/ Technology, Travel & Leisure

Can live data make going out less stressful?

beat the crowds

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty impatient when it comes to queuing and waiting to be served.

I would rather go to McDonald’s than wait 30 minutes for a table at a fancy restaurant and will leave a bar if I have to queue for an eternity to get served.

In fact, I did just that a couple of weeks ago when I was heading to see a play with some friends and decided to grab a bite at a place close by that my veggie friend liked.

We got there, only to discover the place was packed and had a 45-minute wait.

We then had to scurry around for the next 20 minutes trying to find somewhere else nearby that looked decent, served good veggie food and wouldn’t make us late for the play.

Real-time data

What we really needed was something to tell us where to head that didn’t have a queue.

That’s why I was really excited by Google’s latest announcement about adding real-time data to Google Maps and search to show you live, up-to-date info on how busy a coffee shop, bar, restaurant or store is.

What’s even more interesting is that it will also tell you how long people usually spend in a place, so if you really, really want to go somewhere, you can plan your time around it.

I think Google has always listed popular hours, but I’ve often questioned the reliability of it. However, this new feature could prove more accurate, as it will use info based on real-time, aggregated, anonymous location history data.

The wider world

I’m really interested in real-time data and how we can use it to make our lives a little bit easier.

I know some town councils around the UK are using it to show you live car space availability in town centres and parking garages. And I’d think it would be especially useful to find out when shops are at their busiest when I’m Christmas/sales shopping.

So, have you come across places using live data? Is it something you’d use?


Well, as long as you’re happy to feed Google even more data about your dining, shopping and living habits, then that’s fine. And there’s been an urgent need for the supermarket equivalent of a SatNav for some time. Theme Parks are now providing apps which claim to show the queueing times at popular rides, but as for whether these make life less stressful I’m not sure. In fact, it’s possible their very use might add to the stress.

Imagine you’re looking for a parking space in Ludlow, with your wife reading the app. The converstaion might go something like this:

“Use the app, Beryl; it’ll show us the next free space.
“I am using it, Tom, but it’s saying there’s an update. Shall I..”:
“God, no; we need the parking space first.”
“All right, all right no need for that attitude. How d’you get rid of the message?”
“Press Alt/Cntrl/Go and hold for two seconds.”
“Okay. Er – it’s now saying something else.”
“How long did you hold it for?”
“Two seconds – like you said.”
“You must have held it for longer. ”
“Well, you do it, then if you’re so clever..”
“Sorry; sorry – it’s just that we have to be at the restaurant by…”
“Ooh – it’s cleared! I can see the list of parking spaces. Wait – turn left NOW!”
“What – now?”
“Yes – oh, never mind, you’ve missed that one, but there’s another in 200 yards. ”
“Okay – just let me know when to turn…”
“NOW – NOW! Not left – RIGHT!”
“But you never said…”
“Never mind, it’s just gone . Ooh! Another one – it’s close. Turn RIGHT!”
“Okay. How far now?”
“It’s on the left – just ahead.”
“Where? I can’t see anything.”
“We’re almost on it. Use you eyes – it has to be here somewhere!”
“There’s nothing…”
“We’re there! It’s here – look around!”
“Nothing at all – we’re in a one way street with no parking allowed.”
“Er – what does that funny shape mean?”
“What funny shape?”
“The one that looks a bit like a coal mine…”
“That means it’s UNDERGROUND! Of course we’re here – we’re literally on top of it!”
“If you’re going to be like that you can find it yourself.”
“Useless ******* ****** *** ******** app. I hate them, and I hate Ludlow and I hate – oh, Officer; sorry – I didn’t see you standing there. Yes – of course, you’re quite right. I shouldn’t simply have stopped. Yes, and the language was uncalled for. I’m very sorry. But it’s this app…”


Ian and Beryl Go Out, an understated comedy gem in six episodes, along the lines of Peter Kay’s Car Share. Episode One, Parking, Phone apps and the Police.


Your first sentence says it all just more meta data / data for Google to sell Ian. Then later the ads start via Google redirect. Its a built in thing in America BB loyalty try criticizing Google for example and you are shot down in flames thankfully its not yet taken over here. Its like childhood identity with your parents but they refuse to accept the reality of the actions of a massive company ,completely non-rational – Google =The Flag/The Country / The “Right ” to “Liberty ” ( for America ) it reaches religious levels.


The anxieties of the modern consumer never cease to amaze me.

Real time off-street parking capacity signs have been around in many cities for decades. They might not be super state-of-the-art digital displays but they do the job. Perhaps London is starting to catch up at last.


Any restaurant worthy of your custom will take a booking over the phone. Some will even take a booking using one of the numerous Apps now appearing, if you don’t like human-to-human interaction. Unlike McDonald’s, where there can be a 10 minute wait not only to get served, but to find a table that doesn’t required self-service cleaning.

Just for the record, I have an Android smart phone and use its features all the time, but in the scenario you describe – seeing a play with a friend and wanting a good veggie restaurant – what is wrong will a little planning ahead and using the phone for its primary purpose?


I’d book a restaurant in advance and either take a taxi or, better still, publlc transport for the last part of the journey and save polluting. The only way we will reduce pollution in our towns and cities is, regrettably, to stop using fossil-fuelled personal transport except for those who must, particularly at peak times. Who will be brave enough to instigate this and provide out-of-town parking with a decent bus service at affordable prices.

Live data might provide pollution levels and only allow cars into town when they are at safe level perhaps?


Your closing suggestion: “only allow cars into town when they [pollution levels] are at [a] safe level” is interesting, but probably wouldn’t be feasible for a real time application.

Pollution levels are not directly correlated with the amount of traffic. There are other sources of pollution and pollution varies according to the weather – winds, temperature inversions, etc. We could have a scenario where all new traffic is shut off, but pollution levels continue to rise beyond the “safe” level (whatever that means), and could take hours or even days to disperse.

And what happens to all those cars waiting to enter the low pollution zone? Presumably some sit, idling their engines and adding to the surrounding pollution levels.

However, you have reminded me that a traffic control measure I have long dreamed of, is finally possible with the aid of modern technology. Namely, drivers who want to use Motorways, must now pre-book their journeys. This is much like a timed ticket to visit a popular attraction.

Want to travel from London to Birmingham via the M40? You must sign in with your registration and book a travel slot. If your route is already fully booked, you will be offered alternative times and dates. Having been given a time slot of, say, 3 hours to complete your journey, you may not enter the Motorway network before your allotted time slot and must leave before the end.

Whilst essentially keeping Motorways free to use (although I don’t personally see a problem with the French system of charging), there would be big penalties for using the system without a reservation, and similar penalties for those who book slots and don’t use them, to prevent “hoarding”. Discuss …


1984+++ Em2 ? -Big Data or should it be Big Brother , do you know ,in the US they can tell how often you use the toilet and so do hackers looking for data to see if you are out to pass on to house breakers —and YES it has happened in the USA (doesnt everything ? )


So every Motorway entry and exit point would need a monitoring device to continuously recalibrate the available capacity by reference to average speed indications, and all entry points would need to have an escape lane and some parking space for vehicles which have arrived too early or too late for their pre-booked slot, or which have arrived without a pre-booked slot. Might be better to stop registering additional vehicles above a calculated national system capacity [or would that be seen as the forerunner to a devious way of controlling immigration?].


I suppose every toilet would have a keypad on which the user has to enter a code and function indicator {No. 1, No.2, etc], or perhaps their contactless card could do it for them, and a room full of data analysts would then pore over the details and issue a monthly statistical report. Last night I had my first Brussels sprouts of the festive season; this could be pre-programmed into the system to add a weighting to the national statistics. Appropriate data would be transmitted to sewage systems to activate additional screening and digestion processes and bring reserve capacity on stream. The methane bottling plant could also be placed on high alert.


Very good John, but they used a more simple surveillance , the water usage was monitored as is normal in the US but to save checking the company had it wirelessly transmitted to headquarters , this was intercepted by hackers.


That wouldn’t work in this country, Duncan – some people do not pull the chain, others do a double flush for everything, and most of our houses are so small several people have to use the same toilet so it would be impossible to produce useful data analysis. If I were a professional burglar I think I would just ring the doorbell in the first instance and take it from there. Of course, once they get inside they might discover that the resident is in the toilet with their mobile phone at the ready to call the police.