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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Waze Uses Crowdsourcing to Bring You Real-Time Traffic Info

Waze LogoThere are plenty of social, web, and technology tools to help you with your commute. Whether you have a TomTom or constantly whip out your iPhone, you can find driving directions, locations, general traffic information, and even speed traps.

However, what Waze is aiming to do is far more ambitious. This mobile app, which uses crowdsourcing to create driver-generated maps, is expanding out of Israel and is launching today in the U.S. With it is a technology that gathers information on driving patterns, traffic, accidents, police traps, and more and analyzes it in order to inform the driver of the best possible route available.

Waze’s real-time technology

Waze Mobile

Waze is an application, primarily for Google Android phones, that gathers data and provides it to the driver. Waze is able to use your GPS and your movement to determine if there is a traffic jam, an open route, or a previously unknown alleyway. It relies on multiple data points from multiple phones to provide a full picture of the area.

As more and more users drive a specific area, it picks up on the streets, tendencies, and more to build a driver-generated map. This map not only includes streets, but builds in models for bottlenecks and major delays (red), fast routes, accidents, etc. Users can also actively report things like a speeding camera or a construction zone in order to build a more accurate Waze map.

When you actually use the application, you can physically see where these traps, slowdowns, and areas to avoid are. There’s even a map that shows the movement of all of the cars (anonymously) using the application in real-time. One of Waze’s key advantage is real-time information. For example, if a previous traffic jam clears up, the next car using Waze that goes through at normal speeds will slowly erase the traffic indicators from the map as they drive through it.

It also has a system to rank people based on reliability, using points. If you’re reporting bad information, the system docks you points and your influence on the user-generated map decreases. It provides a unique competitive and social feature while providing a way to judge informational accuracy.

Waze eyes the U.S. market

Waze has been in use for a while in Israel, but now it sets it ambitions on the U.S. It’s starting with the Google Android platform and the San Francisco bay area, where users may be more receptive to having the application. However, it probably won’t reach enough platforms until it gets its iPhone app approved. Even then, the iPhone’s inability to run background apps (which might change soon, rumors say) could harm Waze’s data collection efforts.

Yet if Waze can succeed with a proof of concept in the U.S., there is huge potential. The driving information market is huge, and there have been major acquisitions in the past - Navteq was acquired by Nokia in 2007 for $8.1 billion while Tele Atlas was bought by TomTom for 3 billion euros. Waze aims to gather more information and bring it real-time.

Crowdsourcing this type of information seems like an intelligent thing to do. Apps like Trapster already do a great job of gathering this information. But much of Waze’s data is collected passively, making it easier on the driver. The result could be the a full-knowledge system that knows when roads are packed and where police patrols like to hide.

If Waze can get itself on more phones in more cities, or if they score a deal with a car maker so that it gets automatically installed into cars, it has the potential to be a major innovator and player in the market.