Waze to make commuting easier

Local drivers are benefiting from an Israeli-developed user-generated map providing free turn-by-turn navigation based on live conditions of the road.

iphone (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
When Software engineer Ehud Shabtai received a hand held device with a GPS for his birthday in 2005, he thought it was just that. He did not expect his present to turn into the basis of his career move. Then he began developing Waze.
Thousands of drivers in the country are having an easier commute thanks to Waze, an Israeli-developed social mobile application providing free turn-by-turn navigation based on the live conditions of the road, according to the developers’ website.
Shabtai teamed up with fellow Israelis Amir Shinar, now vice-president of research and development, and Uri Levine, president, to found Waze and launch the beta version of the program in Israel in 2008. Noam Bardin is the current chief executive officer.
The first Waze users, known as “Wazers,” were driving on a blank page. As they drove, GPS signals were sent to the Waze database, creating roads, and these users put the street names into the system.
Waze in Israel is a completely user-generated map, the self-proclaimed world’s largest social network of drivers.
The completed map took about three years to build and now covers 35,126 kilometers in Israel. The application is currently available for the iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Nokia and Windows Mobile.
The company approaches the turn-by-turn direction program from a unique angle: It concentrates on the commuter, aiming, it says, to break the traditional behavior where you use a navigation system to get to places you don’t know.
“The idea is that you will drive to places you already know and go to on a daily basis, but you will get added value,” said Fej Shmuelevitz, VP community and operations, including real-time updates of traffic jams, accidents, police traps and weather. If there is a clear problem on your way, Waze offers several alternative routes to guarantee the fastest commute.
Waze is “all about community strength in numbers. There is only one way you can beat traffic,” said Michal Habdank- Kolaczkowski, director of communications. “It is not knowing about what is in the news, but knowing about what is [happening] in the city now.”
Going beyond reporting road news, Waze in Israel has teamed up with Channel 2 news, allowing users to report news directly to the source.
Wazers can volunteer to participate in this additional feature.
In order to spread the word about what is going on the road, Waze has connected with Facebook, Twitter, Road Warrior and Four Square. Waze is able to pull in tweets and check-ins that are geolocated.
“The privacy settings allow you to be as anonymous or as public as you want to be,” explained Habdank- Kolaczkowski.
“Even when you cannot take another route, you know if there is going to be heavy traffic. If you are stressed, Waze helps you plan your trip with more information,” said Wazer Yair Gross.
Everything on Waze is user-generated, and 100% of drivers contribute information, passively or actively.
“We call this the Wikipedia of drivers, everyone can contribute,” explained Shmuelevitz. An active user pulls over to the side of the road to report what is going on. A passive user contributes information just by driving around emitting GPS signals.
Since 2009, Waze has expanded to 4.5 million users in over 45 countries; 27.7% are active users.
Although Waze has expanded to other countries, it does not manage the maps outside Israel and English-speaking countries.
“We cannot work on these maps because we do not understand them. We created a guide to create roads, and have given people privileges to be area managers,” explained Shmuelevitz. “People are actually promoting and using Waze because they understand the vision. They are asking for features and helping us translate.
We know the road types in Israel and the United States, but not in Prague.”