Application Spotlight: Waze

Waze is a turn-by-turn navigation platform with it’s roots in real-time user provided data.  That is, it relies on each user’s phone acting as a probe in its network delivering flow data back to a central server for anonymization and distribution (much like Inrix and Dash) to the user community.

It is a free service that started in Israel (and has over 100,000 users there), but is being rolled out across the United States.  According to the application uses the United States Census Bureau TIGER map and will allow for manual map updates and edits to improve the accuracy of the map.  In addition to passively providing flow data users can actively interact with maps to provide street name updates, incident reports, construction notices and more thus providing the most up-to-date data set possible to users (and, in theory, allowing for the best turn-by-turn directions).

It’s interesting that Waze repeatedly says it is not a navigation application (which it clearly is a type of), but instead they say it is “designed to facilitate driving to the places one knows very well – for example, work.”  An interesting distinction… The application is intended to keep you up to date on the latest traffic information related to areas you frequent (i.e. areas where your Waze app will be uploading data from).  Now, it would seem logical to me  since a basic feature of the application is turn-by-turn directions (presumably to direct you around congestion) that Waze should be equally as useful in areas where you are not quite as familiar.  Also interesting, that the Waze FAQ calls out the similarity to Dash, but insists it is different because it is free (meh).

I really like the ability to update the map on the fly as well as record gps data for an unmarked road you might be driving down, but the real problem with this purely probe model of information gathering remains the need for a critical mass of users.  With 100,000 users in Israel Waze can apparently do a pretty good job of reporting traffic, but would a 100,000 be enough to even cover Los Angeles?  Ok, it might be (the math behind these predictions is pretty impressive and can make do with less data than you’d think), but it will be some time before I can make a 20 mile commute with relevant data all along the way.  It should also be noted that as with any system like this you are subject to your connectivity…if you can’t get data in the app is useless (not a new concern, but worth noting when you’re discussing navigation systems).

Waze has a neat product and it’s still growing.  Currently available on Android and iPhone platforms the potential user base is significant (fingers crossed for a WebOS version?) and  I look forward to seeing what they have to offer in the near future.

via [waze]

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