Here’s How You Can Create Virtual Traffic Jams With a Cart Full of Phones

Simple Google Maps "hack" using a cart filled with phones 5 photos
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“Hacking” Google Maps can be a simple instance of loading a cart with 99 phones and talking a walk on empty streets, pulling said cart after you, as German artist Simon Weckert was able to prove at the beginning of the month.
Weckert, who resides in Berlin, often focuses on work that assesses the “value of technology, not in terms of actual utility but from the perspective of future generations,” as his official website reads. His latest project aimed to show how forced changes in the virtual world have an impact on the real world.

He somehow got 99 phones with Google Maps running on them, and loaded them into a cart. Weckert then had someone walk on empty streets, trailing the cart behind him. Because traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed constantly based on readings from those who have location services turned on, the phones fooled the app into seeing more users gathered in the same place. Since the cart was moving at a slow pace, Google Maps interpreted the data as a traffic jam, and turned the green routes red to divert traffic to other, non-congested roads.

“99 smartphones are transported in a handcart to generate virtual traffic jam in Google Maps,” Weckert says of his experiment. “Through this activity, it is possible to turn a green street red which has an impact in the physical world by navigating cars on another route to avoid being stuck in traffic.”

In other words, because the man was trailing that phone-laden cart on the empty streets, prompting Google Maps to see congestion, other drivers were directed to nearby routes. A forced change in the virtual world had an immediate and concrete impact in real life.

Amid talk that the “hack” seemed too easy to actually be true, Google has issued a statement to set the record straight.

“Whether via car or cart or camel, we love seeing creative uses of Google Maps as it helps us make maps work better over time,” the search giant says in the statement to 9to5Google.

“We’ve launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven’t quite cracked traveling by wagon,” Google continues. “We appreciate seeing creative uses of Google Maps like this as it helps us make maps work better over time.”

Translation: yes, you can totally trick Google Maps into seeing traffic jams by using a bucketload of phones with location services turned on.

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About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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