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It’s not often that a single person is able to command the attention of a global conglomerate. Especially when that conglomerate – Google – is arguably the most powerful on the planet.

But for Berlin based artist Simon Weckert, all it took was 99 smartphones and a tiny red cart.

As part of an experiment, Simon loaded up the smartphones, launched the Google Maps app and then roamed the streets of the city to see what effects, if any, he could have on traffic flows.

Traffic jam sham

The results were startling. He successfully tricked Google Maps into reporting that there were numerous people stuck on a single road, flagging the incident as a traffic jam and diverting road users along alternative routes. This process was aided by the fact that Simon’s cart – being dragged along manually – was naturally slow.

“Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymised data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community,” Google said in a statement.

“We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time.”

But Google also stated that, though it has found a way to differentiate between cars and motorbikes, it’s currently unable to deal with people repeating Simon’s experiment – leaving its maps vulnerable to further malfunctions.

This could have profound implications for the future of smart-cities – as accurate data provides the bedrock of their viability.

DAS – a smarter solution

Clearly, a solution is needed that isn’t so easily fooled by a single road user with a smattering of smartphones.

Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) technology, produced by Fotech, is immune to any of these issues. It works through analysing the acoustic/seismic data that’s created by road-users – whether they be pedestrians, cars, trucks or even trams.

Using DAS, traffic management systems can dynamically adapt congestion controls and redirect traffic to balance overall flows, without the fear of any false information.

And this is especially crucial given that driverless vehicles will be prominent on our roads before long. It’s not particularly difficult to imagine a scenario where a driverless car – or a group of automated vehicles – are causing chaos because they’re being fed inaccurate data.

As Simon and his smartphones have demonstrated starkly, this is currently all too easy to do. In order to fully realise the potential of smart-cities, solutions such as DAS – which are powered by physical data from real-world interactions – must be integral.

Otherwise we might be seeing more little red carts, or similar, on our roads in the future, causing their own bit of chaos.