Stories of the Finnish Arctic Expertise
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Smart traffic service gives reindeer warnings

ARCTIC STORIES: Porokello is a smart traffic service designed to warn about reindeer on the road. The number of reindeer accidents is already going down.

Reindeer do not live in fenced pastures. Instead, they move around. When they come to a road, they will cross it, or trot on it. Their hearing and sight are not very good, and they can run right into cars. Reindeer are very fast, so they can appear out of nowhere.

Every year there are between 3,000 and 5,000 road accidents involving reindeer in Finland. The collisions are often deadly for the reindeer, which means financial losses to the herders. They also cause damage to vehicles and the risk of injury to passengers.

Porokello is a technological solution developed to help drivers avoid collisions with reindeer. It alerts of reindeer on the roads by sound and colour in real time using geographic data. The Porokello service relies on real-time reindeer warnings given by professional drivers in the reindeer herding area.

“We have recruited drivers since June 2016 to give reindeer warnings through Porokello. We now have more than 1800 people who regularly drive on the roads of Lapland and give out between 50 and 1000 warnings per day based on their sightings”, project manager Maria Timo-Huhtala explains.

The professional road users have participated in a brief training and received stationary smartphones to keep in their vehicles.

“Every time a driver sees a reindeer on the road or nearby they push a button. Every time the alarm button is pushed, it will issue a warning to those who are driving past. The warning will flash and ring in the app with the sound of an authentic reindeer bell. The alarm will remain active for one hour within 750 metres from where the alarm was given”.

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First, the reindeer warnings were available through navigation devices and a mobile app in the V-Traffic service that reaches over half a million motorists in Finland. The Porokello mobile app, launched in September 2017, makes the reindeer warnings available for almost anyone driving in the reindeer herding area.

“We are really happy with the way people have welcomed the app. There clearly was a need for a smart traffic application that warns about reindeer”, Maria Timo-Huhtala notes.

“The best thing of course is that it has helped avoid accidents.”

In a survey among professional drivers in the reindeer herding area, 63 percent of those who answered said that the app had helped them avoid accidents. No official statistics are available to show how many accidents regular road users have avoided thanks to Porokello, but after the introduction of smart warning services the number of reindeer accidents is already going down.

In 2016, there were 3,470 reindeer accidents, which is 838 less than the previous year (4,308 accidents). The goal of the Porokello project, run by the Lapland Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, is to improve traffic safety and halve the number of reindeer accidents by year 2020.

“This is a very rewarding project. In the first three months after the launch of the service, we have received over 300 sets of feedback and listed them all in categories. There are lots of positive comments but also development ideas, from all over Finland.”

“It seems that the engineers are really excited about this”, Maria Timo-Huhtala grins.

The Porokello project will continue the development work to improve the service. The app is available for Android and IOS.

“The reindeer are the best advertising we can get. When people see reindeer on the roadside they remember to turn on the application. Even if the Porokello reindeer bell does not ring, opening the app will hopefully make the drivers more alert.”

More information on the Porokello project here.

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