New SK app will help taxi drivers find riders

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New SK app will help taxi drivers find riders

The nation’s largest telecommunications service provider, SK Telecom, is preparing to launch a big data-powered app that guides taxi drivers along certain routes so they are more likely to pick up customers.

“Taxi drivers work on average 11.6 hours a day, but they spend two hours driving out and into garages and another four hours waiting for customers,” said Ian Huh, senior vice president for SK Telecom’s big data business on Friday during a press briefing held in central Seoul. “Based on big data analysis and artificial intelligence, an ‘AI taxi’ app can help taxi drivers more effectively spot customers.”

The AI taxi app is one of SK Telecom’s new projects to make value out of the GPS-based location data it collected through its mobile network. While each position of a specific user cannot be collected due to privacy regulations, the company aggregates statistical data of unidentified groups to track floating populations.

SK Telecom hopes to couple various data sets, including the statistics it has on population movement, to offer taxi drivers estimates of the number of customers on specific streets as well as the number of taxis already nearby. This way, taxi drivers can more easily craft routes to areas with greater demand.

Japanese mobile carrier NTT Docomo has already conducted trials of artificial intelligence-based taxi systems. The AI system predicts where ride demand will be in 30 minutes within a 500-square meter (5,381-square foot) zone, based on data collected from over 4,000 taxis and complementary information including weather.

According to a report from Nikkei Asian Review, field trials of the service in February showed a 20 percent increase in daily business for participants. The carrier has plans to commercialize the service as early as the latter half of this year.

“If driverless cars become prevalent, I think this big data-based AI taxi app will be widely used,” Huh added.

SK Telecom, however, is in the early stages of preparing for the AI taxi app.

“There are a lot of difficulties in accelerating development in the big data business in Korea,” Huh said, citing strict government regulations on privacy issues, Korean companies’ reluctance to share the data sets they have, and also lack of data scientists to analyze the massive amount of data produced.

According to Huh, there are dozens of data scientists working for SK Telecom and only a few hundred in the whole country, which is why the company tries to educate engineers to convert them into data scientists.

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