Google

No GPS Needed

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGXK4jKN_jY&w=440&h=278] “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

 

No GPS Needed

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGXK4jKN_jY&w=440&h=278] “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

 

Google's Next Steps

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, recently wrote a brief article indicating his company’s role in the “mobile revolution.”  As we have highlighted in our book Connected Cities, mobile technologies already have been responsible for and continue to offer further opportunity in market creation (to the tune of 256 billion euros).  The technology has only hit the tip of the iceberg, and Schmidt notes the next three places he intends to take it.

First, Google will focus on the underlying fast networks; second, on the development of mobile money; and third, on the availability of inexpensive smartphones in developing countries.  Of note in the second two categories are a few companies from our Showcase.  It appears that Google’s initial intents in regards to mobile money are for consumers in more developed regions; it’s near field communication, or NFC, technology enables smartphone users to pay for groceries, clothing, or other consumables simply by waving their phone near an in-store device. As far as I can tell, this technology would also be useful for things like mobile parking or public transit passes.  Park-line’s current model involves paying for parking by using your mobile phone to make a call to a processing center; NFC would make these calls unnecessary.  Similarly, Transport for London could move away from necessitating a physical “Oyster card” by enabling NFC.

The use of mobile technologies in developing countries is already well known.  We documented Mission 4636, which used mobile technology to facilitate the first responders to the Haiti earthquake.  Of course, their reach could have been much broader had the local population had access to more mobile phones.  Somewhat surprisingly, 90 percent of the world’s population already does have access to mobile networks, though this does not mean they actually own a mobile device, nor does it mean they have access to smartphone technology that significantly improves access to information.

The brevity of Schmidt’s article has attracted a fair amount of attention.  We’ll keep our eyes out for updates.

-Terra Curtis

Fuel for Thought

Potential solutions to our current energy and transportation concerns are often split into two camps: behavioral change and technological change.  As with most things, the likely outcome will probably be some combination of the two (if we do actually achieve a solution at all). On the technological front, Google recently announced its experiments with a robotically-controlled car that it claims could help solve safety, land use, energy consumption, and personal time management issues.  In other words, it pulled out quite a card.  They’ve already used to car to drive, automatically, from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California to Hollywood, navigating the notoriously windy and narrow Pacific Coast Highway. I want to share with you three videos.  The first is from this great New York Times piece covering Google’s announcement.  The second shows video of the car in action.  The third, however, offers some fuel for thought.  This video comes from 1958 when Disney imagined what the future of transport might be like; it’s got some surprising elements of similarity to Google’s advance.

-Terra Curtis

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/bcvideo/1.0/iframe/embed.html?videoId=1248069147736&playerType=embed

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtWhAzEVj6k&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&version=3]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6pUMlPBMQA&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Schweeb

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXl3uK9hTWU&fs=1&hl=en_US]Schweeb in the adventure context As someone who has experienced the thrills of New Zealand culture firsthand, it comes as no surprise that they would be the first to showcase the Schweeb – a zippy human-powered monorail recumbent bicycle.  What does come as a bit of a surprise is that this “mode of transport” is being billed as a viable form of alternative (potentially public) transportation, by the likes of Google.

Google recently announced with winners of its Project 10100 competition and Schweeb is among the five chosen.  The Project was designed to collect proposals and ideas from innovators all over the world to solve challenges in the following categories: making educational content available online for free; enhancing science and engineering education; making government more transparent; driving innovation in public transport; and, providing quality education to African students. Google has committed $1 million to help Schweeb test its product as an urban transport solution in the Northern Hemisphere.  You should recall our earlier blog post about ULTra PRT, the UK company providing London Heathrow’s first Personal Rapid Transit solution.  The use of personal rapid transit has its critics, but also its proponents.  Could it be convenient enough to outweigh the potentially high-costs of implementation?

Google, a company who made a very convenient free solution with high implementation costs, thinks it might be.

-Terra Curtis

Parking 2.0

Google ImageAt Living Labs Global, we’ve already identified several innovations in the arena of automobile parking.  These cover solutions such as the Municipality of Copenhagen’s text-based parking spot finding system, Estonia’s parking payment solution emt, The Netherland’s RFID-based parking payment system Park-Line, and Spot-Scout, an eBay-like exchange for renting parking spots.

Of all the parking solutions we’ve showcased so far, 9 are focused on modernizing parking payment, but only 3 are focused on helping a driver find a parking spot in the first place.

Here in San Francisco, our Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is working on a program called SFPark.  SFPark is a comprehensive parking solution and includes components to help drivers navigate quickly to the nearest open spot.  It will also enable the SFMTA to dynamically price open spaces with the intent of keeping a few spaces open in each neighborhood for those willing to pay more for higher-demand areas.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVq9pdam14M&hl=da_DK&fs=1]

But, as I’ve seen here in San Francisco, the innovation process is slow when it has to be vetted through city government.  To their credit, it’s not a simple system and includes many features other than spot-finding aids to help solve the problem of idling and circling automobiles.  That’s why I was glad to hear that Google recently entered the game with their Open Spot app.

Open Spot is now available in the US, Canada, and The Netherlands for use on mobile phones using Android 2.0 or higher.  Users of the app report when they’re leaving a parking spot.  Searchers for parking will then see a balloon appear on the map of their neighborhood.  Red balloons indicate a freshly-vacated spot, orange spots were vacated 5 minutes ago, and yellow spots are 10 or more minutes old.  After 20 minutes, the map indicators disappear.

For it to be successful, it requires widespread adoption and user altruism.  I think it’d be great to link Open Spot’s technical functionality with the SFPark program’s parking data.  SFPark’s sensors, installed in most parking spaces across San Francisco, could inform the app rather than casual users.  This gets rid of the need for large network effects and puts two already-developed technologies to work symbiotically.  Agree with me?  Contact SFPark and let them know!

-Terra Curtis