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Finding Waze around traffic

UNCANNY.

This word aptly describes the ability of Waze, a free navigation app for GPS equipped smart phones, to know exactly where and when to tell you to hang a left, turn right or make a U-turn as you drive toward your specified destination.

The Google-owned program, available for iPhones and Android phones, is designed to help you choose the best route to a destination, with help from other drivers using Waze in your area, who provide real-time traffic and other road-related information such as accidents, police traps and road closures.

There is nothing groundbreaking about the technologies that make Waze possible, but its developers cleverly combined GPS, wireless data connectivity and crowd sourcing to create a system that is far more responsive and accurate than most dedicated navigation systems for cars.

Using Waze is pretty straightforward.

Before you start a trip, tap the menu icon on the bottom left side of the screen then choose Navigate.

Type in the address or place you’re searching for. Choose the most appropriate search result, choose your destination and click Go.

Once you select your destination, a pop-up appears with your estimated time of arrival (ETA) and indications of any traffic or incidents along your route.

The recommended route with the shortest estimated travel time is on top, followed by two alternatives. If you prefer to take an alternate route, tap it to select it. You can see the routes on the map by clicking the Map button at the upper right corner.

Once you’ve selected a route, navigation will start.

If you’ve got a driver, you can safely follow your progress on a 3D map and see where traffic is building up along the way. You can also spot other Waze users on the map, and send them messages, if you wish. Simply driving with the app running will add useful information to the system, as Waze takes note of your travel speed. To help other Waze users in a more active way, you can use the Report icon to flag traffic jams or accidents as you encounter them, thereby giving others a heads-up.

Waze uses game techniques to encourage you to provide more information, assigning points for traffic or road hazard reports or for simply driving with the app running. You can use the points to change the your avatar, and to increase your status in the community.

Of course, it’s not advisable to look at the screen while you’re driving, as this may distract you and increase the likelihood of an accident. This is where Waze’s spoken directions shine; the program can talk you through every turn on the route until you reach your destination. If you deviate from your chosen route, Waze is also smart enough to recalculate your path and make the necessary adjustments in its directions.

To work properly, Waze requires that you have GPS enabled and have a constant Internet connection (either through Wi-Fi or a data connection) on your smart phone. Keep in mind that this could add a tidy sum to your monthly phone bill.

Waze was originally developed in Israel, funded by US venture capital firm in the early stages, and acquired by Google for more than $1 billion in 2013.

In that year, the Associated Press reported that Waze had almost 50 million users worldwide. Since then, Waze’s popularity has grown around the world. In Los Angeles, it’s estimated that at least one in 10 people now use Waze. Google also recently launched the service in Kenya in cooperation with a local telecommunications provider there. In the Philippines, the Waze Users Group estimates that users here have grown to 300,000.

Not all of the news is good, however.

Police forces in the UK and the United States, for example, are urging Google to turn off the feature that warns drivers when police are nearby, saying this could put officers’ lives in danger from would-be cop killers.

There are also real privacy concerns since Waze puts you on the map by default, making it possible for others to track you. You can take some sensible precautions such as going “invisible” on a single trip and using a handle instead of your real name. You might also want to shut down Waze when you get home so strangers won’t be able to see where you live. Chin Wong

 

Column archives and blog at: http://www.chinwong.com

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