I came across this article, which looks at some of the new patent applications recently published from google, a number of them relate to spatial searches and google local. The two that caught my eye are:

Transportation routing
Inventors: Henry Rowley, and Shumeet Baluja
US Patent Application 20060149461
Published July 6, 2006
Filed on December 31, 2004

Abstract

A computer-implemented method of providing personalized route information involves gathering a plurality of past location indicators over time for a wireless client device, determining a future driving objective using the plurality of previously-gathered location indicators, obtaining real-time traffic data for an area proximate to the determined driving objective, and generating a suggested route for the driving objective using the near real-time traffic data.

And

Indexing documents according to geographical relevance
Inventors: Daniel Egnor
US Patent Application 20060149774
Published July 6, 2006
Filed on December 30, 2004

Abstract

A local search engine efficiently indexes documents relevant to a geographical area by indexing, for each document, multiple location identifiers that collectively define an aggregate geographic region. When creating the index, the search engine may determine a set of geographical areas surrounding a geographical area relevant to a document and associate references to the set of geographical areas with the document index.

When I first read the routing patent abstract, it seemed like something that is being done already by many in-car sat nav systems that avoid areas of heavy traffic and dynamically re-route you, however on closer inspection of the full application, it seems that what google have in mind, is keeping track of peoples historical patterns of location, and using these as a basis for generating a route. This would in a sense be a learning algorithm, that would take account of your preferred routes at certain times of day, or any short-cuts that you have on the way home from work at specific times. It would learn you preferences based on day or time and traffic flow and then use these to provide routes. The only flaw i can see in this, is that in areas that you drive a lot and have collected preferences, you probably don’t need driving directions. The Patent doesn’t mention sharing this information, but i can see you might want to extend this functionality, so that if you are driving in an area that is new to you you could take advantage of other peoples shortcuts or time based preferences with routes generated to use that information even though it is someone else’s preferences, I can see that being a much more powerful solution, utilising a community of preferences for everyones benefit.

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