Google Maps is an online mapping service developed by Google that offers aerial photography, satellite imagery, street maps, street view, and route planning for travelers traveling by car, foot, and bicycle, public transportation information, and real-time traffic conditions.
Let us, deep-dive, into how Google Maps features its real-time traffic information. Google Maps offers processed traffic information, which is instantaneously available and updated every second. In 2007, Google Maps started offering traffic data as a colored pattern on top of roads to represent the speed of vehicles on particular roads or streets. Crowdsourcing is used to obtain real-time traffic data through a large number of mobile phones used. Crowdsourcing includes obtaining information, work, or opinion from a large group of people who continuously submit their data via social media, the internet, and smartphone apps.
When a user uses Google services, Google collects few different types of information. This information generally falls within two broad categories. First is the information user creates to provide Google and second is the information Google collects to use their services. Google collects and saves the information provided by the user that includes the name while creating an account, upload photos to google, or messages sent using Google services. Google collects the information as the user uses their services. Moreover, this also includes information about the user’s location. Likewise, with the help of Google services, Google map helps us to find ways and explore routes.
Radar Technology and Sensors
Google Maps check the traffic by tracking the moving of android phones on roads. The android phone sends anonymous data to google informing the speed of moving devices on road. Earlier, Google Maps used traffic sensors, which were installed by government and private companies. By using radar technology and sensors, map detected traffic situations of road. This data is continuously refreshed based on anonymous traffic sensors, traced user data, and satellite information to confirm that map is showing optimal traffic situation. Google has stated that the speed and location information it collects to calculate traffic conditions is anonymous. Although there are options for users not to share their location with Google Maps using their phone settings. Google stated, ‘Once you disable or opt-out of My Location, Maps will not continue to send radio information back to Google servers to determine your handset's approximate location’. Google Maps uses machine learning (ML) in combination with various data sources including real-time feedback from users, combined location data, local government data, and historical traffic patterns to predict regular traffic patterns.
Google Maps marks the traffic in three colors; green, yellow, and red, which indicates clear, slow-moving, and heavily congested traffic using machine learning. Normal traffic or moving traffic is indicated by green roads whereas yellow and red color represents slow down and congested traffic jams, respectively. When travelers travel slower than the usual speed, the slow down or yellow color is applied to that part of the road by Google automatically. However, Google removes the slowdown or congested traffic jam areas as the drivers or travelers move back to normal speed in that area.
Earlier, Google Maps used historical data to detect the traffic information acquired from traffic sensors by calculating the average time it took for the traveler to travel from a particular source, a particular section of road at specific times on specific days. All these were a part of private companies and government transportation systems that specialized and installed sensors for compiling traffic data. Using radar technology, the size and speed of passing vehicles were detected by sensors and the information was transmitted wirelessly to the server. Information from these servers provided by sensors was used to provide real-time traffic updates. However, this data provided by sensors had limitations to primary roads and highways, as the sensors were only installed on traffic-prone routes.
Overcoming these limitations, to improve its traffic predictions, Google choose to crowdsource. Now, Google uses location data from moving smartphones (android phones or devices that have Google Maps API installed) that reports continuous moving of vehicles to analyze moving traffic. According to the Google reports, Google Maps refreshes continuously based on anonymously tracked user data, satellite data, and traffic sensors to make sure that the app is displaying the most accurate traffic information possible. The phone sends back bits of data, anonymously, when Android phone users turn on their Google Maps app with GPS location enabled, to Google that let the company know how fast their cars are moving. This data coming in from all the cars on the road is continuously combined by Google Maps and is sent back to the users where they can see traffic, which is represented by different colored lines.
The traffic predictions become more reliable, as more number of this location enabled GPS is used by travelers. As Google Maps regulates the average of the cars, bikes, bus, and walking distance traveling along the same route, every second the Maps are refreshed informing the users about the traffic congestion. In case Google Maps fails to estimate or deliver the information of traffic flow for a particular section of the road, that section appears grey on the traffic layer. Based on the user’s input, Google Maps updates traffic reports in addition to anonymized, passive, location, and movement tracking, to help keep routes of map conditions updated. Alerts, speed traps, construction zones, and accidents can all be reported in Google Maps. Tap the ‘+’ icon in Google Maps navigation mode and note the incident to be reported and submit the report. Google Maps will report the incident and add it to the map. As the users keep updating or reporting about the alerts, maps will show up faster results and this will potentially help slow down for travelers and further, will help in finding optimal routes in necessary situations.
General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS)
Route planner allows users to find available directions while walking, driving, or biking that is provided by Google Maps. Globally, Google has partnered with over 800 public transportation providers to adopt General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), making the data available to third parties. Thousands of public transport providers today use the GTFS data format. General Transit Feed Specification is a data specification that allows public transit agencies to publish their transit data in a format that can be consumed by a wide variety of software applications. In May 2007, Google developed Google Street View that provides 360 degrees panoramic street-level views of different locations. With the upcoming updates, Google began mapping colleges, surrounding trails, paths, campuses, etc. In 2014, Google unveiled Google Underwater Street that included 2,300 km of the Australian Great Barrier Reef in 3D. In 2017, in both, Google Maps and Google Earth, Street View navigation of the International Space Station interior spaces became available. Lately, in December 2009, Google launched a new feature consisting of 45-degree angle aerial imagery, the birds-eye-view feature, which was initially available in San Jose and San Diego cities only to developers through the Google Maps API. In July 2010, 45 degree was available in Google Maps across the world.
With the advancing technology, Google Maps not only offers directions but for a real-time view of congested roads to the drivers. Google Maps has added many amazing features along the way such as search engine, adding stop between source and destination, availability of current and future traffic, navigation among the building, arrival, and departure of bus & train timings, creating and saving offline maps, adding your contributions and favorite places, measuring the distance between points, location sharing, navigation through voice-hearing, timeline activities, and others. Moreover, Google Maps provides a commute that checks real-time traffic and travel times, departures, delays, and disruptions, and also shows route comparison. Considering the privacy concerns, the telecommunication companies noticed the importance of GPS in cellphones, and hence, Google Maps realized that the more number of smartphones people use, the more accurate real-time traffic data could be shown. Moreover, the user can anytime switch between their location privacy settings or can opt for the incognito window in Google Maps. Such services help millions of people daily to explore and interact with the world in various ways.