How does Google Maps know if there is traffic

For several years now, Google Maps has become a staunch ally of travelers And vacationers. Although it is very unromantic and adventurous to be told by the smartphone where to go to reach the places that interest us, this possibility has allowed millions of people around the world to move in relative safety within cities and regions unknown to them.

At this time of summer exodustherefore, around the Italian roads and highways there are millions of smartphones with the app of Google Maps at work to show drivers how to get to the sea, the mountains, a restaurant or a museum. But, also, to tell them if there is traffic along the road that separates them from the place to reach and, if so, if it is possible to take an alternative route to avoid traffic. There real-time traffic detection It is a very useful feature of Google Maps but also very refined, which to work combines two ingenious methods: one in real time and one based on historical data and a lot of artificial intelligence. Here’s how Maps knows if there is traffic along the road we need to travel.

Real-time traffic: how it works

At the base of the whole system of real-time traffic detection by Google Maps there is, essentially, a question of numbers. Big numbersindeed very large: the amount of people who circulate on a road on foot, by car, by bike or by any other means, as long as they have an Android phone or an iPhone with Google Maps in hand.

In fact, all smartphones are now equipped with systems GPS very precise and reliable. There location of the phone it is detected (anonymously) at a constant interval and sent to Google’s servers. In Mountain View, therefore, they can know if at this moment in Piazza Plebiscito in Naples there is a person with a phone who is using Maps and if he is moving: if between one survey and another the position has changed, it is clear that the user is not stopped.

But they also know how fast it’s moving, so they can tell if it’s on foot or by transport. If the user is moving fast enough along a route that corresponds to a road open to vehicular traffic, then, Google can hypothesize whether he is in a car or motorbike.

From one to thousands: the same measurements are made for all smartphones in the area, whether they are stationary or in motion, and so Google can already have an estimate of how many people are circulating on that road. But of that road, thanks to Street View’s photo processed by the AI ​​that recognizes road signs, Google also knows the Speed ​​Limit.

So, if there are tens or hundreds of Android phones moving at 30 per hour on a road with a maximum limit of 90 kilometers per hour, then it is practically certain that there is a traffic congestion. If this lasts for a while, i soon start to appear red strokes on the map of all users who are traveling in that direction with Google Maps activated.

Traffic forecasts: how they work

A second one is added to this real-time system, based instead on historical data. If every day, from Monday to Friday, Google Maps detects a traffic jam along the road that runs alongside a public office building, then that data enters the app’s history and Maps also relies on it to predict traffic when we set a destination.

But Maps is also smart enough to know that if today is Monday, but it is June 2 and therefore National holidaythe office will be closed, no one will be going there and there will hardly be traffic on that road.

Not everything that glitters is gold

The now universally recognized reliability of Google Maps derives from the union of these two systems (and many other minor subsystems). But, at the same time, his own also derive great limits as demonstrated in 2020 the (successful) experiment of the German artist Simon Weckert.

Weckert went around Berlin, on foot, with a shopping cart full of 99 smartphones Android and iPhone, all with Google Maps activated. This thing literally sent Google’s artificial intelligence into a tailspin, which interpreted all of this as a sudden traffic jam along the streets of the city center starting to show in red all the streets the man was passing by.

In reality, however, there was no one on the street if not the artist with his 99 phones.

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How does Google Maps know if there is traffic

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