• Waze - Crowdsourcing Traffic with your Phone

    We've been checking out Waze a few days now, and while it's still in infancy stages - its a promising and interesting tech. In a nutshell, "Waze is the first free turn by turn GPS app that uses crowd sourcing to detect real time traffic conditions. Users can also communicate information about whats happening on the road (police, accidents, construction, cheap gas etc) straight from their phones."

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    The idea behind Waze is simple - everybody these days has their phone on them, why not use it to grab traffic data? Waze isn't the first folks to think the general concept up - Google has been displaying live traffic from highway authorities for a couple years now, and just recently (as in, August 25th 2009 it was announced) started using data from GPS enabled devices their Maps application is on. And Waze has some words to say about Google's implementation:
    Wazers are helping build our service from the ground up, by editing the map, reporting events, adding pictures and text, sharing their GPS points, validating traffic, testing new releases, giving us feedback, helping each other on the forum and a variety of other community actions. With this vibrant community, we aim to build a better service than just colors on a display map.
    And they're right. Waze is an innovation in traffic and mapping in general. With the continuing penetration of GPS into cellular devices, web 2.0 software, faster and more reliable data networks for phones, and overall more powerful devices, something like Waze was bound to happen. Think Wikipedia and Google Maps combined with Facebook. I have at least a dozen stories of me driving around in my car using the GPS (map disc comes with the car when you buy it) and running into roads that don't exist, or having to turn onto roads that aren't even on the map. Waze solves that with its map editing feature. You simply press "Record new roads," then drive on the road while you're recording, and press stop when done.

    The major issue at the moment is pure volume. Their Live Map is a little bleak. When I check "reports" in Waze for recent reports like traffic jams and police, the closest occurrence to me (I'm in Tampa these days) is 830 miles away. Their demo on the waze site even starts with a slide saying "Remember that waze is 100% user-generated and our community has just begun to build in the US, so features in this demo might appear more developed than they actually are." If a service like Waze could get a huge market penetration (Google Maps comes on your phone when you buy it, YouTube has all sorts of devices which allow it to be directly uploaded to - why not add something like Waze to the mix?), traffic reporting could be an entirely new situation.

    A second major issue is backgrounding - right now to track (or "waze" as they coin the verb) your routes, etc, you have to have the iPhone (or MyTouch/G1 - they've got an Android app out as well) on and running. A mount for your windshield is great for this, plugged into a cigarette adapter. If the iPhone could background applications, you could have Waze always on recording new info, etc (assuming you want to share it) - and build up a community much faster.

    Either way, it's an interesting concept, and now seems like a great time for it to come to market.

    Here's hoping it grows.
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