From cars to unicorns

Designing an AI based mini game to inspire debate about current urban traffic issues.

Traffic in New Delhi, India

Our love affair with automobiles has shaped our cities and lives with the result that we are living in a world that is choked with traffic everywhere. According to a global traffic scorecard published in 2017 by INRIX, Berlin drivers spent an average of 154 hours a year in traffic¹. But luckily things already started to change and we find ourselves in an exciting moment of urban transformation, from discussions about car-free city centers, fare-free public transit, democratizing public spaces, to the sharing economy. The transformation of urban mobility is rapidly evolving and even big car manufacturers started to invest in alternatives.

Let’s beat the traffic

With ‘Beat the traffic’ we developed an AI based mini game to contribute to this transformation, prompt self-reflection and affect positive social change. For that, we developed a game scenario where players can globally enchant traffic jams at iconic locations and turn them into nicer things like unicorns, rainbows and driving trees.

Traffic participants are detected by computer vision based on machine learning, which allows the game to know where, what and how things are moving through the concrete jungle. It’s on the players dexterity to transform cars and collect all bonus points. Once players have beaten the traffic in their city they may submit their high score. After every game our mobility heroes also learn how many cars they’ve transformed and how few buses would have been needed for transporting their passengers.

Playing level 1 in Portland

The Candy Crush of mobility

The idea for the project did not arise strategically, it came up when we stood on our office balcony on the eighth floor and looked down at the Hauptstaetter Strasse, one of the main traffic arteries of Stuttgart. The inner-city traffic junction connects a federal road, several bus lines, a light rail line, and the rack railway depot. At the beginning, we asked some very simple questions: How many cars pass by here? Can we count the green and red? These initial thoughts were then joined by new technological developments: the ‘Open data cam’, an open-source platform for detecting objects in urban settings. But how do you build an application out of it that inspires the general public beyond the nerd scene? This is how the idea of developing a Candy Crush of mobility was born.

Inspire debates on popular media channels

With the development of ‘Beat the traffic’ we wanted to encourage a social discourse about the future of our cities and raise awareness for alternatives. To share the game and reach desired target groups we ran performance marketing campaigns on Instagram and Facebook. Over a period of 3–4 weeks we ran Facebook and Instagram ads in four of the eleven cities where the game is available: Berlin, Portland, Los Angeles and Tokyo.

Berlin, Portland and Los Angeles ads on Facebook

To get an impression of the outreach we will share a few facts from the data analytics. From around 300,000 people that saw the ad, around 30,000 clicked it and possibly played the game. From the 30,000 clicks there were around 10,000 each in Berlin and Los Angeles and around 5,000 each in Portland and Tokyo. With 85 percent mostly men reacted to the displayed ads. People across all ages, from 13 to 54 showed interest in the game.

Social and corporate value

The development had two goals, we first wanted create public awareness of current traffic issues and push the personal motivation for social change. Furthermore we wanted to make the technology that was developed for the ‘Open data cam’ available outside of the nerd scene, because this technology has the potential to democratize data collection in order to design cities we all want to live in. Through the data analytics, comments and discussions on social media we could see that there is a great interest in the topic, however it was not possible to measure the actual impact on people.

The second goal was to contribute to moovel’s company mission and vision ‘A world without traffic jams’ and inspire people to use alternative modes of transportation. A world without traffic jams may seem far-fetched to some, but we are taking steps every day to bring our vision to life by trying to simplify urban mobility and encourage people to switch to shared mobility.

‘Beat the traffic’ is a project designed and developed by moovel lab and collaborators.

Concept & idea

Benedikt Groß, Markus Kreutzer, Thibault Durant

Direction

Benedikt Groß

Interaction & visual design

Markus Kreutzer

Development

Thibault Durant, Markus Kreutzer, Benedikt Groß

Sound Design

Bobby Kudlicz

3d Modeling

Herwig Scherabon

References

  1. INRIX, 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, (http://inrix.com/scorecard, retrieved February 12, 2019)