After failing to download my favourite TomTom voice
for my previous Global Positioning System device, I finally managed to get her back with the Go Live 1535M
. The TomTom people call her Jane, but I think her purring tones sound like those of domestic goddess Nigella Lawson
, a voice that can cool me out in the heaviest traffic.
This time she has returned with new gifts, especially a feature called HD Traffic (for High Definition, of course), which is explained by the accompanying “Manifesto” from TomTom
as the cornerstone of the company’s ambition to reduce traffic congestion around the world.
HD Traffic is a kind of crowd-sourcing feature in which TomTom crunches real-time data gathered from all drivers using TomTom GPS devices, resulting in recommendations for faster routes. The manifesto calculates that if 10 per cent of cars (in any given region or country) used HD Traffic, it would result in a 15-per-cent reduction in time spent in traffic.
The system assumes that with enough input from fleets of company vehicles, cars and trucks to report on all conditions, including the speed at which they are travelling, TomTom can reduce congestion significantly. A profile of traffic on your planned route is created with the data, and then it is compared to secondary and tertiary roads.
The company has run some tests on 1.1 million kilometres of roads in Canada alone, and specifically some commuter routes. One such test route, from Woodbridge, Ont., to Toronto, resulted in saving 2 hours, 31 minutes over one week in one direction. The manifesto is based on a five-year plan, which will get higher accuracy through more coverage (more TomTom GPS units sold) and more frequent updates (faster hardware).
This all sounds wonderful, and it’s bolstered by Nigella’s reassuringly calm voice guiding me and by the occasional bulletin that she has learned of congestion up ahead and calculated a faster route, and would I prefer to take it?
Years ago, before satellites and GPS systems, I remember an urban planner making a cynical comment on traffic. Any new road, the planner said, will run at 110 per cent capacity on the day it opens — in other words, on Day One it’s already got more traffic than it was designed for.
How correct this observation was at the time or whether it’s still true today is impossible to say, but I suspect there’s enough truth in it to safely guess that most drivers will soon gravitate to any new route that might offer the hope of making a journey faster, GPS or no GPS.
So how would traffic behave if TomTom’s dream of world domination, if TomTom’s darkest dream is realized? Will hundreds (or thousands) of drivers on the same road get the same message that their best bet is to take a certain other road, and they all do? How long would it take HD Traffic to catch on and send them all back to the originally planned route?
Okay, I’m being a little facetious here, but only because I know that the theories of how traffic works are many and they’re about as reliable as economic theories. (Traffic experts say, for instance, that there are equally good arguments for and against changing lanes in heavy traffic to make it move faster, and their jury is still out.)
What I mean to suggest is that GPS really hasn’t been around long enough for us to know its full effects. I fervently hope TomTom’s dream of reducing traffic by 15 per cent comes true, but I worry that if a road is suddenly 15 per cent lighter in traffic, wouldn’t drivers (with or without GPS units) notice, and bring the congestion right back?
What we’re dealing with here is human nature, not mathematics or physics, which tend to follow specific rules. It’s the same kind of human nature that creates traffic congestion in the first place.
There is another point I should mention, the introduction of LIVE services with the Go Live 1535, available in Canada through the Rogers network. TomTom HD Traffic, as well as the Apps, work through the over-the-air live connection. The apps include Yelp (social networking, user review and local-search), TripAdvisor (user-generated travel information and reviews), Expedia and Twitter, as well as updated fuel prices, weather forecasts, and Local Search powered by Google.
Finally, I have ditched my aversion to the premium celebrity voices made available by TomTom, and bought one. Her name is Daria Morgendorffer, a cartoon character spun out of the obnoxious Beavis and Butt-head MTV series into a delightful cartoon (called Daria
), which ran from 1997 to 2001. Her character is a brainy, sardonic high-school misfit who yearns to be done with idiotic teens and condescending adults and hang out instead with people closer to her demanding intellectual standards.
An unlikely character for a hit TV series, Daria became something of a cult favourite. What’s more interesting is that now, more than a decade after she graduated from high school, she still sounds like herself (via the voice of a former MTV employee called Tracy Grandstaff), though more mature — as she should be — and I suspect she would be even funnier as an adult and as a mother too.
And she’s giving Nigella competition for my TomTom Go Live 1535M.