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Smart way out of the traffic mess

Parking is becoming such a trying task for drivers in Indian cities. Many commuters sigh, "Wish there was an app for parking." For sure there will be one in the coming days - as there already is in London. Because of Ford Motor Company, the car maker, people in the congested English capital today have AppyParking, which allows drivers to pay for parking, view parking maps, identify free parking and find electric vehicle charging stations.

The app was created during the London Traffic Tamer Challenge, part of Ford's Innovate Mobility Challenge Series. And the good news for India is that the series is currently in India, with the cities in focus being Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.

The Innovate Mobility Challenge invites software developers to propose solutions to locally-relevant issues for drivers. In London, it was the problem of parking, in Shanghai and across Argentina it is poor mobility in congested traffic, in Los Angeles it is to reimagine how to put the city's numerous parking lots to good use during off-hours. For each challenge, Ford partners local authorities to address the different problems. The competitions are judged by a panel of Ford executives and local experts involved in researching mobility solutions.

While parking is a huge problem in Indian cities, the Ford challenges for India take other equally important problems into consideration. The challenge for Mumbai was flagged off on July 15 and app developers have till October 14 to submit products that deal, appropriately enough, with how to improve mobility during the monsoon season. This will entail real-time information on traffic and road conditions when the rains create a traffic gridlock in the seaside city.

In Delhi, between August 1 and October 30, app makers can submit software that will enable timely and quality care to trauma victims on the road, especially during the so-called "golden hour" after an accident. For Chennai, Ford's aim is to create apps that will provide mobile health solutions and help reduce the urban-rural divide in healthcare. Software companies or individuals have till October 30 to finish their work on this. Ford is offering $30,000 in each city for the winning entries.

Talking about the challenge in Delhi, K Venkatesh Prasad, Senior Technical Leader, Vehicle Design and Infotronics, Ford Research and Innovation, says, "We hope to receive apps that will help shorten the time required to reach a hospital and apps that will help provide patient-related information - information entered and managed by the patient him/herself. The apps can provide information to navigate to the nearest hospital in the shortest possible time. They may also be able to capture and communicate images of the injury to doctors."

Prasad says that developers are encouraged to use Ford's OpenXC platform. It is an open-source software and gives developers access to Ford vehicle data, including those related to vehicle speed, engine speed, fuel levels and operating status of the various features of the cars. Prasad feels that the "crowd-sourcing" approach to innovation allows the company to go beyond the usual medium- or large-sized suppliers in finding solutions to issues related to personal transportation.

The Innovate Mobility Challenges are also being held in Lisbon and Johannesburg, besides Shanghai, Los Angeles, Argentina and the Indian cities. The apps will be configured for Android, BlackBerry, iOS and Windows for phones, tablets, websites and personal computers.