Just like Google’s Street View feature, which followed a Canadian launch after being tested in the American market, Google introduced this month traffic levels for major Canadian cities after almost three years of use in the U.S. In the past week the service was extended from mobile devices to web browsing as well.
Toronto.com has offered much more limited traffic features for several years, but nothing even close to the level of detail or interactivity provided by Google.
Late this summer Google had expanded the service to include arterial roads, which was a major complaint among American users. They also rolled-out a crowdsourcing feature that would track the speed of vehicles using Google Maps on mobile devices to help determine best alternative routes during congestion times.
One bulletin-board user asks,
If I am walking down the street with Google Maps open on my BB, I wonder if this skews the data?
The response he gets from another user appears at first quite simple,
They average out the data… so unless you have a marathon of people all having google maps on for some reason, one or two people walking down a major street most likely won’t affect the traffic readings.
That assumes, like financial markets often do, that people always behave rationally. People do not always behave in rational ways.
Interruption of Question Period this week to raise the issue of climate change is just one of a growing phenomenon of flash mobs that could easily affect crowdsourcing data in the aggregate. Just look at the many flash mobs in tribute to Michael Jackson alone in past months.
Google also launched a mobile service providing GPS with features like 3D views, turn-by-turn voice guidance and automatic rerouting. The last feature would be especially useful in light of traffic conditions, and alternate destinations can be plotted by voice to comply with hands-free legislation in Ontario and similar laws in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and B.C. Users can also search by voice for services and landmarks along the way. Devices will be able to use the service in the U.S. starting Nov. 6.
In one of those more common moments of more predictable behaviour, the shares for GPS navigation systems fell by 9.5% for Tom Tom and 18% for Garmin on Tuesday alone, dropping further during the rest of the week. Still, many analysts point out that the mobile services available from Google aren’t comparable to GSP systems. Signals often cut out, and don’t reliably provide directions when they are needed. But Google can address this by caching information on devices instead of streaming, and in the long-term this will likely replace the GPS systems entirely.
Given the association between car accidents and traffic jams, litigators may be able to replace their police radio scanners with Google Maps and arrive on the scene before first-responders to offer their services.
They can find alternative routes to the scene through hands-free instruction and use Street View to get an idea of the physical layout before they arrive. They can even do it walking down the street if the traffic is really backed up. And barring a re-enactment of “Beat It!” en route to the accident, it doesn’t seem like anything can stop them.
Defence counsel, be forewarned.