Face it, Auckland traffic sucks and it’s getting worse. The current work on our traffic infrastructure and investment (or lack thereof) into public transport will not have tangible effects for years to come; all the while, people will continue to spend countless hours getting well-acquainted with the rears of the vehicles in front of them.
Empirical knowledge only helps to avoid traffic when destinations and times are familiar. For new trips Google Maps (and navigation), which usually provides the most direct route and an estimation of traffic conditions, could be used. The traffic conditions are based on GPS data Google pulls anonymously from cell phone users and the amount of data must be tremendous. This will likely affect how fast the data can be processed and updated, meaning that changes in conditions are not quickly updated. Furthermore, there is limited information on why traffic might be like it is, which reduces the ability to plan. For example, traffic caused by rubberneckers can clear relatively quickly, while roadworks can cause more permanent delays.
Wouldn’t it be better/faster if someone stuck in traffic could say to Google maps, “traffic is currently [expletive] here because of [reasons]”, and the traffic information at that location is then instantly relayed to other drivers considering taking that route?
This is the essence of Waze: a crowd-powered traffic navigation app that was in fact acquired by Google. Its maps are charted by the community, meaning it remains up-to-date and provides more accurate mappings in less accessed locations.
The Power (Pros) of Waze
Waze functions much like any other navigation app. You type in where you want to go and it figures out the quickest way to get there. It even has other map APIs built in, such as Google’s to pretty much guarantee it’ll be able to find the destination you’re searching for. What sets it apart, is the user’s ability to log the following information which is made available to other Waze users (Wazers):
Stuck in traffic? Log it through the UI (less safe) or by using voice commands (totally safe). Waze will then mark the stretch of road you’ve been travelling as having traffic and the approximate speed. This can be done for varying traffic conditions, and you can even do it for opposing traffic. Once you’re past the slow zone you can even log the cause, such as an accident, breakdown or hazard.
Temporary hazards or effects on routes, such as detours and road closures can all also be logged within Waze. Combined with the traffic data, this allows Waze to adjust the routes it suggests when navigating to reduce journey times.
Similar to current GPS navigators, Waze also has fixed speed and red light camera locations and warns you if you’re approaching them. In addition, users are able to add locations of speed traps and checkpoints of marked and un-marked vehicles to the maps.
Waze also tracks petrol prices. I find this useful when looking for a place to fill up in an unfamiliar area and need something quick and cheap(er).
A navigation app shouldn’t really need to be social, but Waze gives you points for using it and bonus points for reporting traffic and hazards. As you level up you can unlock different avatars to use on Waze, which is how other Wazers will view you on the map. You don’t have to be visible on the map, but doing so will allow you to interact with other Wazers if you want to. A more useful function is the ability to share your drive with friends so they can see where you are currently and your ETA.
Not only that, but Waze can pull meeting location data from your calendar, and you can send automated text alerts to your co-conspirators so that they can tell how far away you are from the rendez-vous or whether you’re going to be late. They don’t need to have Waze to receive text alerts and even have the option of viewing an in-browser map of your route to track your progress in real time.
Limitations of Waze
Waze is fantastic and I use it whenever I need help navigating. My main problem with it is that sometimes the routes it suggests are not optimal and can be a little counter-intuitive. Sometimes this works out really well (Cool, a new faster route I can use in the future!) or not so well (Where the feck are you taking me?!). So for now, I have to use a bit of common sense and discretion in conjunction with the navigation provided by Waze.
I believe the main reason for this is a lack of user-provided data, particularly in New Zealand. Hence this blog post! I am hoping that some of you will try it out, and see its potential. Waze will only be as powerful as the number of people using it so go and spread the word – it’s available on Android, iOS and even Windows Phone.
I am hoping that as the number of Wazers grows, it’ll be able to take advantage of machine learning/AI to better understand the routes it suggests. For example, it might realise, “Ok, it took you 10 minutes to turn right at this four-lane intersection so the next Wazer going this way will instead use a traffic-light controlled intersection further down”. Eventually it’ll turn into some high level traffic management system that autonomously guides flows of traffic everywhere with optimal travel times for everyone.
The other thing Waze could have is more voice commands. Traffic reporting is down to a cinch, but other hazards and commands need to be supported too – just to maintain safety while driving. I am quite confident that this will be added soon enough.
All in all, Waze is awesome, and does everything your current navigation app does and then some. If you’re still not convinced, consider this. To help promote the latest Terminator movie, Arnie has lent his voice to Waze. So, if the idea of the T-800 telling you to, “Turn left if you want to live”*, doesn’t make you want to use this app, I don’t know what will.
* Disclaimer: Arnie doesn’t actually say things like this all the time (a huge shame!), but if he’s not your cup of tea you can also get instructions from Colonel Sanders or some NBA players (lol).