an App That Gives You Directions Like a Human Would

I’ve felt embarrassed more than a few times standing at the corner of an intersection and spinning around like a lost puppy. In my hands is my trusty smartphone, with Google Maps opened and a voice telling me to head north. I start walking in what I think is the right direction—only to find out from the arrow on my phone that I should be walking another way.

It’s a common frustration among people trying to translate on-screen instructions into movements. As my colleague Vicky Gan recently reported, we humans tend to navigate using landmarks—“go past the coffee shop and turn right at the bank”—instead of cardinal directions. So when our phones tell us to head south or northwest in an unfamiliar territory, it can make us even more lost than we already are.

Now, there’s an app that gives you direction just as a real human being would. Called Walc, the app uses a large database to point out nearby landmarks—like a restaurant, park, or a museum—and gives you turn-by-turn directions. If you don’t spot the shop its points out, you can hit the “Can’t See” button and the app will show you another landmark. The app also tells you which streets to turn on to, just as Google Maps does.

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