Waze launches its social sat-nav app for traffic-mad UK drivers

In December last year Waze, the social traffic and navigation app for smartphones, raised a hefty $25 million Series B round of funding. With growth doubling from 2 million users worldwide in December last year to four million users in 45 countries now, Waze clearly knew it was on a roll. And today it launches its app in the UK [iTunes link]. (Indeed, I’ll be interviewing Waze’s VP Community Geographer Di-Ann Eisnor tonight in London at this event.

To kick off the UK launch Waze CEO Noam Bardin struck a deal with Denver-based Intermap in February to provide users with a base road grid across Britain on which they can play. Intermap has re-mapped entire countries and built uniform national databases for Europe – so expect plenty more European country roll-outs from Waze based on this data (France and Italy are already live).

For those unaware of Waze, here’s how it works. Just by using the app (on Apple iOS, Android, Nokia, RIM), drivers generate a real-time map of the traffic ahead and can even share live road reports on accidents, hazards, speed cameras and roadworks (though typing is disabled while driving, in case you were wondering). A recent feature enable drivers to create voice-based hazard reports by recording a quick voice message – this then alerts other Waze drivers behind them.

This is potentially much more accurate that having a road organisation like the AA try and feed real-time information into the system via old fashioned means like road cameras. Waze’s real-time traffic news is even being fed to some local TV stations in the US. And I daresay the speed camera aspect will go down a storm in the UK.

In addition, ‘driving groups’ let users to connect with other nearby drivers such as fellow commuters, friends etc heading in the same direction. It can also be used by taxis or delivery trucks and connects to Twitter accounts and Facebook pages.

There are also “geo-gaming” features where you can gain points by reporting traffic information and validating roads, working your way up a leader board not unlike the way you might on Foursquare. Users can drive over icons of cupcakes (yes) and other virtual goods to earn points. Points accumulated end up as in-app promotions and real-world prizes. Of course, the boon to Waze is that it gets more roads mapped by users. The result is that it’s a smash hit in places like Israel (where Waze emerged from) where there are scant official maps.

Here’s Di-ann explaining one of the newer features: