Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Kenya text message app helps users avoid traffic jam

    Sharlotte Cherotich


Speed read

  • Vehicular traffic is estimated to cause loss of US$600,000 a day in Nairobi

  • A mobile application can send messages to drivers to avoid traffic in the city

  • But a driver and an expert say the government should do more to avoid the menace

[NAIROBI] A crowd-sourcing text messaging application could be the next relief for motorists who face frequent traffic jams in Nairobi, Kenya, especially during peak hours.
The computer-generated mobile phone application called Twende Twende — a Swahili word for “Let's go, let’s go” — developed by the Kenya-based IBM Research Africa can send motorists free text messages of where they are and the traffic conditions, including recommending a route to take to avoid a traffic jam.
The application was launched last month (5 November) and is available on two mobile telecommunication networks: Airtel and Safaricom.

“Twende Twende will provide information such as letting the road users know if there have been activities on the specific roads that might endanger the security of the users.”

Uyi Stewart, IBM Research Africa

Uyi Stewart, chief scientist of IBM Research Africa, says traffic jams contribute to loss of KSh50 million (around US$600,000) a day in Nairobi because of lost productivity.
To address the traffic menace, IBM Research Africa partnered with AccessKenya Group, an Internet service provider that has webcams in Nairobi’s central business district for streaming traffic images. The scientists used a mathematical model to create image data that could be generalised to the whole of Nairobi, says Stewart.
This is a new development with images that are fed into a central system which recognises velocity of vehicles and congestion on the roads, he adds.
According to Stewart, the application will give real-time information through text messages and enable road users — including pedestrians — to identify which road is most secure, especially at night.
“Twende Twende will provide information such as letting the road users know if there have been activities on the specific roads that might endanger the security of the users,” says Stewart. “This is the first technological development of its kind whereby someone takes information from the web and avails it to people, including those with basic mobile phone handsets and replace with no smartphones.”
He adds: “Drivers, as well as road users, initiate the query by sending a text message to our server stating the road they want traffic information about. The server then provides feedback by texting the driver about the traffic situation”.
Wycliffe Bahati, founder of Kenya-based Internet Protocol Extreme Ltd, says that the government should expand traffic monitoring systems beyond the central business district roads. Bahati adds that the application could benefit more private motor vehicle users than commercial users.
Joseph Kamau, a commercial driver in Nairobi, agrees.  We are restricted on which routes to use by the regulator, the Transport Licensing Board, he says.
But Stewart tells SciDev.Net: “IBM Research Africa looks to collaborate with the city council officials to make this new technology a solution to the long-standing traffic menace”.
According to AccessKenya Group, with an area of 696 square kilometres, Nairobi has more than 300,000 motor vehicles and a human population of more than 3 million.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.