If most of your driving takes place to and from work, then one of the most valuable features of your GPS might be the traffic alerts. And it looks like the battle to create a silver bullet for evading traffic jams will step up a notch in 2011.
While the RTA is offering a $10,000 prize pool to those who can come up with an algorithm for predicting travel times on Sydney's M4 freeway (to add to the smarts behind its Live Traffic web site), our fingers are also crossed that we'll also see TomTom's HD Traffic service in Australia this year, with a representative telling us that TomTom is "working to bring HD Traffic to Australia in 2011."
While many of todays' traffic-enabled GPS devices use receivers to get alerts about major traffic incidents, HD Traffic goes a step further by adding "live" flow data. It does this by monitoring the movements of thousands (and in the case of Europe, millions) of phones and GPS devices acting as probes. Each GPS device is equipped with a SIM, and the system builds a picture of the direction and speed of each user.
We'll be extremely interested to see whether this is any more effective than the "Live Traffic Updates" already available with many of today's GPS devices equipped with radio receivers tuned to the SUNA traffic service. These alerts concentrate on warning drivers about incidents like accidents and major congestion. There's also another option - clicking the traffic button in Google Maps on your phone or on your computer before you leave work/home.
In addition to SUNA alerts, the other major trick used by today's GPS devices is to look at historical travel data when calculating routes to destinations. TomTom devices with IQ Routes, for example, record the travel times of millions of TomTom users, which are then used to discover patterns and create speed profiles for specific roads at various times of the day.
This approach takes into account things that will routinely slow you down at the same spot: for example, big roundabouts, or peak hour congestion.
Of course it's statistics like this that help sell GPS devices. TomTom has even created a global Traffic Manifesto and campaign to "reduce traffic congestion for all". TomTom recently released some statistics from IQ Routes showing that the average speed for vehicles on the M4 travelling from Penrith to the Sydney CBD in morning peak hour is 42.7Km/h. In some cases this journey can take up to 2.5 hours.
The Sydney road with the slowest average speed, according to TomTom's data, is the trip from Hornsby to the CBD along the Pacific Highway.
Do you use a GPS device? Has it helped reduce your travel time to and from work? Add your comment below.