Traffic Jam? There's an App for That
New applications put your cell phone to work avoiding jams
While the debate drags on about what you can and can't do with your mobile device while driving, new apps are popping up that may help you avoid traffic. As reported in The New York Times, companies such as Waze, Aha Mobile, Traffic.com, Inrix and Google are creating applications that use a cell phone's built-in GPS receiver to feed you the latest traffic data.
The idea isn't new; commercial vehicles have long sent such information back to sites like Traffic.com. The difference, though, is that drivers of commercial vehicles tend to avoid high-traffic times and usually stick to main roads, which is less useful for everyday drivers. Commuters, on the other hand, usually can't help what time they're heading into or out of the office, and often take shortcuts or back ways, which is exactly the type of behavior that produces the most useful data for other drivers.
The other limitation besides reliance on commercial vehicles was the scope of the network -- the more people submit data, the more useful those data become -- but the ubiquity of mobile phones is helping on that end, too. The article notes that five years ago, 5,000 miles of coverage was considered state-of-the-art. By the end of this year, it's expected to hit 50 times that number.
The way the apps work depends, of course, on which you choose, as well as what type of phone you have. Phones with multitasking operating systems can feed data even while being used for other purposes, while others, like the iPhone, will transmit only while the app is running. Either way, everyone wins -- something you can't say about, say, the Cow Toss app.
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