‘Not on my street!’ The problem with GPS routing efficiency

GPS navigation devices for vehicles are all the rage, but (pursuant to the Law of Unintended Consequences) they’re also causing problems for residential and rural neighborhoods that would like to keep traffic to a minimum. The problem is really that the GPS devices are too efficient. They find the shortest route between Point A and Point B — even if that happens to send the gas-guzzling vehicle hurtling through a residential or rural area where residents would rather not have so much zoomingly efficient traffic.

Update: The Wall Street Journal has a story on this today, 18 March 2008: “Steered Wrong: Drivers Trust GPS Even to a Fault: Blind Faith in Devices Trumps Common Sense; A Road to Nowhere.”

A Dutch research report says the best GPS device is one that smartly routes the driver around residential areas rather than through them. GPS devices that simply pick the shortest routes through residential neighborhoods are labeled “kid killers.” Ouch.

Vinnie Mirchandani adds: “As GPS units mesh with social networks and become more ‘savvy’ about traffic jams and construction sites, expect more drivers to be re-routed even more through residential paths.” He notes this could raise some interesting public policy issues.

Meanwhile, small British villages wish they could be taken off the GPS route maps. As The New York Times recently put it: Wedmore, like many British villages, has been overrun by trucks following routes set by GPS navigation devices that do not take into account their narrow roads and sharp corners.”

But trucks and tractor-trailers come here all the time, as they do in similarly inappropriate spots across Britain, directed by GPS navigation devices, which fail to appreciate that the shortest route is not always the best route.

“They have no idea where they are,” said Wayne Hahn, a local store owner who watches a daily parade of vehicles come to grief — hitting fences, shearing mirrors from cars and becoming stuck at the bottom of Wedmore’s lone hill. Once, he saw an enormous tractor-trailer speeding by, unaware that in its wake it was dragging a passenger car, complete with distraught passenger.

With villagers at their wits’ end, John Sanderson, chairman of the parish council, has proposed a seemingly simple remedy: getting the route through Wedmore removed from the GPS navigation systems used by large vehicles.

“We’d like them to have appropriate systems that would show some routes weren’t suitable for HGVs,” Sanderson said, using shorthand for heavy goods vehicle.

Some communities have begun putting up signs warning drivers to ignore their GPS devices on rural roads. But signs seem to be less and less effective as people increasingly rely more on GPS systems and less on maps, common sense or their own eyes.

“We’ve heard some very hilarious stories where people just blindly follow the sat. nav. instructions,” said Vince Yearley, a spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, using British shorthand for “satellite navigation.” “Like if the sat. nav. says, ‘drive into this muddy field,’ they think, ‘that’s weird,’ but they do it anyway.”

More interesting developments regarding GPS:

Zoombak LLC is selling GPS locators for finding lost pets, as well as for locating where errant teenagers or seniors have driven their cars.

Similarly, Brainmail reports “news of a sneaker with a GPS chip inside. Healthcare officials have already expressed some interest in the idea because the technology could help Alzheimer’s patients remember where they’re left their footwear. Equally, the shoes could appeal to paranoid parents that simply want to know where their kids are.” (Source: South China Morning Post)

Car-sharing venture Zipcar‘s members can now use their GPS-enabled mobile phone to find the nearest Zipcar, based on their current location. (Discovered via Springwise.com)

Drivers who use GPS devices are less damage-prone than their old-school brethren, which is why a Dutch insurance company is giving them 10% discount on their auto insurance. (Discovered via Springwise.com)

Police departments say that thefts of GPS devices from vehicles are soaring.

MIT is developing an interactive map of Rome that will use dynamic data received anonymously from cell phones, GPS devices on buses and taxis, and other wireless mobile devices to provide more layers of traffic information than most maps provide. (Discovered via Innovation Watch newsletter)

Mobile phone-based navigation is remaking the GPS market, according to Telematics Research Group (TRG). While Garmin and TomTom remain the worldwide market leaders for portable navigation devices today, mobile phone makers Nokia, Motorola, LG, and Samsung are expected to lead the way in the near future. This will happen as the worldwide portable navigation market grows from 50 million units in 2007 to more than 500 million units in 2015, according to the market researchers.

4 Replies to “‘Not on my street!’ The problem with GPS routing efficiency”

  1. Even in my local home area my Tom Tom Navigator 6 has taken me down a lane, only to find it’s a footbridge at the end that replaced an old track about 30 years ago.

    I’m not sure why the map wasn’t updated as the road was changed well before such technology was about.

    I guess my point is that there must be a lot of couriers and reps travelling down that road as a shortcut between two main A roads.

  2. @kim: wow, u r a tech-basher. the article clearly says that the gps system is not a replacement for eyes an years. which it isnt, cos apparently u r driving the car. The guy got stucks, millions of ppl cross railway lines daily. What does that hafta do with the abilities of the gps.

    gps devices are mini computers designed to do a specific job of guiding u thru a route, it cant do nething to say the racoon that comes under ur car or ur car getting stuck anywhr.
    sure it makes mistakes too, jus the apparently “smart” human beings.

  3. GPS is the way to future. I see in next 20 years or so , may be no vehicle in our countries will be without gps. However , cost is still a problem , specially in developing nations. But I am sure , with increase in demand the cost will come down. Nice blog.

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