No GPS Needed

[youtube] “Google Maps Navigation is in beta.  Use Caution. Do not manipulate this application while driving. Traffic data is not real-time, and directions may be wrong, dangerous, prohibited, or involve ferries. Keep your eyes on the road!”

This is the opening screen when you activate Google Maps Navigation on an Android phone.  Thankfully, I was sitting on my couch when I first started it up, so I felt safe exploring its various features.  After reading a Techcrunch article about the product’s recent update, I decided I should give it a try. Normally, I don’t drive (I don’t own a car), but I could see this coming in handy in some cases on my bike.  It would certainly come in handy those few times when I do drive, because those are times when I’m traveling and therefore, almost always unfamiliar with the roads.  Google Maps Navigate (beta) transforms your Android phone into a GPS unit – a superior GPS unit some would argue.

Because it is connected through the network, there’s no need to re-download or update maps like you have to do on traditional GPS units.  When the road network, points of interest, or other map features change, Google automatically updates these data on the backend, leaving your device synched with up-to-date (albeit not real-time) data.

The Google representative in the video above points out 7 features of his product that make it unique.

  • Search for directions in “plain English” by typing an address, place name, or type of place (e.g. restaurant) into the search box
  • Search for directions by speaking into the phone, e.g. “navigate to 1965 Page Street in San Francisco”
  • Search for destinations along the chosen route
  • Satellite view
  • Street view
  • Car dock mode – activated when using a dock within the car
  • Up-to-date traffic information allows you to choose an alternate route

That last point is what Techcrunch was writing about.  No longer do you have to choose the fastest route; the new version chooses the fastest route for you, based both on crowd-sourced current traffic speed data as well as historic data.

All this got me thinking about the concept of triple convergence.  Triple convergence is a phenomenon observed in dynamic traffic systems.  The idea is that all drivers seek the most direct (i.e. fastest) route. At peak travel times, this means that everyone seeks out the same route, leaving it congested and ironically not the best route.  In response to this problem of congestion, one policy is to expand the most direct route so that there is ample capacity.  Triple convergence happens when users on other modes, other routes, or who used to travel at different times now view the expanded road as the direct route.  With these three groups converging on it, it becomes congested once again.

Some have posited that intelligent transport systems (or at least improving drivers’ access to information about the current best or fastest route) could help mitigate the problem, dampening the triple convergence effect.  Google Maps Navigation could be an incredibly good implementation of this strategy, especially considering that it bypasses any involvement of municipal or regional government and goes directly to drivers’ pockets.

-Terra Curtis