Google's Big Data
Date: 18/08/2015

By Hamish Dwight

I like a challenge, ever since Dad threw down the cricket ball in the back yard I’ve been busting a gut to come first. This flowed through to school where even in the classroom I couldn’t bear to lose to little Johnny on the math’s tests, of course leading to multiple melt downs when the inevitable happened and my aptitude wasn’t quite up to my expectations.

So it was on a recent trip to Melbourne, when I got behind the seat of a hire car and dialled up the address of a client I hadn’t been to before on Google Maps and I saw the screen not only give me the actual distance to the location but the actual time I would arrive, that little pang of a challenge was laid down before me.

Here was a GPS tracker not only giving me the easy part – distance to go, but also calculating how long it would take me to get there (bearing in mind that the distance was well over 100kms). As I sat in my seat I started computing the amount of variables that would be needed to make this accurate, things like the numbers of stop signs, traffic lights and the time to clear them, weather, current and future car flows (I was going to be in the car for a while). The more I processed this the more my challenge seemed safe, no way was this ETA accurate.

So off I set heading to my client, every now and then I’d look down to see if the ETA would change. It didn’t.

It was with absolute bewilderment and respect that when I arrived at the client site that I had come within two minutes of the GMaps ETA. How was this possible after an hour behind the wheel!

Android has two thirds of the smartphone market in Australia. True to the Smart Phone era in that Data is Power, every shiny new Android that hits the market is actually a gadget full of sensors that once users turn on and sign up, starts feeding data back to the mother ship. What people don’t realise is that this is an “Opt Out” scenario which shows just how far removed our privacy laws are to the current era. Every movement of your Android phone is tracking you - down to the minute. It was quite scary when I dug into this and saw my tracking for the past year ... Google does allow this. It also allows you to turn this off, which I have done!

It’s with this billions of location sensor data streaming in that allows Google to perfect its algorithms and gain it’s accuracy. The power and applications of this, we are only starting to scratch the surface.

This is true Big Data, in fact we should re-coin the phrase to Big “Sensor” Data, for this is where the power of this technology shift is coming from. Streams of sensor data being analysed in real time to provide nuggets of gold in areas like maintenance on transport infrastructure (planes, trains and trucks), customer buying habits, fraud detection, terrorist threats and health – basically anything you can pin a sensor on.

Back to my travels in the rental car … having now done this trip multiple times, the other surprising fact was that no matter how I drove the car the ETA did not materially change, emphasising the fact that speeding really doesn’t get you there faster in the long run. (Note – I didn’t break any laws in this experiment!)

If you use Android you can look at your location history here.

Click here to read more about managing the streams of data your business creates.