but also include data from other kinds of public transportation.


Figure: Using Traffic Analysis Zone Units of Measurement to Zone the City of Nanjing

The Figure shows from left to right three different ways of slicing traffic data for the city of Nanjing to determine the best zoning. The first image shows zoning based on the total number of origin-destination events that occurred across the city. The second image shows algorithmic, pattern-based zoning based on the trip distances that travelers took from various origins; this zoning is behavior based and helps planners and operators understand, for instance, if people are usually traveling just within the city or beyond it to neighboring suburbs and cities. The third image shows zoning based on data about behavior patterns – for example, which specific destinations travelers head to most often and when.


SAP’s new approach for zoning, Traffic Analysis Zone (TAZ) and additional units of measurement, can be augmented with other data on commuting and travel behavior, fare prices, road conditions and accessibility, and more, so that zones can be further sliced, diced, and classified. All this information flows seamlessly into one digital map that allows for a holistic view on the as-is situation on the spot and generates recommendations for traffic planning. “The map can tell us exactly how many vehicles arrive in or leave a certain city district in the early morning hours. We can then use this information to predict the after-work traffic.” Real-time data evaluation with the help of SAP technology could soon make such a scenario become every-day reality. Most importantly, personal data is kept strictly anonymous. “We cannot access any personal information about the cars or the drivers,” Norbert assures.

The Custom Development Project signed in June 2015 between SAP and the city of Nanjing is a great opportunity to showcase SAP’s capability in building a revolutionary Smart Traffic platform. Customers and partners have mutually agreed to the beneficial step of having SAP HANA as the platform to run further innovations. All in all, SAP will be able to further prove its frontrunner skills in the Smart Traffic market and this Custom Development Project opens up new avenues for co-innovation partnerships with other government organizations in other major cities across China and beyond.