How does google know there is an accident?

Google can't get the information it needs to report traffic and traffic accidents without the help of other people. Recently, Berlin artist Simon Weckert “hacked Google Maps by filling a red car with 99 iPhones with Google Maps and dragging it around the city to trick the service into believing that there was a traffic jam when there wasn't. Google Maps can report accidents, construction areas, speed traps and other alerts, and the more users report an alert, others can see it faster on the map and, ultimately, avoid slowdowns and find better routes if necessary. Google Maps has added a new feature on Android that shows users if an accident has occurred on the way to their destination.

Google has created a history in recent years on what traffic is usually like on specific roads at specific times. It's an ingenious trick, but it raises questions about how Google Maps tracks and responds to the data it collects under normal traffic conditions. Hundreds of millions of people around the world provide Google with real-time data that it uses to analyze traffic and road conditions. It's not clear how long a vehicle should be idling before they ignore it; obviously, Google Maps will detect if several users stop on a highway and report it as a reduction in speed, but if there is a group of people parked in a parking lot and it turns out that they have navigation mode activated, you probably won't see any traffic jams in the area.

Google Maps also updates traffic reports based on user inputs, in addition to passive and anonymous location and movement tracking to help keep conditions up to date. Slows occur when users in navigation mode currently travel at slower speeds than usual on that part of the road and Google applies them automatically. Recently, while driving outside Brooklyn, Google Maps warned me that there was traffic on the highway and that I had found a faster route out of the city. Moore said that Google's historical traffic database allows the application to warn you if traffic is better or worse than usual and how accidents and slowdowns will affect traffic on different roads in different parts of the world.

So, even if a cheeky scooter could make its way through a traffic jam, Google Maps could, in some cases, recognize that the movement of the smaller vehicle doesn't necessarily mean that normal traffic has resumed. Google Maps can differentiate between a car, a motorcycle and other vehicles (at least in certain countries and regions). Moore said that one of Google Maps' priorities right now is to give people the confidence that Google Maps is leading them on the best path. Weckert's wagon had to be moving so that Google Maps could see the traffic jam, even though nearly 100 phones were in navigation mode and weren't moving.

I realized this last weekend when Google told me that the fastest way home last weekend was through New Jersey rather than through Westchester County, even though there was an accident and traffic caused delays. Other popular GPS map apps, such as Apple Maps, Waze, Nokia's HERE maps and Mapquest, offer traffic information, but Google's advantage is the enormous number of people using it and the amount of data it has.

Joy Villenas
Joy Villenas

Total internet evangelist. Evil travel maven. Lifelong coffee specialist. General food guru. Unapologetic internet expert.