February 27, 2013, 2:03 pm
Waze, the Israeli-developed crowdsourced traffic and navigation, was named Best Overall Mobile App at this year’s Mobile World Congress, taking place in Barcelona, Spain.
The award was announced on the MWC’s official website by the GSM Association, sponsors of the show…. “This dynamic navigation app ticks all the boxes — great user interface, community/crowd-sourcing base, saves time, saves money, saves fuel — a masterclass in how to exploit the potential of mobile devices,” read the judges’ comments from the competition now in its 18th year…..
In a jam? Beat the traffic with Waze
14 Feb 2012
Israeli startup offers an app that helps seven million users in several countries avoid traffic tie-ups.
By Ariel Blum
Getting stuck in a traffic jam can put you in a foul mood all morning. Wouldn't it be great if you could know before you set out on your commute where the slow spots are and what alternative routes might be faster? Well, now there's an app for that.
Israel's Waze is taking on the world's highways one interchange after another. With seven million users around the world, and adding another 50,000 each day, the maker of the Waze app for iPhone, Android and other mobile platforms has a cunningly simple solution: just drive.
Waze uses the phone's built-in GPS to calculate where you are, when you're slowing down and how long you've stopped for, and then will post that information to tell other drivers what to expect.
The interface resembles a standard Google Map, but with small icons lining the major roads. The more icons, the heavier the traffic. Separate icons tell you where there's an accident and when to slow down because you're about to get caught by a cop in a speed trap. There are even icons to show you every traffic camera in the country.
It was this obsession with traffic cams that prompted founder Ehud Shabtai to start a project, originally dubbed FreeMap, in 2006. It was just a hobby at the time and was based on maps from an Israeli company, Mapa. But when Mapa objected, Shabtai expanded the functionality of FreeMap to draw his own maps. In 2008, FreeMap transitioned into Waze and, bolstered with a $12 million investment, began focusing on the traffic functionality that's proved the sexiest.
Helping LA residents survive 'Carmageddon'
Last summer, Waze forged a partnership with the ABC television affiliate in Los Angeles. Some badly needed construction work, dubbed "Carmegeddon", was planned for the city's largest highway over a July weekend. All the local television stations were looking for an angle that would keep viewers glued to their channel. Real-time data would be key, but every station had the same traffic 'copters. How could they differentiate their offerings?
With Waze, of course. Employing its army of hundreds of thousands of users on the ground, Channel 7 was able to pass on user-generated instant feedback on alternative routes. The result was more viewers for Channel 7, and tens of thousands of new downloads for Waze. ABC is now rolling out the same partnership in other US cities, such as Dallas.
While Los Angeles may have provided the biggest public splash for Waze, when it comes to the percentage of users per vehicles on the road, nowhere is the impact larger than in tiny Israel.
"We need three percent of all drivers in an area in order to get to critical mass," explains Uri Levine, co-founder and president of Waze. "If you think of France with its 30 million vehicles, that's 900,000 drivers using Waze. In Los Angeles, with 15 million vehicles, we'd need half a million users." Israel's comparatively paltry 1.5 million users constitute 20% of all drivers in the country. "We started here first, in 2009, a year before the rest of the world," Levine says. He uses Waze to find out the best routes between his home in Kfar Saba and his office in Ra'anana a few miles away.
Waze is popular in the biggest US cities - Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas and Washington, D.C. - as well as in Italy, France and Sweden. Latin America has Waze fans in Costa Rico, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela and Mexico.
The Chinese market represents an enormous opportunity, Levine says. It has the highest uptake of smartphone usage and the greatest number of new cars per capita. Although the traffic is horrendous, the government is investing in infrastructure.
Waze's ability to draw its own maps is key here. "A new bypass might open and no one would know about it initially until drivers started using it and posting it to Waze," Levine says.
Although Waze doesn't need official permission to operate ("if you're the first person with Waze to drive in Antarctica, Waze will create that map," Levine boasts), there are some hurdles to succeed in China. In particular, in order to get a proper license, you need to be a Chinese company, which Waze is not … yet. However, Waze's most recent investment - a whopping $30 million - is from Horizon, a venture capital firm based in Hong Kong, which Levine describes as "very well connected" in Asia.
Traffic-based social network
For now, Waze is not concerned about competition from Google Maps, because Google doesn't show traffic congestion in real time, Levine says. "It just color-codes alternative routes. That's very different than making a map 'actionable.' If we say you should get off the highway, we need to be pretty sure that what we're telling the driver is accurate right now."
And Waze has another trick up its sleeve: the ability to connect drivers in a sort of traffic-based social network. Waze allows you to chat with other drivers you see on your Waze map. You can only text if your car is not moving - the GPS takes care of that safety precaution. Waze is now working on a way to save these connections so you can chat later, once you're at work or home. Levine calls it a "matchmaking" system, not meant for dating but for arranging carpools.
One day it may even be possible to have Waze speak to you or understand your commands using a new technology such as the iPhone's Siri.
Waze has 70 people working in Israel - more than half in R&D - and another 10 in its Palo Alto, California offices headed by CEO Noam Bardin.
Waze leads the way after Hurricane Sandy
US government turns to the Israeli navigation app to help get gas delivery trucks to the right spots in New Jersey and New York.
On Friday, November 2, an official from the US Department of Energy contacted the California offices of the popular Israeli navigation app Waze, asking for help.
Following the punishing effects of Hurricane Sandy, drivers in the most affected areas were experiencing difficulty finding working gas stations, and even when they found an open station the cars were lined up for blocks.
“They told us they have a big headache in New Jersey because of huge gas lines, and they thought of crowd-sourcing to help,” says Waze VP Community and Operations Fej Shmuelevitz. “The Department of Energy and the White House wanted to know if we had enough customers to gather the data needed by the public.”
Waze certainly does. Launched on a small scale in 2008, Waze now has nearly 30 million mobile app users (“Wazers”) who tap into its crowd-sourced data for driving directions based on the phone’s built-in GPS.
Shmuelevitz responded quickly by filtering messages out to users.
“We uploaded the live gas stations that had fuel, so Wazers could see them and write inside the system about the queues and the supply of gas. We transferred that information to the live Google Crisis Map set up with the government, where people could post about which stations had gas and electricity.”
It proved so useful that the effort was extended beyond New Jersey into hard-hit areas of New York and Pennsylvania as well. It reportedly also helped government agencies direct gasoline deliveries to where they were needed most.
“We took a very big area and got relevant messages from Wazers,” says Shmuelevitz. “Hundreds of people per hour participated; probably several thousand altogether. People did navigate to the stations that we indicated had fuel and short lines.”
Now the crisis is past, but Waze is pleased that its system stood up to the test.
“We’re very happy that we could help in the small way we did, and prove that crowd-sourcing is an efficient and beneficial method to provide real-time information to help in times of crisis,” says Shmuelevitz, speaking from Palo Alto, California.
Di-Ann Eisnor, Waze’s VP of platforms and partnerships, told a reporter from Gigaom.com that she foresees more opportunities for systems such as Waze to work with government agencies to relay “amber alerts” or route traffic around trouble spots. Waze, she added, will likely work on how to pass data directly on to the government during emergencies.