I loved Cory Doctorow’s TunePay idea in Eastern Standard Tribe and it inspired me to an offshoot idea. Someone’s undoubtedly thought of it already, but I’m going to elaborate on it anyway: social GPS navigation.

Millions of cars have a GPS navigation system nowadays, whether it’s an external system like TomTom or an application on a smartphone or an integrated function of the car’s onboard computer. Navigation is handy. It saves you time and effort. But everybody who has one always complains about having to fork over cash for updated maps and lacking functionality for road construction and other short-lived route obstructions and no embedded warning system for speed cameras and the like. So here’s my idea: bring social networking to GPS nav systems.

Our cars are quickly becoming mobile personal networks anyway. Soon all our vehicles will be connected to us and to the world via Bluetooth, UMTS and who knows what next-gen protocol. So let’s connect these cars. Let cars talk to each other. Let us talk to other drivers through our cars.

Imagine driving along a particular road and suddenly an accident happens ahead of you and you get stuck in a traffic jam. Or you come across the early moments of a road reconstruction effort. Or a new road has just been completed and isn’t in your nav system’s map yet. Or you get your picture taken by a roadside mobile speed camera. Your GPS nav isn’t showing any of this. So, you update your nav. With a touchscreen and a stylus or perhaps a Bluetooth interface with your cellphone or PDA you update your nav map, marking the spot as an accident zone or a construction zone or new road or a temporary police checkpoint or whatever. Your car then beams this update to other nearby cars. They process the update into their own nav maps, marking it as a potential. Another driver on the same road makes the same update and this is also beamed to other cars.

The more people beaming this update as an original change request, the more validity the update gets in the GPS software, upgrading it from a potential to a probable to a definite. The nav software starts taking this change into account the moment it becomes a probable, at whatever threshold that is, and adjusts the route accordingly and/or informing the driver of it. Maybe temporary markers such as traffic jams and speed cameras get integrated after just one or two user submission, while new roads take half a dozen or more driver updates before they become a fact for your nav system.

Cars beam updates to one another continuously, everywhere they go, thus enabling a national or continental network of constantly updated nav maps. You could add a peer review system to it, giving higher credibility to route updates transmitted from reputable cars/drivers. The end result is that everyone drives around with the most up to date route navigation system possible. It makes buying route updates obsolete, as the new system doesn’t rely on the old map seller businesses such as Falk. Which is why I believe it’s not gonna happen anytime soon, those guys have too much to lose and too much grip on the market at this point. Not to mention that networked cars are still a minority these days, and nav systems are far from standardized on software.

But it’s gonna happen, sooner or later. And when it does, remember that you read it here first. Or second, or third, or four hundred and seventeenth, depending on how many others before me have had a similar brainfart. I call it PeerDrivetm. Maybe I should file a patent.