Google Maps Rival Explains Why Getting the ETA Right Is Such a Big Challenge

Navigation apps can provide an ETA when setting a new destination 6 photos
Photo: TomTom
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Even though we totally shouldn’t be doing this, many of us just take the ETA provided by navigation apps for granted. And at some level, it’s no surprise we do this.
These navigation apps, be they Google Maps, Waze, or others, have become impressively accurate, especially in terms of predicting the traffic, so it’s not a shock many people trust the ETA they calculate before starting a new journey.

But TomTom, one of the largest companies committed to delivering navigation solutions, explains that getting the ETA right isn’t as easy as it sounds. And in the case of businesses where ETAs are critical, such as food delivery companies, the whole thing is even harder.

In theory, there’s a formula that helps a business determine the ETA: human behavior + last-mile operations + business nuances + travel time.

And while it all sounds like pure math, it’s not, because an accurate prediction depends on variable factors that can change from one second to another.

Take human behavior, for instance. TomTom says apps need to predict how each driver acts behinds the wheel, as a more conservative person might have a different ETA than someone who drives faster. But again, this all depends on every second the driver spends on the road, as every little turn can impact the ETA.

The travel time itself is the one where navigation apps have focused a lot on lately. It mostly comes down to a mix of traffic, road attributes, and route selection, as these are all elements that navigation apps can analyze in an attempt to provide an accurate ETA.

Using historical patterns mixed with predictions and sometimes live data helps such a system anticipate the traffic more accurately and eventually determine the ETA more precisely.

Clearly, not all apps out there can do, and TomTom’s solutions have been specifically engineered with all these variable factors in mind.

But at the end of the day, it’s essential to keep in mind no app can be 100 percent accurate. At least, not as long as human beings are a critical part of the equation.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
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Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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