Waze is a navigation system with a difference. Traditional GPS navigation systems used in cars first determine where the car is, then they identify a route, sometimes based on pre-programmed routes containing modeled traffic and sometimes using real time, or near real time, traffic and congestion data. The more sophisticated systems will use a blend of these two systems, but Waze does something a little different. Waze is community-driven, in that it gathers complementary mapping data and traffic information from its users. It learns and identifies users' routes, driving times and shortcuts. It's an interactive service – users stuck in a queue can advise other users.
Currently, there are significant safety (and security) issues with this two way integration, but I will come on to discuss these in due course. As for the business itself, Google bought Waze almost two years ago and many industry experts assumed that the plan was to integrate the crowdsourced data back into Google Maps and leave it at that. Waze would provide Google Maps with some great features. From the safety and security perspective, authorities frown upon drivers interacting with touchscreen devices whilst on the move. Reporting an accident whilst driving past it is a recipe for disaster and reporting the location of a police officer enjoying his or her donuts has security implications, which has seen Waze in hot water.
There's good news in that it appears Google's ambition for Waze is bigger than simply bolting it into Google Maps. And the introduction of Android Auto last year appears to be a clue as to how deep the integration between Waze's core services and Google's services. If Waze is to be integrated into Android Auto, this will help resolve some of the security and safety issues; Android Auto will be able to feedback information into the Waze service. However, currently Android Auto is not yet in a position to provide much in the way of feedback: it's available through a range of Pioneer in-car header units starting at $700. These have limited access to in-car systems and controls. It will require a deeper level of integration into the vehicle.
What do we mean here by deeper? Everything from taking information about the traffic conditions (average speeds as the simple metric, but some vehicles have air quality sensors, which could be used to help provide a database of vehicle density), through to temperature sensors, sunlight strength, even if the headlights and wipers are on. This information could be fed back into the Google services side of things, and ultimately used elsewhere – such as updating live system maps, which could then be used to tell nearby residents that warmer weather is on the way so their Nest thermostats might wish to take this into consideration for heating or cooling the house.
We are, sadly, some time from seeing this deeper level of communication between the vehicle, the Waze application and the wider world, but cars are going to become just one part of the Internet of Things and application services such as Waze represent one relatively easily developed cog in this machine. In the words of Waze Head of Growth, Di-Ann Eisnor, "What I'm excited about in the future is the data the car has with the data our app has. For example, we'll know what your fuel level is and then we'll be able to tell you where to get the cheapest gas based on how much gas you have left. We'll know when the windshield wipers are on so we can get an understanding of if there's a weather change because road weather is a very important safety factor."