Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

GPS App Keeps Drivers' Eyes on the Road

An Android app navigates via camera images of the actual road—and any obstacles that might be there at the moment.

  • by Ian E. Muller
  • August 29, 2011
  • Winter driving: By displaying driving directions over an image of actual road conditions, Wikitude Drive could assist drivers in bad weather conditions.

Many drivers use GPS to find their way, but shifting their attention to the maps on the device can distract them from actual driving. A new app, Wikitude Drive, aims to help drivers navigate without diverting their attention away from the road. Philipp Breuss-Schneeweis, founder of Wikitude GmbH, the Austrian company that developed the app, claims that “seeing the cars in front of you in the camera image can help you to avoid a crash. Many accidents actually happen when drivers look at the navigation system and the car ahead stops.”

Wikitude Drive works by using an Android tablet or smart phone’s camera to capture the roadway in front of the driver. The app then pulls information from a wide variety of sites, including Wikipedia, Yelp, Last.fm, Foursquare, and other online databases, to collect points of interest for the user, such as local businesses and concert locations. It uses the GPS and digital compass built into many phones and tablets to mark these sites directly on a live feed displayed on the device’s screen—a technique known as augmented reality.

Wikitude Drive has only been officially supported on a handful of phones, but in practice it works on most Android devices.

Breuss-Schneeweis says that he’s long wanted to use augmented reality for navigation. “The idea was to draw the driving instructions directly onto reality rather than an abstract map,” he says. The company began developing the app in 2009, and released it in Europe in December of last year. Along the way, Breuss-Schneeweis says, the developers had to ensure that the app used GPS sensors accurately, matching driving directions to streets exactly. They also had to make the app work consistently despite a flurry of changes to the Android operating system and the wide variety of devices that use it.

Wikitude Drive’s developers hope this approach will keep users more focused on the road. As pointed out on the Wikitude Drive site, when a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for one second to look at a map screen when driving at 100 kilometers (60 miles) per hour, “the driver is actually ‘blind’ for 28 meters (92 feet).”

However, Paul Green, a research professor at University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, is skeptical as to whether the app is addressing the biggest safety concerns. Drivers are most distracted by GPS devices and apps, he says, when they’re programming a destination. Green believes the best way to improve GPS driving safety would be to “lock out destination entry while the [navigational] system is in use.”

Green does say that the app could help solve very specific driving concerns, such as confusion while performing complex navigation maneuvers, or navigating through turns in an area with many roadways.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Online Only.
  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.