New INRIX Tool Could Help Scooters Park, and a Lot More

The goal of the software is to help government digitize rules in a standardized format so that apps, navigation systems, researchers and anyone who's interested can find things like parking restrictions and speed limits.

by / July 12, 2019
INRIX

The streets were built for humans, by humans. So too were all the means of regulating the streets — signs, colors, words, lines.

But it’s not just humans on the roads anymore, and it’s not just humans that need to know how to navigate them.

That’s the pitch behind a year-old initiative from INRIX, a company that made its name gathering traffic data to provide to governments and navigation services. The tool, called Road Rules, is designed to take regulations such as speed limits, curb limitations and parking restrictions, translate them into a language machines can read and then make them available to the world.

Launched about a year ago, it was originally built for self-driving vehicles. But this week INRIX expanded the tool to embrace dockless scooters and bicycles as well as electric vehicle charging.

Avery Ash, head of autonomous mobility for INRIX, said one of the main ideas behind the expansion is to create a better way to get useful information into the apps that people use to unlock scooters and bikes.

“You can paint (a scooter parking area) on the sidewalk and paint a big picture of a scooter, and hope that’s intuitive enough for people to park it there, but there hasn’t been a (streamlined) way to provide to the scooter provider — ‘Hey, here’s all the drop-off locations in the city,’” Ash said.

In the interest of accessibility, the tool was designed around SharedStreets' open data format. That should make it easier for different companies, as well as other stakeholders like researchers and residents, to get information in the same format from different governments.

It also makes it easier for governments to compare how they regulate their streets to other governments — if, for example, one city official wants to know whether similar cities restrict downtown parking more or less than their own.

“It’s not as straightforward as you might think to get that current information,” he said.

Because the APIs created through Road Rules are open in both structure and access, their uses aren’t necessarily limited to self-driving vehicles, scooters and bikes. An in-car navigation developer could, for example, use a city’s API to provide better information to drivers about where they’re allowed to park and when.

That information is often not easily accessible for humans or machines, unless a person is physically looking at a street sign. It’s locked up in the physical world, or those dim corners of the digital world that software doesn’t like to venture into.

“You have a digital design that, at best, might be a PDF with a drawing of the intersection,” Ash said.

So digitizing information for streets — of which a city might have several thousand miles — is no small order. It might take manual work, or semi-automated work aided by human verification. The idea with Road Rules is to make it easier.

“We spent a couple hundred hours working to understand how our initial set of pilot users were using the platform, doing usability studies, doing narrative stories … and totally rebuilt the platform with a primary focus on that sort of intuitive user experience and also some very clear workflows,” he said.

Since dockless scooters and bikes tend to cluster in major urban centers, those uses of Road Rules might not be immediately appealing to the masses of medium- and small-sized cities in the U.S., but Ash thinks rule digitization will act as a way to help welcome innovation.

“A foundational step you can take right now is creating an open and available record of how your city functions and putting it in the hands of AVs, scooter companies, TNCs, and in consumers’ hands through navigation,” he said.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article misidentified the open data format used by Road Rules. This has been corrected.

Ben Miller Associate Editor of GT Data and Business

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.


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