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Why GPS Devices Will Be Much Better Soon

January 23, 2009

I spoke to a Microsoft representative about Sync at the recent Consumer Electronics show. My primary interest was “garage sync” of media files between the car and my home server over a wireless connection. He indicated that was something they would like to do, but not to expect it any time soon. Too bad, because this feature might be sufficient to lead me to buy a new car.

We also talked about the intelligence of the traffic reporting using the Sync’s navigation system. He explained that Sync used the traffic services of Inrix (a company formed by ex-Microsofties). Inrix evidently pulls historical and real time traffic data from many sources: in-road sensors, cell phones that are being used on the expressway; transmitters in cars, etc. They assemble all of this into a sophisticated model that they bring to bear on the key question for every driver: what is the fastest way to get to my destination given current traffic conditions.

This sounds very much like the approach I had assumed all companies had already taken, but alas—not so. It is however, an approach that has the potential to save hours of misery in traffic jams.

From further reading I learned that Navteq (a competing data provider) is working on this problem as well using similar tools.

I also learned that Navteq and Inrix systems and data are already being used by various GPS devices (e.g. some from TomTom and Garmin) , but with inconsistent results.

So I’m not ready to buy a new GPS device yet, but I think that day is coming soon.


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