Traffic is a common human experience. Being stuck in an endless line of cars, trucks and busses can move almost anyone from a state of zen to complete frustration or even fury. From behind the wheel it may seem that no one is paying attention, but rest assured this issue is a top priority for many local, state and federal leaders.

In fact, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Transportation issued the Smart Cities Challenge, a $40 million grant for a mid-sized city to "develop ideas for an integrated, first-of-its-kind smart transportation system that would use data, applications, and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently."  Out of 78 applicants and 7 finalists, Columbus, Ohio was named the winner.

This kind of focus and financial incentive creates an irresistible challenge for innovators and entrepreneurs. But as you'll learn from these four companies, the payoff goes way beyond the bottom line. Here are a few who are doing some amazing things for mobility and helping communities across the nation. 

1. Signal Labs, San Francisco, CA

Inspired by a tragic accident, founder Hari Srinivasan created a mobile app that is on a path to "eliminate traffic accidents." The app alerts drivers of safety hazards such as Dangerous Intersections, 2-Way Stop Sign, Pedestrian Crossings, etc. The company also works with cities to recommend and manage costly sign placement and maintenance.

While the company is still in early days, there is already a partnership in place with SWARCO, one of the world's largest traffic light & signage companies.  In the quest to "re-invent the traffic sign" this is a great example of a startup infusing ingenuity into a traditional company. Sometimes improving on the existing can be just as exciting as creating something new.

2. Smart Stripe, Austin, TX

Most, if not all, emerging mobility solutions use connected technology. This creates a boon of data and real-time responsiveness, but poses serious concern for network overload. Wireless data usage is expected to grow 6 times by 2020 requiring a tripling in network sites & capacity. In addition, wireless capacity is often scarce in rural areas. Think about how many times you've been on the road but without mobile service.

Smart Stripe has a solution. What looks like regular road markings is actually lighted, constant hyper data connections that provide additional network capacity of up to 150 feet on either side of the Smart Stripe. In other words it is "Wi-Fi on steroids everywhere the roads can take you."

CEO Michael Swisher says, "I created Smart Stripe to provide the accessibility people need to benefit from advances in technology and connectivity. Whether it's students, parents, municipalities, businesses or first responders, Smart Stripe empowers people to do more and better each day. This will be true digital transformation." The company is forming partnerships with major corporates like 3M and negotiating field trials with several top big auto manufacturers.

3. HAAS Alert, Chicago, IL

Speaking of companies that have a benefit to society, HAAS Alert alerts motorists when emergency responders are near or en route to a call. The company has recently entered a new data-sharing partnership with Waze, "the free, real-time crowd sourced traffic and navigation app powered by the world's largest community of drivers."

HAAS Alert uses its mobile vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) platform to deliver real-time safety to motorists, while also providing valuable data back to city leaders. The HAAS Alert API suite integrates with municipal applications and intelligent traffic solutions to create a smart city solution.

The result is what they call the "virtuous cycle" of mobility which translates to fewer collisions and traffic delays, reduced emissions and smarter planning for future emergency-related events.

4. MoonShadow Mobile, Eugene, OR

Data may be the new oil, but massive amounts of information does little good if it can't be organized and easily understood. Data visualization is hot and MoonShadow Mobile has built an array of mapping, database and data analytics solutions including Ephemeris and DB4IoT.

DB4IoT is purpose-built for the Internet of Moving Things and public transit. Big datasets from online and offline environments are transformed into interactive graphics viewable from desktop, laptop and mobile devices. There are heat maps on everything from the number of public transit passengers to cellular connectivity is available via an easy to understand interface.

What are you working on that could be the next new thing in transportation? The opportunity may be a new company or you could innovate within a very traditional system. No matter your approach, one thing is for sure. If you're ready to take on traffic, then get ready for a wild ride.