How a Google Maps Rival Offers Up-to-Date Speed Limits for Any Road

Sygic's new system uses the phone camera to scan road signs 6 photos
Photo: Sygic
Sygic on Android AutoTomTom navigation on Android AutoGoogle Maps on Android AutoGoogle Maps on Android AutoGoogle Maps on Android Auto
If you’ve ever used a mobile navigation app before, be it Google Maps, Waze, or Apple Maps, you probably know already that most of them can also show the current speed of the vehicle in real time.
In most cases, the indicated speed is slightly different from the one you see on the dashboard – we explained here why – but without a doubt, this feature comes in handy especially for those who don’t want to go over the limit.

Waze, for instance, comes with an audio warning whenever the speed limit is exceeded, so this way, you can be sure you’re not getting a ticket when getting behind the wheel.

To provide users with speed limit information, most navigation apps rely on two different sets of data. First of all, it’s the road network that it already scanned and which obviously includes speed limits as well. And second of all, it’s the information provided by users, volunteers, and map editors, who all help the parent companies update the displayed speed limit, especially on roads where local authorities introduce restrictions due to construction zones.

It goes without saying that relying on an existing set of data means these navigation apps can sometimes provide information that’s not exactly accurate. And the example we provided earlier is the living proof in this regard.

Due to temporary restrictions, the speed limit on a certain section of the road could change, and it sometimes takes a while for navigation apps to display the change.

Sygic on Android Auto
Photo: Sygic
Navigation expert Sygic, however, has found a way to deal with this limitation and provide users with real-time accurate information on the current speed limits.

The company has announced an artificial intelligence-based system called Sign Recognition whose purpose is to do a very simple thing: scan the signs on the road and then update the speed limit information shown in the app.

To accomplish this purpose, Sygic’s navigation software uses the camera of the phone it’s installed on to monitor the road ahead. Every time the camera detects a sign on the shoulder of the road, it reads the displayed limit, then processes the data using artificial intelligence, and shows the new speed limit (if different from the one in the existing set of data) on the screen.

In theory, this is pretty much the most accurate way to provide drivers with speed limit information, though on the other hand, there are also several shortcomings that could make the technology overall less effective.

TomTom navigation on Android Auto
Photo: TomTom
First and foremost, it’s the set of limitations that a phone camera comes with. Given the camera has to scan the road signs, it needs optimal light conditions to do so, which means it may have a hard time working properly during the night.

Furthermore, the camera could also struggle to read the signs during heavy storms or while snowing, and don’t be too surprised if it sometimes scans the speed limit incorrectly.

Then, if the road signs aren’t clearly visible on the side of the road or if they’re not available at all, Sygic’s software still has to rely on the mapping data to provide users with speed limit information.

The good news is that Sygic sees the debut of its Sign Recognition system as the first step towards a more advanced AI-based navigation solution. The company says it’s already working on training the algorithm for new capabilities, including recognizing pedestrians and traffic lights, so drivers would be warned in advance when approaching a detected item.

For the time being, however, Sygic’s system is still in its early days, but there’s no doubt it’ll get more polished over time. It’s probably the next step in terms of the evolution of such software, so hats off to Sygic for coming up with an idea that’ll probably change the way we use navigation software once and for all.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

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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