march 2003 archives

Monday, March 31, 2003

That location-aware devices are starting to become mainstream, is emphasised by Planet PDA decision to award Thales Navigation's Magellan GPS Companion for the Palm m500 series with its “Planet PDA Product of the Year Award”. Combining a GPS receiver with maps and route planner from Rand McNally, users create custom maps with routing overlays and driving directions and then download the data to a handheld. Users can also see their positions and movements on a map, receive in-route audio prompts to signal upcoming turns, and get complete text directions. In Europe, the GPS Companion uses maps and route planner software from TomTom. Thing is, I still haven't seen any of these devices...   permanent link for this entry

Freshness of navigation data has always been an important issue in route planning. Typically, the industry works according to 6-month update cycles: a lot shorter than the update cycles for national mapping agencies! Of course, the level of detail and the coverage is a lot different. Therefore, one can never rely on navigation database suppliers to have it all right. How often have online route planners sent people down a road that hasn't been there for years, or how often did it ignore that newly-constructed part of a motorway? The issue becomes even more important when it comes to in-car navigation: when buying a car, the in-car navigation system is supplied with the latest navigation data on CD-ROM. Research shows as much as 20 per cent can be out of date in just one year. After purchase it is difficult to ensure that customers have the latest data available to them. Recently, this problem is addressed by TeleAtlas Navshop. Drivers of amongst others Audi, BMW, Ford, and Porsche can now buy the latest CDs online.

Taking freshness of navigation data to extremes, Telcontar last year launched a module for their Drill Down Server software to make it ”traffic-aware”: Traffic Manager. The module manages real-time traffic feeds enabling the routing engine to generate routes that avoid obstructions and traffic jams. At the moment, traffic incidents and construction feeds are available for more than 100 US cities. Traffic flow feeds are available for more than 20 US cities. European traffic feeds can be expected in the next release.

Kingswood MapMechanics in the UK have taken an alternative approach to integrate traffic information into route calculation. They pre-processed averaged ITIS traffic information with road network data for the UK from both NavTech and the AA. This allows a routing engine to use impedence values (cost) for the graph vectors (road segments) in its algorithm that are more representative of the real world situation. In general, the speed or journey time for each road segment is usually assigned based on more abstract factors such as road class or whether a segment is in an urban or rural area.

These approaches usually suffer from incompatibility of the source data sets: traffic data and road network data. This drawback is now partially addressed in the “Tele Atlas True Time Maps” product: at least the integrator of the data sets also created one of the sources and thus has better knowledge how to successfully merge the data. It's the first navigation map database directly linked with nationwide (read “US”) dynamic content to deliver real-time route calculations and enable dynamic rerouting. The product includes real-time traffic incident, speed, weather impact, and scheduled events content, and will be expanded to include predictive modeling. Tele Atlas True Time Maps product is available as a total package containing all dynamic content or as individual components.

All sounds very promising, but how does it all work? Is it just data, or is it a software package? Is TeleAtlas going down the same route as NavTech, i.e. are they becoming just another online mapping supplier? If I were to buy TeleAtlas data, how could I use this information with my own routing engine? Anyone?  permanent link for this entry

Thursday, March 27, 2003

You're a geek and off to Paris to enjoy early spring in Continental Europe? Let your mobile phone lead you to the hidden gems Paris has to offer. Urban safari organises theme-based tours in the French capital, sending you SMS messages to guide you to the next location. Themes range from chocolate to the latest gadgets.

This is yet another exciting bridge between the real world and the virtual world. I couldn't work out whether it actually sends you SMS messages based on your location. A joyful afternoon could be easily spoilt by getting lost. If the service is aware of your cell ID it could notify you when too much wine tasting made you lose your bearings and it could send you instructions how to get back on track!  permanent link for this entry

Saturday, March 15, 2003

At last year's TeleAtlas partner conference, I met some people working at MapByte. My first thought was “yet another online mapping provider in the UK?”. The B2C market is almost saturated with and Streetmap, and Easymap had just been bought by Netsolut. Then things went quiet for a while. Hardly anything changed on their website... Until this week: based on Telmap's technology, MapByte launched “Mapminder”, a map-based community website, including entertainment listings and restaurant reviews.

So far, nothing quite new. But here it comes: personalisation is the key feature. Users store personal and business contacts within “My Address Book”, conduct mapping and routing tasks between any two contacts, and add personal information to a map such as favourite restaurants or client locations. In addition, users share their information about venues, friends and business associates with a private group of a pre-determined set of people. These personal recommendations and reviews can also be posted in “The Guide” for all members to view. Broader, special interest communities such as cyclists and ramblers can be formed, with suggestions and advice on where to go and what to do shared among members via message boards and email alerts. Community specific locations can also be pinpointed and viewed on shared maps. Later in the year, Mapbyte will introduce an SMS location based service will allow people to receive personalised information via their mobile phones.

Great stuff: Mapminder has become a combination of's Local information, MyMultimap and UpMyStreet's Conversations. Good luck to MapByte! A great application, but I expect thye will have to spend a lot of money on marketing to attract the attention they deserve. UPDATE: in order to use Mapminder, you will need to download, once only, a small Java application (applet). To run the applet, you can only use a Windows based computer with Internet Explorer 5.0 and higher. They don't really make it easy for themselves either...  permanent link for this entry

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Only a few weeks ago I found out that the Xerox PARC Map Viewer was deactivated in October last year. One of the first articles (1994) about web mapping was published by Steve Putz. Certainly worth reading for anyone with an interest in this area. Especially interesting is the graph showing web traffic to the PARC servers.

Another “early bird” was Virtual Tourist, started by Brandon Plewe, who later wrote “GISOnline: Information Retrieval, Mapping, and the Internet”.  permanent link for this entry

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Subtleties aside, the geo-sciences used to run behind the facts for a long time. The introduction of GIS technology brought it more or less up to date. It seems that LBS have even overtaken events: although mass market LBS services appear to be just around the corner in the US, creating the potential of much-needed revenue for wireless carriers, such services could still get lost along the way:

  1. Location-ready handsets, a.k.a. A-GPS (assisted global positioning service) phones, are in short supply. Like those of its competitors Nokia and Ericsson, Motorola's lineup of cell phones includes only a few location-enabled models. David Rudd, a Motorola representative, said that wireless network equipment makers and handset providers generally must experience a demand before committing to creating large quantities.
  2. Carriers aren't ready yet to support very many customers. They are focused on meeting the Federal Communications Commission's 2005 “e-911” deadline: the technology that lets emergency workers locate cell phones that have been used to call 911.
  3. There was virtually no revenue last year from consumers using location services. Therefore, carriers are sticking to their core competencies and focus on selling voice calls right now. That's what's going to really keep them alive...

At the same time, Hutchinson 3G (quite an “Aqua”-feel to its look) in the UK seems to be ready for it. On its website, you can now pre-order your handset. Getting the pre-order in before March 31st, you even get a 50% discount. Amongst the range of services that are promoted, is of course “Locate”: one can access a comprehensive listing of businesses throughout Britain, plus maps and directions.

From a geographic point of view there are two interesting applications on the Hutchinson website. First of all, a store locator enables early-adopters to search by place name or postcode to find the nearest store to pre-order their handsets by. Then, there is a coverage checker to find out about 3's current and future coverage. Again users can search by place name or postcode. The transparant colours on the map indicate “Voice & picture now”, “Video April / May”, “Video end June”, “Video end 2003”. The maps, from Ordnance Survey, are really horrible though. By the way, Vodafone do a nice coverage checker too.

UPDATE: if you are looking for coverage maps world-wide (Come on, admit it! You are just as sad as I am), you can find interactive coverage maps for over 400 operators in 182 countries/areas at the website GSM World of the GSM Association.  permanent link for this entry

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Randomly picking up a newspaper on the tube this afternoon, I came across an interesting article describing Hoppy. Hoppy is an audio guide combines MP3 and GPS to deliver 70 hours of tourism and recreation information based on its user's location. As users approach a point of interest, Hoppy starts up describes the site. Each device offers a selection of languages (French, Dutch, and English) and themes depending on the selected interest of the user (e.g. history, architecture, food,...).

The article highlights some interesting points. So far, Hoppy only covers Aube-en-Champagne, France's second largest champagne-producing area. On its website, it informs that Hoppy audio guides are being developed for Europe, Asia, and North America.

Only 10-15 minutes after leaving town, Hoppy was able to pick up the GPS signals that enable it to work out where it is. Furthermore, Hoppy doesn't always know if it is coming or going either. The commentary sometimes kicks in upon leaving a point of interest, resulting in hearing all about the wonderful buildings and interesting churches as the town disappears in the distance. As previously discussed, GPS suffers from bad reception in “urban canyons”. The former issue could be addressed by combining GPS with other positioning technology to significantly enhance Hoppy's ability to establish its location. For the latter issue, Hoppy not only has to be able to establish its position more accurately and more quickly, but it also has to be able to establish its direction of movement.

Visiting the town of Essoyes, where Renoir lived for 30 years, where his studio can be visited, a Renoir trail followed, and his grave seen in the local churchyard, Hoppy remained stubbornly silent the whole time. Nobody pays to be included in the device's tourist information. The selections are made by the local tourist department, who also provide the text. This issue could be addressed by an Open Source initiative like London-based Grubstreet. Or how about being informed about interesting locations your friends left you along the lines of GeoNotes?

Currently Hoppy must be picked up and dropped off at the tourist office in Troyes, but by the summer other tourist offices in the region will be renting it out. Then the plan is to bring the region's hotels into the scheme, to make Hoppy a familiar sight in the Aube area. The whole device weighs 10oz and sits on top of the dashboard. You also get a portable speaker and an audio jack enabling you to link Hoppy to your car stereo or to a personal stereo if you want to take it out of the car with you. Having yet another dedicated box really isn't the future. With mobile phones and PDAs becoming location-aware, I see Hoppy's future in transforming it to a service that can be readily accessed anywhere you are on any mobile device...  permanent link for this entry

Blogger choking on a time-out... Happens regularly these days. Maybe because my entries are getting longer?  permanent link for this entry

Monday, March 03, 2003

Talking of spoof-documentaries (or “mockumentaries”), the short film Wisselgesprek by Peter Dubois addresses the inhibition with which people discuss private matters in public space when using their mobile phones and highlights the contradiction of not knowing the person opposite of you, and evesdropping on his or her inner thoughts at the same time...  permanent link for this entry

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Mixing fact and fiction: on the BBC's website dedicated to the spoof-documentary “the Office”, you'll find maps of Slough and even a plan of the actual office. The website invites visitors to contribute their own pictures of Slough! That's as exciting as it gets in Slough, though...  permanent link for this entry

Like to know more about UpMyStreet Conversations (UMSC) discussed earlier at Stef Magdalinski, one of the people behind this idea, presents at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference 2003.

The Austrian towns of Salzburg and Vienna both have their own city-wide, online GIS implemented in SVG. There's even an SVG atlas for the region of Tirol! More interesting applications of SVG can be found at carto.netpermanent link for this entry