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March 08, 2011

Predicting Patience

Noticed something interesting today...

If you have an Android phone, you may have noticed that Google updated their Navigation application to include routing around traffic using predicted traffic patterns.  Having this information fed into the routing algorithms is very powerful, particularly if you trust it!

I'm a daily commuter on a painful trip from Bedford, MA to downtown Boston. It's about 21 miles and typically takes me an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.  The fastest trip at normal commuting hours was 45 minutes, and the worst was 2 hours plus (not counting blizzards).  Bedford is located so that I have a few choices of major highways to get to Boston, and each of these highway routes gives me the options of augmenting the highway with back roads.  I generally take back roads because I prefer to keep moving rather than sit still on the highway. 

Now, Google will figure out which is faster.  I tried it out this morning, and, while sitting in my driveway, Google predicted that its route would get me to work in 58 minutes.  Not bad.  I checked out the route, and it had me staying on the highway almost all the way, but getting off the highway one exit before you would if there was no traffic at all.  I was skeptical, but decided to try it out.

As I went, I kept checking its predicted time of arrival, and it didn't waver by more than one or two minute in either direction.  I arrived at work within one minute of when it was predicted!  And, as I sat in traffic or moved very slowly, I found that I was much more patient than usual.  Being confident of when you'll arrive makes it much easier to take sitting in traffic.  Google won't make the traffic go away, but I'll sit on the highway if I know that I'll get there as predicted.  That confidence of arrival time made me much more patient.

Pretty impressive application, and good for my blood pressure.  I'll keep testing it out and will report any further observations.

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