Google knows if ring road is crowded or M G Road is gridlocked, but how? Last week, the Internet giant rolled out live traffic information and turn-by-turn navigation in India. A question that intrigues many and which Google wouldn’t talk much about is : How does it gather live traffic information?
After all, Google hasn’t inked any deals with operators. From what Google has said so far, live traffic information is crowd-sourced from Android phone users traveling on a given route, third party sources and government agencies. Through this app, Google would be able to update commuters about average speed of vehicles and this could be gauged through the speed of commuters using android phone.
Darren Baker, the product manager behind Google Maps says that traffic data is refreshed every few minutes with the most recent known conditions. However, accuracy can vary as it is based on the number of data sources providing information to Google. For instance, in a city where a large number of people are using Google Maps for mobile and also contributing to Google’s data pool, traffic information may be more accurate than another city with less number of users.
“If you use Google Maps for mobile with GPS enabled on your phone..and when you choose to enable Google Maps with My Location, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you’re moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions. We continuously combine this data and send it back to you for free in the Google Maps traffic layers. It takes almost zero effort on your part — just turn on Google Maps for mobile before starting your car — and the more people that participate, the better the resulting traffic reports get for everybody.” [from an earlier blog post]
Meanwhile, Google Maps app and Google Maps Navigation have been designed to perform best with a consistent mobile Internet connection, and currently complete offline routing is not supported. While mobile networks are not perfectly reliable even in densely populated areas, Google Maps Navigation will continue to work correctly if you’re moving along your route but you lose your data connection temporarily. The app can even reroute you back to the correct path if you take a wrong turn because of connectivity issue.
The bigger deal is that penetration of smartphones in India is not all that great. As of now India has only 27 million smartphones and out of which numbers of android phones further narrows down the scope of real updates about moving traffic.
Currently users living in Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad, can use this new feature. Google is being a bit cagey about government agencies that share traffic information with the company.
What are these “Government agencies” that share information with Google? While Google declined to share the details, our best guess is that its the traffic police. For instance, in Bangalore, the traffic police has fairly advanced circuit television network to monitor signals and mechanisms to program traffic lights. They are also capable of capturing number plates automatically and sending automated traffic tickets to violators.
What are your thoughts*? Is Google live traffic data reliable?
Few relevant updates:
- Google had to roll back its StreetView experiment in India after privacy issue raised by the government.
- Nokia (post Navteq acquisition completion) too launched live traffic updates in Mumbai and Delhi and TomTom partnered with HTC to power HTC Locations App for HTC smartphones in India.
- US based Waze earlier partnered with SatNav (in 2011) to launch its live traffic service in India, though we haven’t really seen anything substantial coming out of it.
* : We have reached out to Google India for more information and will update when we get them.