6,500 Traffic Cameras and Growing, Live and Online

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Media outlets like use TrafficLand in their reporting.
6,500 traffic cameras: That's the number of cameras currently available on the Web on TrafficLand and more are being added every day.

by James Careless

Right now, you can surf to www.trafficland.com and access realtime traffic cameras in 34 states, plus six cities in Canada; London; Brisbane, Australia; and three cities each in Denmark and New Zealand. The cameras are those operated by the jurisdictions' respective Department of Transportations (DOTs) or similar agencies.

To give a sense of the scope of TrafficLand: When this article was written, the roads were virtually empty in Copenhagen (where it was 7 p.m. in the evening) but jammed one way in Auckland, New Zealand (where it was the 7 a.m. morning rush hour on the next day). It was after 1 p.m. in New York City at the corner of Broadway and 46th Street, where traffic was moderate; lighter at 14th and E Street NW in Washington D.C.; and moving well on the I-10 west of Tippecanoe in Fresno, Calif. (where it was after 10 a.m.).

"We are the largest authorized aggregator and redistributor of government traffic camera video in the world," says Tony Finocchiaro, TrafficLand's National Content Manager. "Our video is used by DOTs, broadcasters, first responders, emergency management centers, businesses, and the general public."

HOW THEY DO IT

From the get-go, TrafficLand has dedicated itself to providing the best quality traffic video, with the minimum amount of disruption to the DOTs with which it works. At the same time, the company wants to serve out as many video feeds as it possibly can to its diverse customer base. During the February 2010 "Snowmageddon" blizzard that buried Washington (and much of the Eastern Seaboard), "We served over 500 million frames of video to users in the Washington DC area," Finocchiaro says. "That's a lot of video!"

So how does TrafficLand manage to minimize DOT disruption while maximizing feeds served? The answer lies in its network architecture.

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TrafficLand's view of the Washington metro area "We begin by placing video encoders in each of the DOTs we partner with, such that we get access to all of their cameras at once," Finocchiaro says. "Depending on the number of DOT cameras in the location, we commission our own data circuits (DS-1s, fractional DS-3s and more) to backhaul the signals to our data center in Ashburn, Va." To maximize efficiency and minimize bandwidth demands, TrafficLand only pulls feeds that have been directly requested from its users, on an on-demand basis. There is no point paying to transport feeds that no one is watching.

All of the camera feeds come into TrafficLand's data center, at which point they are served out to Web users. In those cases where more than one person wants to see the same feed, TrafficLand's patentpending "Image Engine" servers cache the feeds to reduce loads on its remote equipment. This handles the problem of heavy user demand without driving up backhaul bandwidth costs. It also avoids putting excessive demands on the DOT camera feeds.

WHY THEY DO IT

At first glance, TrafficLand appears to be a Facebook-style Website that tries to exist on advertising alone. For members of the general public, this assumption is true: To offset the costs of its free feeds, TrafficLand does accept advertising. But for its government and broadcast clients, the company provides ad-free priority feeds in exchange for a regular monthly fee.

For instance, the company provides multi-camera feeds suitable for Traffic Management Center (TMC) video walls. This Video Distribution Service (VDS) also provides interactive maps showing traffic camera locations, so that TMC users can locate and quickly go to areas of interest.

TrafficLand provides similar aggregated feeds to DOTs (many for free in exchange for access to their cameras) and transit systems, so that they can keep the roads open and the buses flowing. Finally, many broadcasters and newspaper websites (the Washington Post and CNN, for example) subscribe to TrafficLand's camera feeds, which they use as their own branded content.

"Our business model is a three-legged stool built upon government users, commercial contracts and advertising," Finocchiaro says. "Together, they provide the revenue that has allowed us to keep operating for the past ten years."

CHALLENGES

Accessing and managing 6,500 traffic cameras is no small feat. What really makes the job difficult is that almost every DOT manages its own unique camera system. This means that TrafficLand cannot adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to accessing and encoding the various DOT traffic camera systems.

"We really have to do it on a case-by-case basis," says Finocchiaro. "We cannot assume that what works in Fresno will work in New York City, because it doesn't. If there are 12 camera systems to add, you can be sure that all 12 will be using different makes and models of cameras and running on 12 different tech platforms."

The next challenge is appropriately sizing and arranging for the data lines back to Ashburn, and monitoring them to ensure that their video cameras are accessible as much as possible. From there, the goal is to monitor customer demand to ensure that popular feeds are being replicated as much as possible, as quickly as possible. "Our users want real-time video," he says. "We have to give them it as much as we humanly can."

Finally, there's the distribution. Sending video to all of its government, commercial and public users eats up a lot of bandwidth-and bandwidth costs more with every user that signs on.

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FUTURE GOALS

Right now, TrafficLand is focused on the Web and broadcast TV (through its TV station clients). But Finocchiaro expects his service to become a major player on wireless handsets such as the iPhone and on Personal Navigation Devices.

"Our goal is to provide anytime, anywhere traffic video to all kinds of mobile devices, computers and televisions," he says. "Given that traffic volume and congestion just seems to keep increasing, the value of TrafficLand to our users seems destined to keep increasing too!"

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