Modern GPS and turn-by-turn direction is fantastic. It allows to plan ahead, avoid traffic, etc. A long list of “etceteras”.
I cannot know for sure the mechanisms that intervene in getting us from point A to point B and predicting traffic, but still, it is fun to imagine what lies behind, what makes these modern marvels work.
One example is the way the system detects traffic. It is obvious that the voluntary army of people who have downloaded and are using the app, factor into the overall picture and feed speed information into the system. Traffic is quickly detected once several users slow down in a certain area.
While this provides an amazingly great approximation to the predicted travel time, we have all experienced some moments when the estimated time of arrival changes quite dramatically over time. A system like this is capable of handling large amounts of data but still cannot predict the future completely.
Lately, my wife and I have been observing larger variations, and more important than that, a certain reluctance for suggesting any route off the beaten path.
To me, the reason is fairly obvious. Since there are no drivers going about those back roads, there is no data being fed about those alternative paths, and because of that, the system doesn’t suggest them. And since the system doesn’t suggest them, no drivers go to those back roads.
It ends up being a self-perpetuating cycle. A geolocated version of the proverbial “search bubble” on the internet.
As for us, instead of just assuming that the app knows best, we have started to wander off every once in a while. We may not be Amundsen, but a little adventure can still be rewarding.