Have you ever wondered how Google maps “knows” there is heavy traffic on a particular street? One Berlin man figured it out and “hacked” the Google maps traffic display using a red wagon and 99 smart phones.
Berlin artist Simon Weckert rented 99 android smartphones, installed 99 SIM cards in them, all powered on and running Google maps.
Weckert toted the phones down empty streets of Berlin.
Every street he walked suddenly appeared as a heavy traffic red zone on Google maps, rerouting drivers to avoid traffic.
The object of the experiment was to show how much we rely on the app’s traffic technology despite its limitations. It also answers some questions we’ve probably all had about how Google Maps actually works.
The way Google Maps estimates traffic is by accessing the density of phones that enable the app to access their location, confirmed a Google spokesperson. Therefore, according to the app’s technology, the only explanation for the 99 phones in such a small area was a traffic jam.
The spokesperson also said that Weckert’s experiment helps Google figure out where its geolocation needs to improve. It can distinguish between the motions of a car and a motorcycle, apparently, but recognizing movement in a wagon is still beyond it.
If you’re wondering why a bus full of passengers with smart phones doesn’t show up as a traffic jam, it’s because the movements of the bus are predictable, such as the path it takes and the stops it makes.
The question on everyone’s minds is why? Weckert wanted to show how we rely on data to predict reality for us so we can plan our actions around it, trusting it as an objective display of reality, even though the technology used to interpret data can err or be misled, potentially forming an inaccurate model.
Weckert carried out his experience last summer, but just released the results in honor of Google Map’s 15th birthday.
A video he posted to YouTube shows just how empty the streets were during his experiment.
More info: Simon Weckert
I honestly had no idea that Google Maps figured out traffic jams based on smart phones. I’m wondering if I can hire Mr Eckert to wander around my city during rush hour.