Waze and Volkswagen aim to inject fun into GPS navigation tech

Simple GPS mapping has kept people literally on the straight and narrow for years, but as the likes of Google hoover up increasing amounts of data, navigation services have got smarter and ever-more feature rich.

Google-owned Waze is an excellent example of that, with the driving navigation orientated app pulling in community sourced data to alert motorists to all manner of useful information beyond a simple line weaving its way across networks of roads. Waze can now alert driver to lurking traffic cops lying in wait to catch motorists with heavy right feet, or direct them to the cheapest petrol station on their route when their tank starts to trickle down.

All this is useful and practical information, but Waze has decided to mix things up a little with help from Volkswagen to create the GTI Superdrives feature for the app.

With the aim of promoting joyous driving the two companies worked to locate 75 of Britain’s “finest driving roads” defined by Waze’s own data and that of the company’s community of map editors. Some fine tuning was sprinkled on top by Waze’s data scientists to find roads that mix scenic routes with dynamic driving conditions such as engaging corners, while finding highways that aren’t usually packed with traffic and have low accident reports.

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“Working with Waze, we wanted to offer more drivers the chance to get off the often congested ‘beaten track’ and instead experience the simple pleasure of driving once more,” explained Alison Jones, director of Volkswagen UK.

“The aim, very clearly, is about enjoying time behind the wheel – not speeding or driving in a way that increases risk – and we believe that the intelligence of the Waze app helps drivers do just that.”

All this sounded well in practice but we were curious to how the feature performed on the road. So we were handed the keys to a Volkswagen Polo GTI, a gutsy little hothatch with more than enough grunt to gobble up country roads without costing a fortune in fuel, and handed a Samsung Galaxy S8 with the Waze app installed and sent on our way.

Read More: How to stop Google tracking your location for real

Thanks to the Polo GTI’s Android Auto interface we had the Waze app up and running on the car’s infotainment screen in no time, though it’s worth noting you don’t need a Volkswagen to access the GTI Superdrives. From there we simply tapped “GTI” into the search bar and were quickly served up the nearest “Superdrive” – in this case the Cheltenham to Stratford Upon Avon via the A435 and A46, if you’re asking.

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Getting to the start of the Superdrive was a doddle through Waze’s detailed turn-by-turn navigation, and soon the app’s disembodied voice chimed that we had reached the start of the superdrive.

And to its credit, it was a rather enjoyable drive with plenty to gawk at on the route ahead with some lovely flowing roads, sweeping corners and wide enough roads to let the Polo GTI tap into its hothatch performance in a safe fashion.

Granted the road was a little busier than we’d have liked heading up to the birthplace of Shakespeare, opening up the potential for the feature to be more dynamic in adjusting the route to avoid the parts that were traffic-heavy. That being said, on the return journey the traffic had cleared and the drive was rather lovely, if not the most challenging for petrolheads keen to test their driving prowess; we doubt such roads would meet the safety criteria of Waze or Volkswagen.

Summer of fun

Only running over the summer, you might look at such a feature as a tad frivolous for a navigation app. And in some ways you’d be right; the GTI Superdrives don’t offer the fastest ways to get from A to B.

But it represents an attitude in the technology world, and indeed the sectors it touches, to find ways to use slick software, powerful and portable hardware, and wide access to data to provide better experiences for people.

A lot of technology currently exists to make our lives easier; the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistants are excellent at presenting information, carrying out the odd task, or serving up suggestions based on our preferences. But they’re more often than not offering information that aims to help us rather than enhance our enjoyment of something.

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Alexa will happily tell you where the nearest Indian restaurant is but won’t offer an option to go out of your way to find a new restaurant with food you may not have tired before.

With this in mind the GTI Superdrives feature is attempting to offer Waze users a way to experience something new or more enjoyable rather than necessarily sending them down the faster and easiest route.

Other examples of this can be seen with Spotify or Netflix, for example, which use machine learning algorithms to figure out new music and videos to serve up to their users based on what they’ve listened to or viewed before, but at the same time attempting to offer something new.

While future apps, gadgets and services will continue to use the latest tech to try and make getting through modern life less of a drag, we can expect to see more features like Waze’s GTI Superdrives pop up with the aim of making life just a bit more fun even if it involves wandering off the beaten path a little.

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