There’s something about the moment NASA places an order that gives any product developer a sense of validation.
Interest in Ullrich’s product—a $139 traffic counter that lets anyone, from citizens to city officials, calculate the velocity and volume of cars and bikes passing by a city street—has quickly grown after he began bringing prototypes to urban planning workshops, starting with one in Moscow last August. (I wrote about it back in December.)
Since then, the device has been purchased by city officials in Austin and Denver, bike advocacy groups in Ann Arbor and New York City, and has logged more than 7,000 cars and 700 bikes. Private citizens are using it as well. "One gentleman contacted us and said, ‘I’m in Oklahoma and I want to put in a gas station, and I don’t know what side of the street to put it on.’ He’s trying to drive business."
What makes the tool unique—in addition to its low price tag when compared to other traffic counters— is that it seamlessly uploads data gleaned from the streets (when cars drive over the counter’s tubes) to an open-sourced database, layered atop Google Maps. The second edition, currently being Kickstarted, will feature a more durable shell, a rechargeable battery, and a lock.
Ullrich says the plan is to keep TrafficCom’s data open and free, and he hopes that urbanists around the world can use it to inform their discussions about bike safety, street improvements, urban development, and traffic. It’s also potentially useful for neighborhood activists, who might want to add bike lanes or stricter speed limits to their streets. "The one who has the numbers is also the one in power, and a lot of times when you’re going up against decisions of shared infrastructure you need to have data. You need to have some proof to give credibility to the argument," Ullrich says.
That is, unless, you’re NASA. Ullrich says they asked the agency’s rep what the plans were for the six units they bought. "‘Are you going to try to count traffic on Mars?’" he asked. "But they’re NASA. They didn’t feel like they needed to respond."