Road data device wins green light

Drivers wanting to avoid traffic jams on Britain's motorways will soon have some cheap high-tech help, courtesy of start-up company Trafficmaster.

The publicly-quoted developer of traffic information services yesterday announced it had negotiated a revised licence from the Department of Transport that will allow it to sell the mass-market Trafficmate, a gadget drivers can attach to steering wheels to receive computer voice information about local traffic conditions.

Shares rose 23p to 176p yesterday on the news, on the assumption that revenues might rise sharply in the fourth quarter leading to Christmas.

Like the company's existing Trafficmaster YQ, the new device receives data from the company's national network of sensors, placed along all motorways and another 406 miles of trunk roads, which estimate the amount of traffic in any given area. Drivers can calculate travel times and likely delays, allowing them to choose alternative routes.

Trafficmate will retail for pounds 49.99 and will be in shops at the end of next month. The screen-based precursor, Trafficmaster YQ, sold for pounds 149 plus a subscription charge.

The original licence, granted in 1992, gave the company the right to set up its sensors and to develop a market for traffic flow information. It was scheduled to run out in 2004. The revised licence, which runs to 2006, allows Trafficmaster to exploit additional technology developed in recent years, says David Martell, chief executive.

The company, which lost pounds 1.3m last year on revenues of just over pounds 1m, expects to see business grow sharply. But Mr Martell cautions that high costs associated with the launch, as well as developments, mean that the full effects will not be apparent until 1996.

The new licence also allows the company to install a camera-based traffic evaluation system, able to determine with some precision journey times along main routes. Cameras will take shots of licence plates, record the precise time, and send the data via radio link to another site further along a given route. The system will be able to gauge how long specific cars take to cover set distances. Once a traffic pattern is determined, all information is erased to protect drivers' privacy.

Trafficmaster came to market in March last year at 130p a share. The stock rose sharply to as high as 220p in its first few weeks' trading. More recently, trading has been light at between 120p and 150p.

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