Can an app solve L.A. traffic?


While thousands of Angelenos are dreading Carmageddon — the closure of the 405 Freeway for 53 hours — Noam Bardin is looking forward to the challenge. As the CEO of Waze, a community-driven, free GPS application for smartphones, the Israeli-American entrepreneur is the commander-in-car of what his company calls the “Carmageddon Resistance” against the predicted Los Angeles traffic jam of epic proportions.

“The closure of 405 is the best moment to look at this app and understand what it can do for you every day,” Bardin said during an interview in June in Los Angeles at the Israel Conference, a business and networking opportunity for the Israeli high-tech industry, where he presented Waze to hundreds of businessmen and entrepreneurs. 

Waze is a Wikipedia for the road. It functions like a standard GPS, while also offering alternate routes and up-to-the-second traffic information based on the driving patterns of other Waze users (“Wazers”). Wazers participate by becoming on-site traffic reporters, providing Twitter-like status updates on accidents, road closures, traffic jams and police checkpoints. Waze maps are built and constantly updated through crowdsourcing — intelligence gathered by a community of users. 

Anyone with a smartphone (Android, iPhone, BlackBerry) can download Waze. Upon opening, what comes up is a cheerful, colorful map with other drivers represented as “speech bubbles” on wheels. Just click on another Wazer to find out that driver’s speed and to see his or her traffic status updates, if any. To ensure safety, Waze offers voice directions, and typing is disabled while driving. You can choose “passenger” mode for reports from a nondriver in the car. To entice Wazers to venture into unchartered Waze territory and hence edit the map in the process, road “goodies” appear on the map for the driver to “munch” and then later trade in for prizes. As a developed start-up, Waze foresees its revenue coming from licensing data and, more important, location-guided advertising.

Leave it to a war-torn country to lead the war against the most mundane enemy of the modern world. As the story goes, Waze was unintentionally started in Israel by engineer Ehud Shabtai, the company’s co-founder and chief technical officer, after getting a GPS as a birthday gift from his girlfriend at the time.

Story continues after the jump.