Google Mobile Maps with traffic

I’m quite impressed with Google’s mobile maps application for smartphones. It works nicely on the iPhone but is great on other phones too.

Among other things, it will display live traffic on your map. And I recently saw, when asking it for directions, that it told me that there would be “7 minutes of traffic delay” along my route. That’s great.

But they missed the obvious extension from that. Due to the delay, 101 is no longer my fastest route. They should use the traffic delay data to re-plot my route, and in this case, suggest 280. (Now it turns out that 280 is always better anyway, because aside from the fact it has less traffic, people drive at a higher average speed on it than 101, and the software doesn’t know that. Normally it’s a win except when it’s raining in the hills and not down by the shore.)

Now I’ve been wanting mapping and routing software to get a better understanding of real road speeds for a while. It could easily get that by taking GPS tracklogs from cabs, trucks and other vehicles willing to give them. It could know the real average speed of travel on every road, in every direction, at any given hour of the day. And then it could amend that with live traffic data. (Among other things, such data would quickly notice map errors, like one-way streets, missing streets, streets you can’t drive etc.)

Now to get really smart, the software should also have a formula for “aging” traffic congestion based on history and day of the week. For example, while there may be slow traffic on a stretch of highway at 6:30 pm, if I won’t get there until 7:30 it should be expected to speed up. As I get closer it can recalculate, though of course some alternate roads (like 101 vs. 280) must be chosen well in advance.

And hey, Google Mobile maps, while your at it, could you add bookmarks? For example, I would like to make a bookmark that generates my standard traffic view, and remember areas I need maps of frequently. And of course since traffic data can make them different, bookmark routes such as one’s standard commute. For this, it might make sense to let people bookmark the routes in full google maps, where you can drag the route to your taste, and save it for use in the mobile product, even comparing the route times under traffic. One could also have the device learn real data about how fast I drive on various routes, though for privacy reasons this should not be store unencrypted on servers. (We would not want our devices betraying us and getting us speeding tickets or liability in accidents due to speeding, so only averages rather than specific superlimit speeds should be stored.)

Also — there are other places in a PDA/phone with an address, most notably events in the calendar. It would be nice while looking at an event in the calendar (or to-do list) to be able to click “locate on the map.”

Awesome!!

The part about traffic being taken into consideration and then re-routing is the EXACT idea I have been thinking about for years. Are you listening, Google!?

GPS/traffic rerouting

I'd expect traffic-based rerouting to become far more common when fully integrated in a 'free' feed. I'd thought that as long as traffic information was reported via RDS and not harmonized with the GPS instantiation, there would be problems with doing the required recalculations.

Raises another issue, which is how often, and in what manner, do you see the recalculated route? (Cynically, I imagined the moral equivalent of disk thrash, as the system goes forward and backward with tinkery little updates which might involve the current ridiculous overspecification of fine detail that many of the "direction" interfaces I've seen can provide...)

My own thought would be to have something modal (yes, I know it's not the PC thing for interface design most of the time!) that would let you know that significant traffic changes were ready, and let you load the ALTERNATE into a buffer to consider... with appropriate while-driving attention, etc. ... whether you want to follow it instead of the original routing. Then command it in a separate step.

I've seen a number of proposals for obtaining 'real-world' GPS logs of traffic, some of which I believe are documented in the ITA. One issue involving privacy, which I think you should consider, is that any GPS tracking log which contains obvious violations of law might be used for overzealous enforcement purposes (I still remember the New York State Thruway cleverness, which issued you a ticket if your exit time was "too close" to your entering time...) Naturally, there are data safeguards (perhaps similar to those in HIPAA) that can be used to dereference your datastream and/or logs from you, but this then raises another issue: do you encourage nominally-illegal behavior by directing traffic in ways that tacitly or explicitly assumes illegal operation?

Big case in point: I have argued for many years for mandatory 'truck no-passing zones' on two-lane Interstates. The unfortunate fact here is that much of the time, drivers who are 'held up' by trucks slowly passing other trucks *at or near the truck speed limit* are actually speeding, or intending to speed, and this is why they're "inconvenienced". Do we make policy based on real-world, or even common-sense, breaking of nominal laws? Seems to me that this is raised by using GPS data in the manner you indicated...

Meanwhile: Speed the day that automatic traffic, construction, etc. data automatically factor into route planning and management on nav systems!

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