How does Google Maps keep pace with new roads and bridges in Egypt?

Mohamed Soliman , Sunday 7 Aug 2022

Have you found yourself getting lost driving up and down Egypt’s roads lately? Or maybe you have found the go-to routes to your favourite destinations changing up?

Google Maps

In an ideal world, drivers would not have to worry about such issues, especially as the country is undergoing a broad and fast-paced overhaul programme of all its road networks.

In the real world, however, many drivers have found themselves in these exact scenarios, especially drivers who are over-reliant on GPS navigation apps.

Many have found themselves asking questions like: How do these apps update their maps to keep pace with construction? What is the process for doing so? Do the updates depend on the routes driven by ordinary Google users, or are they through accredited local guides, or even by other means?

To get answers, Ahram Online got in touch with one of these apps, Google Maps, which is currently used by millions of drivers in Egypt.

To begin with, responding to such inquiries necessitates knowing how Google Maps functions in the first place. The online mapping platform mainly relies on a combination of different information and data sources, including third-party data; information from local authorities; and contributions from the Google Maps community, an online platform for the app users; along with Street View, a technological tool featured in Google Maps; in addition to images collected from the satellite.

Google Maps Community tool, for example, comprises local guides and Google Maps users, who are allowed to correct the map via the Send Feedback button in Google Maps, Google Maps in Egypt told Ahram Online in an interview via email.

It added that its team reviews the received information and publishes them when it has a high degree of confidence that the contributions match the roads, businesses and addresses in the real world.

For traffic data, Google Maps said it uses similar methods to ensure they are refreshed continuously. The web-mapping platform explained that it receives traffic-related information from a variety of different sources, including aggregated and anonymised data from people who use Maps.

If you are one of those who use the app to navigate through Egyptian roads, you may have asked yourself why it recommends some alternate roads rather than others.

The reason why is that Google Maps says predictive traffic models are a key part of how the app determines driving routes, elaborating that if the app predicts that traffic is likely to become heavy in one direction, it will automatically suggest a lower-traffic alternative.

Traffic congestion is not the only factor here though, as Google Maps added, saying "we also look at a number of other factors, like road quality, size and directness of routes."

Now, it is time to know how Google Maps keeps pace with the construction work taking place almost countrywide while updating its maps.

Egypt’s National Road Project was launched in 2014 and is set to last until 2024, with the goal of developing and extending Egypt’s 23,500 kilometre road network.

Up until now, over 5,500 kilometres of roads have been built, 7,500 kilometres of roads have been developed, and 900 bridges have been constructed over the past eight years as part of the national project, the Ministry of Transport announced on 29 June.

It is worth mentioning that Egypt’s population reached 103 million in February 2022, with the total number of licensed vehicles on road – including private cars, taxis, buses and heavy vehicles – reaching 10.8 million in 2020, up from 7.5 million in 2014, according to the country’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).

Google, for its part, said it is of paramount importance amid the current construction work to adapt to local needs and developments. The app introduces updates to its maps based on what it calls “authoritative” data from local governments and real-time feedback from users.

"Authoritative data lets Google Maps know about speed limits, tolls, or if certain roads are restricted due to things like construction," the Google officials elaborated.

In addition, they said that incident reports from drivers let Google Maps quickly show if a road or lane is closed, if there is construction nearby, or if there is a disabled vehicle or an object on the road.

This is not everything the online app has. It says it offers a tool that makes it easier for local governments to “directly upload data about new roads and addresses” in their area.

Nevertheless, in some places where a new axis, bridge or road has been recently constructed, sometimes drivers relying on Google Maps or the like do not see such infrastructure on the map.

Islam Essam, a voiceover artist who drives every day from his home in Helwan to his workplace in downtown cairo – around 35.5 kilometres – said most navigation app's new updates don't correspond to the situation on the ground, especially with the new roads and bridges.

“Sometimes the app suggests the longest routes to my destination or the alternative route brings me back to the starting point or even gets me lost,” Essam told Ahram Online.

Agreeing with him, Ahmed Abdel-Khalek, a football trainer who drives no less than 30 kilometres daily, said sometimes the app directs him to closed roads and that the new updated routes are take a long time to appear in some districts, while other districts' maps are still un-updated.

Recently, Abdel-Khalek said in some trips he gives GPS apps a wide berth, preferring street signs.

Responding to Ahram Online's question about why in some cases such delays in updating maps happen, Google Maps said: "When there is an issue, we work to fix them as quickly as we can." 

It added that, as with other countries, it uses a variety of sources to get the most accurate and up-to-date information on the map, and it uses a combination of manual and automated techniques to check for accuracy. 

"It is always helpful when we receive feedback as that helps us to continue improving Maps," the Google app noted.

Egypt had 76.9 million internet users in January 2022, up from 50.4 million in January 2021, of which 63.9 million were via mobiles, 10.8 million ADSL users, and 2.2 million USM modem users according to a report issued in March 2022 by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. The number of internet users through mobile phones alone has increased by 13.5 million users in one year, with 26.6 percent annual change rate, according to the report.

Google assured that regular users can help in speeding up such a process, saying the “Google Maps community plays an important role in helping the app improve and continuously update Maps” and that welcomes and encourages real-world and accurate contributions to Maps. 

The community of local guides and Google Maps users are empowered to correct the map via the Send Feedback button in Google Maps, with a team tasked with reviewing the information before it goes online.

Google Maps also stressed its commitment to identify and remove content that violates its policies such as fake reviews and locations, encouraging people to flag any such content so that it can review and take action. 

Users who repeatedly violate its policies may be prevented from making further contributions to Google Maps, it stressed.

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