How Do Traffic Apps Work, and Where Will They Take us Next?

Traffic apps seem to work like magic. Here's what they do and why we might not need them for much longer.

By on August 17, 2015

Traffic apps have the ability to make our commutes a lot smoother, at least when they’re working with the correct ingredients. Some of the more popular apps out there include Google Maps, Waze, INRIX, CoPilot and Verizon's own VZ Navigator, but they don’t all work the same way—some rely on real-time data through crowdsourcing, while others use GPS coordinates, data points, historic traffic information and cell signals. Currently, pinpoint accuracy is not always available, but technology is bringing these apps closer to the mark. 

It’s what apps are adding to their basic features that can take them in new directions. An app like CoPilot, for example, will access Wikipedia and Yelp data for you. Now instead of the app simply getting you from Point A to B, you’ve got a tour guide to the area. Then there's Waze—the most well-known app for delivering extra content, which is widely crowd-sourced and uses a gamification system for user reporting that can be dangerous if done by the driver rather than a passenger. "Users provide Waze with specific information on road conditions in real time," says Jordan Perch of DMV.com, "including congestion, road hazards and incidents, with the app using that information to suggest alternate routes to other drivers. INRIX uses a similar method." Wazers can also share everything from the locations of sobriety checkpoints on the route, to how much gas prices are.

As for that pinpoint accuracy? "In the future, these apps will only get better and more accurate, mostly because of the prospect of vehicles being able to talk to each other, through vehicle-to-vehicle communication," says Perch. "This technology, which is expected to become commonplace in a few years, will allow vehicles to share real-time traffic information with each other, warning them of potential road hazards and dangerous road and weather conditions. It will definitely help ease traffic flow and improve road safety greatly in the future.”

A note to readers: never use a traffic app on a hand-held device while in the driver's seat.

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