German man fools Google Maps’ traffic algorithm with handcart full of smartphones

German artist Simon Weckert used a cart full of cellphones to fool Google Maps app’s algorithm into creating a virtual traffic jam.

A German man has outsmarted Google Maps by using a handcart full of smartphones to trick the app’s algorithm into creating a virtual traffic jam.

According to an article on msn.com, artist Simon Weckert searched for directions within the Maps’ app on 99 second-hand smartphones, then walked them all in a handcart down several main roads in Berlin, including outside Google headquarters. The cluster of phones reporting the same location to Google led the app to determine there was a large traffic jam in the area and update its map directions accordingly.

In a statement on his website, Weckert said his intention was to make changes in the physical world by using digital means.

Responding to the stunt, a spokesperson from Google said the company was impressed by Weckert’s creativity. “Whether via car or cart or camel, we love seeing creative uses of Google Maps as it helps us make maps work better over time,” the spokesperson said.

The company clarified how its traffic data was quantified and explained how Weckert’s walking pace and use of a hand-drawn wagon contributed to the success of his experiment.

“Traffic data in Google Maps is refreshed continuously thanks to information from a variety of sources, including aggregated anonymised data from people who have location services turned on and contributions from the Google Maps community,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven’t quite cracked travelling by wagon.”