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Image: Garmin GPS in a Suzuki SX4
Garmin's GPS, shown in a Suzuki SX4, alerts drivers to slow traffic, and lets them also avoid routes that include dirt roads, one-way streets and toll roads. It's among the newer and "smarter" generation of GPS software. Garmin

Israeli company Waze is building such a database in that country right now and plans to expand to the United States.

In addition to real-time traffic, Waze promises to be able to warn drivers of construction delays and even police enforcement — the mere presence of which can cause miles-long backups as drivers slam on their brakes and gawk at patrol cars.

“With today’s Internet-enabled GPS devices, such as smartphones, the need for real time or ‘live’ apps can be met,” said Noam Bardin, CEO of Waze. Users run a free smartphone app which lets Waze track their vehicle’s progress and warn other users if slowdowns are encountered.

This live data lets Waze calculate whether bailing off the main highway for a surface street will save time, because if that alternate route has been overwhelmed by traffic, Waze will know and can tell customers to stick with the highway or it can suggest Plan C.

In Israel, the company has achieved 15 percent penetration of the smartphone market, with 100,000 users in a nation of 7 million, said Bardin. The company will launch a beta test in the United States in July at Waze.com.

Because the system automatically generates maps based on where users are driving, no map database is required, and the company estimates that it will take customers about six months to create driver-generated maps of major metropolitan areas where the system is deployed. Those maps would include, for example, I-66 inside the Washington Beltway.

Such navigation services will eventually be much more flexible, accurate, timely and useful than today’s comparatively rigid Rain Main-style phone book recitations, matching encyclopedic knowledge with common-sense information.