GOOGLE MAPS NAVIGATION WITH A NIGERIAN ACCENT
By Paul Ndiho
Commuters using Google Maps while navigating through traffic in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, can now hear travel advice in a local voice.
Uber driver Maxwell Edet has just received a request to pick up a client on a busy Lagos route, the Lekki-Epe Express Way. He relies heavily on Google Maps to avoid the city’s infamous congested streets and also to accurately locate his clients.
Until now, Edet says that for the three years he has been at the wheel, he has often struggled to understand the accent used by the app to describe local destinations. But now he hears travel advice in a local voice on Google Maps, under new features aimed at attracting more users in Africa. The local accents feature, unveiled recently at an event in Lagos, is also available on Google Assistant. It’s the first move by the U.S. technology giant to offer such a service in Africa.
“It is better now because most of our drivers were not understanding most of the English that the woman was speaking, but now that the woman is speaking typical Nigerian English, I think everyone can enjoy it. It is better,”
Rapidly expanding populations, increased mobile phone penetration, and crowded cities that often have poor sign-posts have led technology firms to identify African countries as potential growth areas. They are now offering transport features from detailed maps to motorcycle ride-hailing services. Google says it motorcycle directions is set to become available in Benin, Ghana, Rwanda, Togo and Uganda.
The technology behemoth says it is aiming to capture new users and expand its appeal beyond just drivers. Jeff Albertson is a Google senior product manager who worked on the new development.
“We heard from users that when moving around Lagos, external factors like weather, the traffic situation and the overall business of the Danfo, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) buses may affect decision making so to help users make an informed decision when planning their travel, I am thrilled to announce a new traffic tap just for Lagos.”
Google partners with local startup Road Preppers Technologies to gather data on different routes and aims to tell users the best options available based on traffic, weather, and road conditions.
The map will include information on the expected fare, travel time, and even photos of the bus stop to help guide commuters. Outside Lagos, Google is expanding its street view imagery to Abuja, Benin City, Enugu, and Ibadan.
“The Nigerian accent, it will help because it is not everybody that understand the American accent sometimes like what is this person saying. So the Nigerian accent version could like help you know help the common man in the street,”
Rabiat Aparalara, a youth corp member, says he hasn’t picked-up a distinction between the different Google voices.
“I have not noticed this, and I have not noticed the difference between the Nigerian voice and the American voice. I still feel it is still the same thing,”
Google is working hard to expand in West Africa, especially Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, with an estimated 190 million citizens.
Google unveiled WiFi hot spots across Lagos last year — and in 2017, it launched a program to teach millions of Africans technology skills in order to make them more employable.