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GeoSmart’s AA Real Time Traffic Solution beats the traffic for TV3 Commuter

GeoSmart has been developing the AA Traffic Service for a few years now, evolving the old Roadwatch Service to a modern dynamic service which is becoming more sophisticated all the time. Around 12 months ago we updated the Roadwatch website to include accidents, incidents such as slips and flooding, road construction and maintenance. This has made the site incredibly popular when there are storms, long weekends and for any motorists to whom time is important.

In recent times we have added real time traffic congestion flow and are transmitting this data to a number of car navigation devices including Navman, TomTom and the Garmin Asus Android mobile.

One of the most recent developments is the launch of TomTom’s Go Live 1000 and 1050 models with TomTom HD Traffic. New Zealand was the first country outside of Western Europe to launch HD Traffic, because of their confidence in the quality for GeoSmart’s Real Time Traffic information, delivered as AA Traffic. What is most significant and novel about the Go Live is that it comes with a SIM Card and because of this is able to get real time traffic anywhere it can receive a Vodafone connection. It can therefore show you live traffic congestion data overlaid on the road, pretty much anywhere in the country.

AA Traffic Congestion On TomTom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week TV3 reporter Alistair Wilkinson put it to the test by commuting into the station from the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland following the exact instructions from the TomTom based on current traffic conditions. As you can see in the video, he was competing with 2 other cars from the same location. One took the route that Google Maps recommended, the other took a popular route via the motorway and got a good run. In the news story Alistair was very surprised with the route which avoided the motorway. He said “This goes against every bone in my body to go this way to get to work”. Who won? Check the video:

AA Traffic Congestion Flow on the Roadwatch Website

April 1, 2011 Posted by | AA Maps, AA Traffic, Auckland, car navigation, driving, driving directions, gps, location based services, map tools, new zealand, real time traffic, satnav, tomtom, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are Maps all Created Equal?

I really enjoyed reading Brian Rudman’s article in this morning’s NZ Herald. It was about Google Maps and the quality of their data in Auckland. Basically it was about the usefulness of Google Maps to help people find their way around, getting walking and driving directions, and most recently the inclusion of information to help people find out which buses to catch and how to get to them using data from ARTA.

I urge you to read the story, because it highlights some interesting points that we often struggle to explain to people.

I’m not knocking Google, I love Google and spend a lot of time using it, as do many of my colleagues. But here’s the thing. Google is a data collection and aggregation tool that enables people to access data from multiple sources and use it for their purposes. In some cases Google creates the data, which includes having people drive vehicles such as the Street View cars to help people make better use of maps.

The problem we frequently have is that people think that, because there are Google Maps and Google is ‘the authority’ then their maps must be the best, or, as people often learn the hard way, that Maps are all pretty much the same.

If that were the case, there would be no need for GeoSmart, because Google obviously has far more money and resources than we do. What we have and they don’t, is a mandate to have the best possible maps that can be used to meet people’s varying needs. One of the key components in this, is what we call our ‘turn restriction database’. We know where all the roads are, we know which ones have traffic lights or roundabouts, we know which ones are one way streets, or have no left or right turns. We know the streets where you can turn legally, but a large vehicle probably wouldn’t be able to complete the manoevre.

We know which roads in NZ actually exist. What do I mean? New Zealand was town planned in Edinborough a couple of centuries ago and some 20% of the streets draughted, were never constructed. We know those as paper roads. These still exist on our government maps (which services such as Google use) because they have a legal status and the Government can still retake the land to build them.

For decades, our people have maintained maps of New Zealand working with data we collected by driving and flying New Zealand over and over again. We continue to do this and move the boundaries taking advantage of new technology so that our data quality and accuracy stays ahead of the needs of our clients. For example, with the RAPIDcV, we now are able to collect data at 15cm accuracy for future car navigation and safety systems. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, Eco-routing and other future technologies will only work with quality data and for these services, near enough is definitely not good enough.

When people buy car navigation systems, they are relying on accuracy to help them find their way around. There is a good reason why quality brands such as Navman and TomTom come to us for data, because near enough is not good enough. If you take a look at web map sites where you can see the roads on aerial photography and where they show the roads using the labels, you will see that they often don’t match up. In other words, they are not spatially accurate.

If you want to claim tax rebates for times when your commercial vehicle is not on a public road, you need to to be able to prove accurately, where you drove. If your map itself isn’t accurate, then your argument must be flawed.

In the old days, we looked at a map and interpreted the data in our heads. If something didn’t look right, we worked our way around it, and it wasn’t a problem. When you put your map on a computer and have the computer make decisions for you, the quality of the data has a far more serious impact. That is why we have a large team of professionals employed in NZ to make sure that we have as accurate data as possible. That is why the NZ Automobile Association invested in our company.

One of today’s problems is that these maps are now accessible on mobile phones and other devices. People assume that all maps are basically the same and then don’t understand when they get a poor result. They might blame the phone manufacturer or the technology, but the old addage in the computer industry is still true. GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out.

So next time you want to rely on a data source, don’t assume that all maps are the same. They aren’t. In some cases it doesn’t matter, but in many cases it does. Our people care about quality, they use patience and skill to produce map data that people rely on.

Thanks Brian for showing us that map quality matters and being a multinational giant doesn’t necessarily mean they are always the best. Who knows NZ better than Kiwis? I’m sure you will find AA Maps and other sites that use GeoSmart Maps a tad more reliable.

December 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Tools Do You Need to Develop a Mobile LBS Application Part 4

A key component and possibly the second highest webmap query on the Internet is for Driving Directions and this has even more relevance in a mobile scenario. Driving Directions is a key point of difference for GeoSmart in New Zealand. In many other countries, the government provides free or low cost map data of a very high quality and suitable for car navigation and other purposes. In New Zealand this isn’t the case. The LINZ maps are the official datum for cadastral property boundaries. However, their road centreline is derived by a computation of the property boundaries.

As I’ve previously mentioned, New Zealand was town planned in Edinborough in the late 1800’s and many of the roads they draughted were never formed or constructed. They are known as paper roads. These roads exist on paper and on the LINZ map data used by services such as Google Maps, but they physically don’t exist. An example is Threepwood Road in Otago. If you have a look on the hybrid mode of satellite view and map view on Google, you will see that while the road exists on the map data, it physcially isn’t there in the satellite photography. This would cause a real problem if you wanted to go for a drive on it.

When GeoSmart discovered this problem and realised that, while it didn’t matter a lot for printed maps where you still have to analyse the data and make a decision on where you drive yourself, practically speaking, if you used either car navigation or a printed set of directions and couldn’t see a map as such, paper roads could cause a lot of confusion and grief. With LINZ having the only full maps of New Zealand, we decided we had to make our own maps. To do this we drove almost every road in New Zealand and also used a lot of Orthophotography to develop a driven road centreline, eliminating all paper roads and at the same time creating an accurate road centreline.

While collecting this data, we were also able to collect information such as the intersections controls (roundabouts, traffic lights etc), turn restrictions (one way streets, no left turns), speed zones, whether the road was sealed, accuracy of street signs and much more. We were even able to establish things like the angles of corners and inclination of roads (how steep they are etc).

This enabled us to build the car navigation dataset used by all the major brands including TomTom, Navman, BMW, Ford, Siemens VDO etc. It also allowed us to create sites like AA Maps and provide the API’s used on Wises web site. Now you can go to AA Maps, plan your journey and print out turn by turn directions from anywhere in NZ to anywhere in NZ and be confident that the instructions will work.

So, from there to your mobile. The Directions Web Service will work on any device that can identify a start point and where the user wants to go. The User Interface is up to the developer  and will probably vary from phone to phone because of its controls and screen size. For example a touch screen such as that on the iPhone or Windows Mobile, would have functionality closer to a web page, whereas a phone without a touch screen would have to function differently. That is really just a design issue, not a significant barrier.

If your phone has GPS or the ability to use cell tower triangulation, it will know where it is. But it is also possible (if you know) to tell your mobile where you are and where you want to go This could be an address you want to get directions to, or it could be Points of Interest from our POI Web Service mentioned in Part 2 of this series. Once you know the start and end of your journey, you can use the Directions web service to guide people directly to your desired location.

So now you can have turn by turn directions delivered to your phone. This could be send as an SMS with text directions, it could be an MMS combining text directions with an image of the route map, or an image zoomed in to your destination, or it could be information in your mobiles web or WAP browser, with enanced functionality.

Here’s the thing. If you are at home or in the office, you can use your PC, but it is of no use to you in your car or away from the computer. You may not know where you are going to want to go until you are out on the road. An LBS application with the Directions Web Service can give you the same freedom, without the necessity of interpreting a map, or more commonly the map isn’t there when you need it. Pick up the kids, meet someone for coffee, find your way from the car park to the show. All easy to do with LBS.

Just as a footnote, a few days ago a 62 year old woman set of from Christchurch to her  home on the West Coast of the South Island. She didn’t arrive and her friends and family spent a couple of days searching for her after she crashed her car down a 5 metre embankment. She was eventually found but the story could have been very different. She may not have been found at all, or not until it was too late to save her life, or she could have been found very easily. If she had a mobile with GPS, after she had been reported missing, if the phone was within coverage, it could have been called and located using an LBS service using GeoSmart tools and her searchers could have had turn by turn directions on their mobiles, right to the spot where her car was.

I suspect this sort of application will be available within the next few years, but someone has to create it first. Tracking elderly people is something that is also a major opportunity.

April 5, 2009 Posted by | AA Maps, cartography, driving directions, geosmart, gps, lbs, location based services, maps, Mobile maps, navman, new zealand, new zealand maps, satnav, tomtom, web maps | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Location Innovation and Navball

How do you combine LBS technology with GPS and mobile phones with a gaming environment that is fun, educational and gives you plenty of exercise? That’s one of the questions we have for Kiwis who enter the GeoSmart Location Innovation Awards.

29 people have entered the awards so far and we know of several more people who are working on projects. A lot of interest has come from universities and we all know that university students love coming up with ideas for fun things to do. The Auckland City Flashmob Group already has 487 members who have signed up through their Facebook page.

In this blog I am going to give you some examples of applications that might gove you ideas on applications to create yourselves. One that I really like as a concept is Navball which comes from Amsterdam. The Netherlands are of course a nation of football fans and it makes a lot of sense to combine their love of the round ball game with GPS and LBS technology to come up with something that is fun, fast, competitive and very Generation Y.

The concept is that you have two teams of 11 players, just like you would in a game of soccer and they compete to kick a virtual ball into a virtual goal. The playground is a set of predefined streets, unknown to the players before they hit the field. The players off course have soccer strips so that they are recognisable from the general public and won’t cause concern for pedestrians as they go about their business.

Each player is equipped with a Nokia N95 which is GPS enabled. The players are shown where the ‘ball’ is and the location of the first ‘goal’. They have to form a line in the shape of an arrow in order to be able to identify the direction the ball will be kicked. The game lasts for 45 minutes and the winner is obviously the team which has achieved the most goals.

The play can be followed on a Google Maps mashup which allows viewers to monitor a scoreboard and see the locations of each of the 22 players as they make their way around the course, which is the streets of Amsterdam.

Here is a promotional video of the game being played in Amsterdam.

Navball is the brainchild of The Saints mobile software, one of many innovative Dutch developers. Another application they have launched which would be great fun for both tourists and locals is Get Lost in Rotterdam. It’s sort of like a treasure hunt, except that it is simply about finding new places and having fun. It is designed such that it could be played in any city in the world.

You send a free txt message to a short code and can then download the application which has 15 consecutive instructions. I watched a video demonstration on the website, which went like this:

1. Get on the tram heading for the city centre and get off at the 5th stop.

2. Take the first Metro (subway) entrance and go one stop.

3. Follow the first dog you see for (x) time and then turn left

4. Catch the first available bus. etc

There are lots of prizes for people who send in photos from their journey and the game will run on many different brands and models of phone that have Java capability.

These games are entertaining, fun, involve adventure and exercise. I don’t know if they allow you to track the people or their trail on a map website like AA Maps, but that would obviously add some more fu, not only to the players but to others.

So there are a couple of cool examples of LBS Games. What do you think you could come up with? You can enter to win prizes with your idea at www.locationinnovation.co.nz. If it’s really good, you could be heading for a free trip to the USA to the Where 2.0 conference in May next year!

December 4, 2008 Posted by | AA Maps, awards, competition, competitions, geosmart, gps, lbs, lbs games, location innovation awards, maps, new zealand, satnav, Uncategorized, university, web maps | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment