The open-source GPS-enabled app takes full advantage of the crowdsourcing idea. It's as much a step above Google Maps as Google Maps is above my idea of putting radars and cellphone modules all over the place. It has access to an online map database that can plot routes just as a dash-mounted GPS unit does. Everyone who uses Waze contributes traffic information that can be used by everyone else. This data is used to determine routes -- and to get real-time route updates while driving. If traffic is building up ahead, Waze will let you know and suggest an alternate route. If you pass an accident, a speed trap, or dense fog, you can touch the screen and send the report back to Waze to be annotated on everyone's map.
Interestingly, it's not just the traffic data that is crowdsourced. The client app that runs on the phone is open-source, and anyone who is registered with Waze can edit the maps themselves. You can edit the maps in your Web browser or directly from your phone, just by selecting the "pave" function and driving a new road. I recently made my first edit by deleting a segment of road that used to exist until it was bought by the Open Space people, who put up a gate.
Waze isn't perfect. I live out in the boonies, and the app sometimes suggests an exceedingly scenic route to get to work or to my kids' school. I don't mind driving aimlessly through the mountains, but sometimes I need to get to places on time. Most drivers, myself included, already know how to get where they're going, so a flaky routing algorithm isn't that much of a problem. Alerts on speed traps, hazards, and traffic speed are much more valuable and work very well. Also, it's just plain cool to look at the GPS tracks left behind by thousands of users as they go about their day.
Waze is free for the iPhone, Android, or Windows mobile platforms. Take a look, and try out the map editor, as well. Happy driving.
Hi kcp, that's a valid concern. Once you set a course you don't have to touch the screen again, it automatically pans and zooms to show your next turn. If you do something that requires the keyboard Waze will notice if the car is in motion and will pop up a box that says only passengers can use the on screen keyboard. It's only a couple screen touches to report a traffic hazard if you spot one while driving. So it doesn't have to be distracting to the driver.
William, you are correct regarding small samples. One of the neat thing about Waze is that you can enable a live display of other "Wazers" around you. There are a pretty good number here in the bay area on the major roads, and on the freeway the indications of where traffic slows down are very accurate. It's also pretty good about routing around traffic, more than once it has changed a route to an earlier exit to avoid traffic on the freeway that built up since the time I initially left.
But I live a little out in the boonies, and I can single handedly turn the country roads from green to red or yellow depending on how fast I drive. Hopefully that will change as more people use the app.
I think there are other improvements that could be done as well, like noting typical locations of speed traps and always having "yellow" warnings for them even if there haven't been any reports recently, and having "red" warnings for speed traps with recent reports.
The concept of using cell phone locations to provide traffic information is interesting. It seems that because of the relatively smaller number of samples that some serious programming would be needed to draw real inference from the data. As always then, the influence of the program creator is a big part of the function. But it certainly could provide a valuable service, although it may also provide information about a larger area and a lot of nonuseful data as well.
But CB radio was very good at keeping us informed back in the 1980s, when the same folks could pass information every day. I think that has changed, as a whole lot of things have changed, and seldom for the better. The good part of the CB "web" was that it was open and free, and it was not tainted by somebody needing to show a profit and ROI for investors. Nothing associated with either cell phones or internet is free, although you seldom see exactly how you pay for it or how much it costs.
Thanks, Steve. Note to self: Read the whole document. I have always thought that Linux was the prototypical 'crowdsourcing' project. However, the idea of the management of companies 'embracing' crowdsourcing scares me. With Linux, the only ones contributing are those who know how to program. Which I think is essential, you don't just fling out your project to the unwashed masses. Even with Linux you get some 'programmers' that really screw things up.
Hi Didymus7, you are right that collecting data from people as they drive isn't crowdsourcing. I was referring to Waze accepting map editing contributions from people everywhere, each correcting their own little piece of the world.
Good comparison to the CB radio days. I remember car trips listening to the CB as dad drove. As I recall my handle was "sprite". The advantage now is that with a server there is a place to remember state, so the message doesn't get lost if there isn't a steady stream of traffic with CB radios to pass it on. I think Waze is pretty neat and I wish them success.
Although I applaud this idea, isn't this article morphing the definition of 'crowdsourcing'. I had though that crowdsourcing was the cutsey label put to a development project where massive numbers of people contribute ideas toward a project. This article just describes massive data collection and this is passive, rather than active, which I *thought* was the definition of crowdsourcing.
Nice story, Steve. Google is actually offering a new version of crowdsourcing that was common decades ago. Truckers often used short wave radios to broadcast information on speed traps, accidents and other road hazards to tip their fellow drivers about what's happening on the road. I don't know if truckers still do it, but it was certainly common in the 1980s.
Thanks for the kind words! I hope with a little map editing your neck of the woods is more easily routable in the Waze system. If you'd like any more info, feel free always to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve, seems like you were really on to something with early idea for traffic and route optimization--you just needed the technology to catch up to help you enable.
On a separate note, it seems like lots of what I've been writing about lately keeps harkening back to this same theme of consumers driving more of the experience and the evolution of products, be they physical products or software. I think this example keeps to the same premise. Like it or not, the flood of technologies busting out in the consumer world--GPS tracking, social technology, mobile apps--these are all going to have big influences in the tools that engineers use on the job. Imagine taking this same concept Steve talks about and applying it to factory floor systems that can give production engineers a real-time glimpse into quality problems that they can address or redirect on the fly.There are countless ways this notion of crowdsourcing will be applied. Some will work and some won't, but there's no doubt it's coming.
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