To help improve the climate, Google Maps now offers more economical routes. But are they real? We do the test.
Google Maps has always presented criteria for choosing the route that best suits your needs. In general, users could choose between the shortest distance courses or the fastest. From now on, the navigation is evolving and since the beginning of September has offered more economical routes.
These routes are marked with a green leaf and promise to save energy to reach a destination. And this regardless of the vehicle’s engine, as it is possible to enter the type of fuel used (petrol or diesel) or the electrified technology (hybrid or electric). Depending on the information provided, the mechanical specifics, the environment, but also the traffic in real time, the system will then suggest the most fuel-efficient route, and therefore in terms of CO2 emissions. This is Google’s pride, indicating that the system has already saved more than 500,000 tons of greenhouse gases since its launch in North America and Germany.
Google Maps Eco Routes: how does it work?
To achieve this, the device uses its own databases, acquired since the launch of the application, as well as those of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy (NREL, to make it simpler), with which Google recorded the consumption of a panel of vehicles. It is precisely the Route Energy Prediction Model (RouteE) service that was used by the two units. On our side of the globe there is also data from the European Environment Agency.
In detail, NREL’s Future Automotive Systems Technology Simulator (FASTSim) technology is at the heart of the device. A solution that makes it possible to estimate fuel and energy consumption for several types of vehicles. The model is then integrated with RouteE, which targets the most economical route. Finally, it is Google that brings its expertise in route planning and calculation of estimated time of arrival (Estimated Time Arrival), especially based on real-time analysis of traffic conditions. , the real strength of this navigation.
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If the arrival time is the same, the algorithm automatically programs the most economical route. Conversely, it lets the user choose between energy savings or travel time. However, according to the Mountain View company, the system eliminates trips with too much detour or with too little gain. However, the defined thresholds are not specified, either in relative or absolute numbers.
During our numerous theoretical simulations for everyday journeys, the system offered on average longer economical journeys of 5 to 10 minutes, with gains of 10% for an electric car. It is sometimes shorter, and sometimes longer. As is the case with a route from Lyon to Nice: the Eco route offers an energy saving of 25% against an extension of 2 hours 10 (6 hours 50 with the secondary network against 4 hours 40 on the motorway without traffic jams). Also, earnings can sometimes plummet and only represent a 4% savings if traffic gets denser. This is one of the lowest spans we’ve seen.
If the invisible part of the iceberg seems like science fiction to most drivers (including us), the system offered by Google is exemplary clarity. After entering point A and point B, the user can see at a glance the distance, travel time and savings with the suggested routes. Differences advertised in relative rather than absolute value for more consistency between car models that cannot be selected with precision.
Are the estimated gains reliable on a daily basis?
For these tests we took the wheel of a Skoda Enyaq iV 80 (which can soon be found in Supertest). For each route, the air conditioner was set to manual position to avoid variations that could affect consumption, since Google does not take temperatures into account in its calculations. To better highlight the savings that can be achieved, we conducted these tests without traffic, using only the cruise control when reading the signs on this electric SUV.
Our first test broadly follows the codes of the daily journey for the majority of French people, with a round trip of just under 35 km in total between the center of a large city and the residential suburbs. According to Google Maps, this typical route without economic considerations is spread over 17 km for a duration of 16 minutes, and therefore the motorway section is preferred here. In contrast to its ecological alternative, which only uses the motorways to avoid an urban stretch, thus extending the driving time unnecessarily: according to our observations, 5 minutes more would be needed by avoiding the motorways altogether. This is undoubtedly one of the limits that the Google Maps system does not want to cross. However, the savings are palpable for this second route of 17 km with a total duration of 20 minutes. In a way, it saves 13% of electrical energy. In the second, the difference of 7% is lower due to the less favorable topography.
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Needless to say in advance, we have always observed a time difference quite close to the forecast, with a difference of exactly 3 minutes. But the really good surprise comes when it comes time to do the accounting in terms of consumption. In the outward direction, the counter on the Skoda Enyaq iV 80 thus showed a value of 14.4 kWh/100 km, against 11.2 kWh/100 km on the greener route, or a 22.2% difference. On the return journey we recorded an average of 22.4 kWh/100 km compared to 20.4 kWh/100 km, which equates to a saving of 8.93%.
And for longer or more demanding journeys?
Therefore, Google Maps seems to keep its promises quite well. We have therefore decided to push the exercise a little further, with a destination that requires almost the same time regardless of route type. On the one hand, the choice of ease and comfort with 74 km of motorways and motorways. On the other hand, a shortcut of 22 km through demanding terrain (52 km against 74 km), but with a negative final height, which would make it possible to achieve, at the time of the test, a 43% saving anyway! Despite the ecological benefits, it should be noted that the application then chose the highway route by default, which is only one minute faster.
Although there is no doubt that this route via the secondary network proved to be much more favorable than the motorway alternative, the consumption gap was more generous: we recorded an average of 11.9 kWh/100 km on the reliefs against 22.6 kWh/ 100 km. A saving of 47.35%, which goes beyond the application’s predictions.
Google Maps eco-routes: promises kept!
However, remember that Google Maps promises energy savings. And not rates of change between average consumption. A nuance difficult to calculate in the absence of perfectly calibrated and precise measuring tools. On the other hand, applying a rough cross product to our consumption to obtain an amount of energy consumed, the prices are essentially the same, if not much more attractive: initially, the average energy saving is 10.3% round trip ( against 10% according to Google’s projections), while it stood at 64.2% on the last route. Everyone will make their own calculations according to their needs, but at the end of the month it can represent significant savings. Especially with thermal or hybrid cars that need to go to the pump.
If the original idea focuses on the reduction of CO2 emissions and thus on fuel savings, the system developed by Google Maps also extends to electric cars. At the end of these three tests, there is no doubt that the device knows how to be particularly predictable and well-researched, whether it is for daily trips or other more demanding routes. Therefore, we imagine it quite close to reality when it calculates a 16% saving on a Paris-Nice, but it will still be necessary to plan an additional 4 hours via the Nationale 7 and the Napoleon road, rather than the motorway. A price to pay that is probably more acceptable than during our road trip in a Renault Megane e-Tech this summer: we had to spend 8:40 more hours behind the wheel to benefit from a lower average fuel consumption of around 32.14%. An unprofitable exercise for Google Maps, which therefore does not offer the historical route.
It is therefore up to each individual driver to make his own choice according to his needs. In the meantime, the device will continue to learn and refine its suggestions thanks to machine learning dear to American business. It would also be nice to benefit from better ergonomics: it is not yet possible to select an eco route from a computer to send it to your smartphone, while the Mirror Link system does not allow you to see the savings. energy by planning a route from the car screen. In addition, it is not certain that Google will integrate a list of car models in the future to perfect its forecasts. In order to best predict electricity consumption, it will be necessary to continue to use independent route planners such as ABRP or Chargemap.