Drive to Najeera, past Zanzi, 20 metres ahead take the right turn off which is just after the car park/washing bay. Take the next turn and drive straight till you reach a signpost on your right reading Hajji Mukasa close. When you get there, take the next turn after that signpost, still on your right, there is a big tree, after that there’s a turn on the left the third black gate is the place.” These were the directions sent to me by a friend for a party at his new house.
My response to him, “Dude just send me your map location.” A few moments later I was at the said black gate. Enter Google Maps or Apple Maps if you are in the Apple camp. (I prefer Google maps as they have more detail than Apple for Uganda.)
Many times people think using Google maps for directions is an American or European phenomenon. However, you will be surprised just how useful maps can be. Specifically Google Maps Navigation which is fully supported in Uganda.
How it works
How it works is quite simple, the largest ingredient being the Global Positioning System (GPS) that is supported by most smartphones today. When my friend sent me the map location, he was actually sending me the GPS location coordinates which are superimposed onto the maps by Google Maps resulting into showing his exact location. My location is known, his location is known, so Google smartly plots a turn by turn navigation path to his place using different routes.
It does show the distances of each route and an estimation of how long it would take. Of course that time estimation excludes the traffic situation however, in advanced countries the time estimates are more accurate. From where I was, the route suggestions included, 21 minutes (13km) via Mbogo Road 1, 23 minutes (15 km) via Jinja Road and Namugongo Road and third option was 24 minutes (13km) via Lugogo By-pass and Mbogo Road 1.
With of course a foreign accent, Google Maps Navigation at every turn has a robotic voice that mentions the distance you are to the next turn and so on. You can turn this off. If you deviate from the proposed route, the software instantly re-plans the route still taking into account your current location and your desired end point.
For instance if you start your navigation from Jinja Road traffic lights and you are heading to Acacia Mall, the software may perhaps propose you use Wampewo Avenue, however, if for some reason you continue with Jinja Road, it will re-plan your route to now use Lugogo By-pass and take a left immediately after Shell Lugogo.
For all this to work, you need to have your GPS turned on as your location on the map keeps updating as you move. Let’s take a step back, you could be wondering what GPS is and how it works.
What it is
The GPS is a satellite-based navigation system made up of a network of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the US Department of Defence. GPS was originally intended for military applications, but in the 1980s, the government made the system available for civilian use. GPS works in all weather conditions, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.
There are no subscription fees or setup charges to use it. The 24 satellites that make up the GPS space segment are orbiting the earth about 19,400 kilometres above us. These satellites are powered by solar energy and wherever you are, at least four GPS satellites are “visible” at any time.
Each one transmits information about its position and the current time at regular intervals. These signals, travelling at the speed of light, are intercepted by your GPS receiver aka your smartphone, which calculates how far away each satellite is, based on how long it took for the messages to arrive. Once it has information on how far away at least three satellites are, your smartphone can pinpoint your location. For all intents and purposes, this is an abridged version of how the whole thing works.
See, Google Maps uses images that are one to three years old, so sometimes the planned route by Google might take you through roads that are more than questionable. For instance today there’s a road or path, tomorrow, there’s construction going on, or the road was blocked or simply no longer exists. While using Google Navigation, it is advisable to make judgement calls if you see you are getting off course.
So the next question would be, how does Google know Najeera, Busaabala or Konge and the like? Well there’s this whole huge project called Google Map Maker from Google. Using your Google account, you can add and update map information which, after review and approval, shall appear online for users of Google Maps and Google Earth. Uganda is currently on the list of countries being mapped. So with time, this information gets richer and thus more relevant and useful.
I have done it before and I can confidently say it is quite fascinating to be able to share information about the places you know regarding your home area.