Commuters in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane may not yet have access to Google Maps' public transport information, but they can now receive free, live traffic updates on their mobile phones. As of this morning, Google Maps will display traffic information in the three capital cities, as well as the surrounding areas of Wollongong, Central Coast, Geelong, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast.
The new service, announced on the Official Google Australia blog today, comes only two weeks after the same functionality was launched in the US. Traffic information will appear as a layer on Google Maps, similar to public transport information already available to commuters in Perth and Adelaide. Roads are colour-coded depending on the state of traffic, ranging from green to indicate roads clear of traffic snarls to alternating red/black for stop-and-go road traffic.
The traffic layer is available for all devices and computers that use Google Maps, including PCs and mobile phones. It is even available on the iPhone's pre-installed Maps application, making it the first to combine traffic information and GPS navigation on the smartphone (though a dedicated traffic information app is also available). While traffic can be viewed live on all platforms, viewing Google Maps through a Web browser will also allow you to review traffic congestion at a specified time in the past.
Google Maps uses the SUNA Traffic Message Channel from Intelematics Australia to deliver traffic information, the same as other dedicated GPS navigation devices. This information is based on traffic data from official road and traffic authorities, and is generally pushed to GPS devices through an encrypted FM radio signal. However, like Google Maps images, this information will appear on mobile phones using a data connection.
Google augments the SUNA traffic information by collecting anonymous speed and distance information from mobile phones that have installed or enabled Google Maps with the My Location feature. Google "crowdsources" this information from as many mobile phones as possible, provided these devices have Google Maps installed and switched on. Given the relative inaccuracy of GPS receivers and mobile triangulation on mobile devices compared to dedicated GPS units, this information isn't as comprehensive as SUNA but does provide extra information to the driver.
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