Avoiding Traffic Jams with Twitter & iPhone

Drive around traffic jam with iPhone and SAP Research (Foto: Frank Völkel)
Drive around traffic jam with iPhone and SAP Research (photo: Frank Völkel)

“Multiple vehicle crash at the intersection of Beaudesert and Bradman.“ “Missing manhole cover at the intersection of Beatty and Marshall.“ These are the kind of traffic updates the iPhone app AUS Traffic displays using red pushpins on Google’s map of Brisbane. The updates come from the local road traffic authorities, radio stations, and alert drivers who post them to Twitter. AUS Traffic then brings them straight to iPhone users; it’s fast, easy, and always up-to-date.

How should I make it home?

But where did SAP Research employees in Brisbane get the idea to work on traffic reports, of all things? What does this have to do with SAP? “It all began with the flooding here last fall,” recalls project lead Marek Kowalkiewicz. Over the three days it took for the waters to subside, people all over the city posted over 1,200 tweets. “Twitter was the best way to find out where the most water was, which streets were passable, and how to get home or to the office,” Marek says. Since no one could read all of the messages, SAP’s researchers set about finding a solution that would provide only the information relevant to them. They soon had a server up and performing text analysis to help with the sorting. The seed thus planted, Marek and his colleagues then came up with a new application for their idea: helping car drivers avoid a different type of “flood” on the roads. The AUS Traffic app now also covers Sydney, and availability is planned for Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide in the months ahead.

“One of the main focuses of our research is text analysis, and we’re looking for sensible and innovative ways to implement this,” Marek says. “The app started as a spontaneous idea, but it’s also been an attempt to show our customers the potential of SAP software and how flexible our solutions can be.”

Next Page: How does it all work, exactly


How does it all work, exactly?

  • Users post traffic information to Twitter, often including hashtag words such as #bnetraffic, #sydtraffic.
  • Through Twitter‘s standard application programming interface (API), a server accesses the tweets and sifts through them for city traffic information.
  • The server also runs SAP BusinessObjects Text Analysis, which processes the tweets and filters out specific street names, city districts, and affected locations.
  • The server then converts the locations into geographic coordinates and saves them along with the corresponding message.
  • The iPhone app obtains the information from a garden-variety GEO-RSS feed and displays it to the user.


“The kicker is that most of the solution doesn‘t even run on the iPhone or at our facilities; it’s on a server in Amazon’s cloud. This means that only tiny amounts of data are transferred and the iPhone hardly breaks a sweat running the app,” Marek explains. As an additional advantage, the app contains no SAP intellectual property worth protecting – it merely serves as the receiver.

So far, over 4,500 users have installed the app, and further cities are sure to add many more. “We’re really pleased with our success, and the fact that the app now makes everyday traffic insanity more tolerable for us and many others,” Marek says. Whether it makes things faster, easier, or more up-to-date, this is just one good example of what you can do with SAP.