A new third-generation navigation service that can accurately predict traffic conditions at different points along a pre-programmed route is slated to hit the market July 1.

Developed by traffic-information provider Inrix Inc., the system is being shopped to both European and U.S.-based auto makers.

Inrix currently provides its second-generation, real-time traffic service to Mercedes-Benz, Volvo Cars and BMW AG, co-founder, President and CEO Bryan Mistele says.

One of Inrix’s automotive customers already has entered into an agreement to use the latest system, but the chief executive declines to reveal its identity, citing customer confidentiality and the fact the auto maker wants to “make a big splash” in announcing availability of the service.

Dubbed “Inrix Connected Services,” the system is 93% accurate in predicting traffic conditions 23-48 hours ahead and 85% accurate up to six months, say Mistele, noting in developing the technology, Inrix leveraged its 12 years of experience in providing real-time traffic information.

Eight of those years were spent under the auspices of Microsoft Corp., which spun-off Inrix as an independent company four years ago. Mistele, who formerly led Microsoft’s automotive division, says developing the complex system was challenging.

“No one had ever done this before,” he says. “We’ve intelligently taken time into account to find out how traffic will evolve. The key to that was an awful lot of analysis, straightforward number crunching and developing a platform that was high performance and scalable.”

The service works by factoring in the time of day, real-time road updates, weather conditions and historical data from various locales around the U.S. Rather than calculating a route based on the shortest distance between points A and B, the system predicts traffic conditions and provides the quickest route.

Connected Services can “accurately figure out how long it’s going to take to get there and sets the best route by looking forward in time,” Mistele tells Ward’s. “It’s the first routing system to do that.”

Although this sounds like science fiction, it’s actually based on a “very robust science” that “takes a look at everything happening in a particular area,” he says. “It looks at historical (road data), school schedules, concerts, events, as well as dozens of other variables and accurately predicts what’s going to happen (in a particular location).

“Most people tend to think accidents cause congestion,” Mistele adds. “But that’s not the case. Most (congestion) is caused by predictable events.”

Data used to predict traffic conditions comes from a variety of sources and currently covers 800,000 miles (1.3 million km) of America’s 1 million miles (1.6 million km) of paved roadways.

Some information, including real-time traffic conditions, are courtesy of government road sensors, which collect real-time data on 5,000 miles (8,100 km) of the nation’s roads.

The bulk of the data comes from what Inrix calls its “Dust” network, which combines anonymous, real-time global-positioning data from more than 800,000 commercial fleet, delivery and taxi vehicles across the country.

In exchange for the data, Mistele says Inrix sometimes provides the fleets with its traffic information systems, while in other cases a financial arrangement is made.

“Every couple of minutes, (the fleets) tell us how fast and where they’re going,” he says. “They cover pretty much every freeway in the U.S. and more than 110 cities across the country.”

Information also is collected from Sirius or XM Satellite Radio stations, which is gathered by traffic reporters on the ground.

The Inrix service has been field tested over the last six months and is ready for the market, Mistele says, noting the company will continue to streamline the system to make it easier for customers to adapt.

In addition to auto makers, Inrix also provides the service to personal navigation providers, cell-phone companies and municipalities. The fee varies depending on the customer, but for automotive there generally is a monthly fee. BMW, which currently uses Inrix’s second-generation real-time traffic service, factors the price into the cost of the vehicle, Mistele says.

While Inrix’s services platform technically is a supplier to navigation-system producers, Mistele thinks the system has a broader scope.

“There’s a trend away from navigation and toward in-car computing devices,” he says. “I shouldn’t have to say where I’m going if it’s Monday morning at 8 a.m.. The (navigation computer) should know I’m going to work. And if I take a right, it should know I’m going to the marina to check my boat. (Navigation is) becoming more personal.”

In addition to its traffic forecasting system, Inrix also provides customers with more traditional navigation features, such as map data, fuel prices, weather forecasts and movie listings.

Inrix is looking to offer its services abroad and already is providing real-time traffic data in Europe.

“Our goal is to offer complete coverage like we do in the U.S.,” Mistele says. “There’s a similar opportunity in Europe,” as well as Canada. “Asia and Latin America will come later.”

bpope@wardsauto.com