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Can You Trust Car Navigation?

This is a subject that comes up frequently in discussions and one that we all wonder about from time to time. We have been in the car navigation business since it started in New Zealand, first working with Navman and then over the years supporting and providing map data to most (not all) brands, where data accuracy is key. I won’t belabour the point that GeoSmart is the only country that continually drives all of New Zealand in our RapidcV mapping car.

If you follow the link above you will see the car not only has many sensors on it, but it also has a pile of cameras. The link explains more about the data the car collects.

In Auckland we have a lab full of specialists in a variety of areas including database, cartography, applications development and more. They source data from a wide range of sources including of course the car, data from central and local government agencies, road transport companies, AA members and the public. They collect, validate and manage data all year round and prepare it for quarterly updates, compile it into various formats for different clients and then our database team uses a variety of Quality Assurance tests for up to a month to try to break the data, in effect to make sure it is as near as possible to bulletproof. Then every quarter we ship the updates to several car navigation companies including of course Navman and TomTom.

The data doesn’t just include exactly where the road is, but also changes to speed zones (to around 10 metres accuracy), roundabouts, traffic lights,road realignments, subdivision updates and much more. Some examples in recent updates include things like the Victoria Park changes including the soutbound viaduct and the northbound tunnel, the Newmarket Switch. It includes lane data and a huge range of Points of Interest from dump sites for campervans and public rest areas through to a wide range of business and recreational locations.

So back to the first question. Can you trust car navigation?

The first answer is whilst our data is 100% driven, validated and mapped, map data is constantly changing and we can’t guarantee the exact completeness at any point in time. We provide an update every 3 months and one of the things you need to consider is how up to date your map data is. If your car nav application uses GeoSmart map data, then they have the latest data and most of them offer free map update deals when you buy a new unit and also ongoing subscriptions to keep your map data current. This is very important.

The image here shows the changes to the Victoria Park Viaduct. If you have old maps, there is every possibility that if you are heading south, your navigation will give you misleading directions based on the old road configuration. For example if you have old maps in your car navigation and are heading to SH16 from the Harbour Bridge, you could be told to keep right then keep left. This should see you on the right hand viaduct which does not provide access to State Highway 16. Now you will have a detour to make, trying to work out how to get back on route. This raises one very important point, you must use your navigation as an aid, in conjunction with what you see outside, while you are driving. If your instructions don’t make perfect sense then don’t follow them. We hear stories of people being told to turn into a canal in Berlin, or wedging their trucks between ancient buildings in Britain. Some common sense would have avoided those incidents.

Assuming you have GeoSmart Maps in your car navigation system and use common sense, then the answer is, yes you can trust your car navigation system. I have been driving with car nav for over 7 years now and I continue to be surprised that there are times when I think the navigation instructions are wrong, (I believe I also ave a very good sense of direction) and the nav found better ways for me to get from A to B even in areas I know pretty well.

Another major factor to consider with car navigation is real time traffic and a number of brands now offer this as a feature. Following is a link to a TV3 experiment where 3 journalists drove from West Auckland to the TV studio. One used TomTom car navigation with HD Traffic (using AA Traffic by GeoSmart), one took the route the locals took and the other followed Google Maps directions. Watch this link to see what happened. I think it proves the point that you can trust quality car navigation devices that have the best current map data.

We welcome your feedback.

March 5, 2012 Posted by | AA Maps, AA Traffic, Auckland, car navigation, driving directions, geosmart, navman, new zealand maps, real time traffic, satnav, tomtom, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2011 Rugby World Cup

The Rugby World Cup in Auckland is just over a year away and GeoSmart is looking forward to the opportunities that come with it. As New Zealand’s premier location-based services (Mapping) company there are many areas that we will be looking at. These include:

  • Cartography. We produce many printed maps. These include map books for Wises and the NZ Automobile Association, as well as several travel atlas products for various organisations such as the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, which includes locations of Points of Interest of unique interest. We also produce custom maps for many organisations ranging from hotels to regional tourism organisations.
  • Car Navigation. GeoSmart is the provider of map data and Points of Interest for the leading brands including Navman and TomTom. Many people coming from overseas will be able to use our map data to find the venues, accommodation, attractions, parking, bars and much more for the Rugby World Cup, making their trip stress free. We also now offer real time traffic to car navigation which would be great if you are trying to get to a venue close to kick off.
  • Real Time Traffic. We built and manage the new AA Traffic service. This service provides information on traffic incidents that might interfere with people getting to the match on time.  We do this with a number of services including subscription alerts via Email and Text Messaging, which can be found on the AA Traffic website. Traffic is also shown on other AA websites, Roadwatch and AA Maps. Real Time Traffic is also of course available on your car navigation product such as with Navman.
  • AA Maps website. This website is the perfect site for local and overseas travellers. A significant proportion of web traffic to AA’s websites come from overseas and this includes AA Maps. People are guided here with links from affiliated motoring associations around the world as well as people looking for services such as driving directions. This is a great site for people planning their routes, looking for other things to do while they are travelling, where to stay, where to eat and drink and where to have some fun and adventure.
  • Mobile Applications / Location Based Services. We are working with several companies who are developing applications for smartphones such as iPhone and Android. When your mobile knows where it is, it becomes easy to use GeoSmart’s highly accurate data about New Zealand roads and points of interest to add value to people touring New Zealand following the rugby tournament.
  • Web Mapping. Many companies use GeoSmart’s web mapping tools in their custom environments. Examples may be found on our home page. If you are looking to add maps, points of interest and turn by turn directions to your site, we would love to chat with you about how we can help.
  • Carbon Friendly. This has become a very important topic and one that we are committed to supporting. We are able to support concepts such as Eco-Routing, in effect, finding the route that uses the least fuel and carbon waste. Our RAPIDcV has been continuing to drive all of New Zealand at around 15cm accuracy, not only getting an accurate road centreline but also measuring the road’s inclination and even the camber of corners on the road. This highly accurate data allows us to support organisations focused on sustainable eco friendly policies.
  • Multi-modal routing. We have been developing solutions supporting the ability to guide people through various means of transport from foot to motorised. This includes situations where one trip might include different forms of transport. Rugby fans might use a combination. For example, they might drive to a carpark, then use public transport, finally walking from there to the match venue via restaurants and bars. Each transport medium has its own set of rules. For example a person walking, doesn’t need to worry about one-way streets and may be able to take advantage of short cuts through arcades etc, to get to their destination.

Whilst the Rugby World Cup may be over a year away, GeoSmart is working closely with our partners to assist them in achieving their goals, through the use of our data, web services and API’s and other products. If you would like more information, you will find our contact details here.

March 7, 2010 Posted by | AA Maps, car navigation, carbon footprint, cartography, driving, driving directions, geosmart, GIS, gps, iphone, lbs, location based services, map tools, maps, Mobile maps, navman, new zealand, real time traffic, route optimisation, Rugby World Cup, satnav, Sport, tomtom, Traffic | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for 10

Wow, where did the year go? This has been a huge year for GeoSmart and 10 looks to be equally exciting.  If you want to catch up with us, you have a few hours before we close for summer holidays. We re-open on 11 January.

The big one for the year just gone has to be AA Traffic. This was a long time in the planning and it has been very exciting for us to set up this real time traffic service covering all of New Zealand. Have you tried it yet? Check the Traffic web site before you go on holiday.  You will find that we have extended the free email and txt alerts until the end of January. You may have finished work, but accidents and other incidents don’t go on holiday. On the traffic page you will also find that we have Cook Straight Ferries as well as domestic and international airline departures and arrivals for Auckland and Christchurch airports.

If you set up a free account, you can have Roadwatch automatically open up to the area you live, work or play in so that you can see if there is anything you need to know about. Road works and ramp closures can be really frustrating, so this is a good place to keep an eye out for anything that might get in your way. They are time sensitive, so it is worth looking at before you get in the car, you can also click on Upcoming Events, to see if there is anything happening in the future that might make you want to change your plans.

If you haven’t already, you will see that our AA Maps website is continuously evolving with new features.  One of my favourites is the proximity feature. Pick an address or Point of Interest and you will see that you can now look for something within a 5km radius. For example if you were going to Rotorua for Christmas, you could look for  restaurants or bars within walking distance of your accommodation. You can also plan an entire itinerary, and drag and drop and drop the stops to help you fit more into your time while saving gas and carbon emissions. You can plan your trip, drag the route on the map to change the roads you will drive on and print it all out to take in the car. Of course you can view AA Traffic incidents and web cams on AA Maps as well, which again makes it a great site to check before you hop in your car.

We are thrilled to be able to give people who buy new Navman car navigation devices between December and January a free Lifetime License to AA Traffic. This is the ultimate way to get your traffic alerts. We are currently broadcasting in the greater Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch areas and more will be added in the new year. This totally changes the concept of GPS and car navigation. You can set it so that it only warns you if there is an incident on your route and gives you the option to accept an alternate route avoiding the incident. Who wants to spend their holiday stuck in their cars in a line behind an accident you could have avoided? You might have avoided buying nav because you know your way around, but you would never have known that the road was blocked ahead for the next 4 hours due to a serious accident. You will also love the ability to find your nearest petrol station, ATM, cafe etc, or perhaps a rest area, or a dump site for your campervan. And when the kids ask “Are we nearly there yet?” You can say, “we will be there in 17 minutes”:)

Of course we love our partners TomTom very much too. Their IQ Routes (which of course uses our road data)  has even surprised me on occasion in finding a new way to drive home, that I had never thought of. Other than AA Traffic, they share all the same excellent information that our other car navigation partners do.

We continue to add new data to our car nav solutions including 3D buildings, lane guidance and enhanced Points of Interest data. Car nav is a never ending part of our product development and we stay aware of all the new developments and features that our partners are planning so that we can offer the best possible data for New Zealand going forward. Of course our data collection and driving never end. The RAPIDcV continues to collect lots of valuable data and we have some exciting plans for enhancing this in the new year.

We have joined the adoption of social networking with a Facebook Fan Page where we are engaging with the public with competitions and discussion related to traffic issues. We also have a Twitter page, which we use in a similar way to share information and develop a community of people interested in supporting our efforts to share up to date information.

We have a number of new web mapping clients and several more that will go live early in the new year. For businesses who want quality map data, routing and access to our extensive Points of Interest database, our data is updated 11 times a year making sure that you can rely on our products. We feature some of those sites on our home page.

We launched the new Route2GO web service, which was a long time coming. We have so many companies who have been waiting for this and are very exciting to see new 3rd party solutions being developed that will help businesses with route optimisation as well as calculation of fair pricing for freight and travel costs. Whether it is a large transport company, a taxi service or a furniture shop with a single van, we now have a solution that will make life easy for you. We are working with and seeking new partners who would like to integrate these tools into their solutions for their clients as our model is to work with partners, not to compete with our clients in developing end user products.

There have been exciting developments in Fleet Management and we have had many new companies join us this year for everything from vehicle tracking to Road User Charges, with a number starting to adopt the concept of digital hubometers. RUC is here to stay and with over 80% of Fleet Management companies using our data, it would be fair to say that it is the standard.

We are working on many off shore projects and you will hear our name much more often outside of New Zealand, mostly with partners. A major part of our IP is the knowledge of how to build quality map datasets and then provide web services and API’s around this data.

We ran the Location Innovation Awards and in May we sent the lucky winner to the USA to attend the Where 2.0 Conference. We are going to run the 2010 Location Innovation Awards and have already had some exciting offers of sponsorship in prizes and technical support. We are changing the timing  this year to make it easy for our university partners to fit the Awards into their calendar, as we were very excited about the work that many students, especially at Massey University prepared. New Zealand has a huge amount of untapped talent and we look forward to helping the legends of the future make themselves known. Location Based Services are going to hit their straps in the next couple of years and you will see the GeoSmart name a lot in this context.

If you haven’t seen them, we now have regular e-newsletters. We used to print them, but print means cutting down trees and isn’t as multidimensional. You can find them here and also subscribe if you would like them in your inbox.

If you are still with me, thanks for reading this blog. There was much more activity that I could tell you about, but it’s time to take a deep breath and recharge, ready for the most exciting year yet in 10. I hope that you will be a part of that with us as I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and warm happy holidays. Thanks to everyone at GeoSmart and our many partners for helping to make this year the success it has been. We look forward to catching up with you soon.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | 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 Create An LBS Application in New Zealand Part One

The first thing you need is a map. Many people seem to think (as I did before I joined GeoSmart) that maps are fundamentally the same and equal. Makes sense doesn’t it. We’re a small country and you would expect all maps to have the same data.

That would seem to make sense given that the core data for New Zealand is supplied by the Government under the Land Institute of New Zealand. LINZ is the authority when it comes to things cadastral. They manage land titles, topographic data about New Zealand, hydrographic information, the official street name register and is a part of the NZ Geographic Board which is currently busy deciding whether Wanganui should now be called Whanganui.

When GeoSmart decided to enter the car navigation business, we quckly found that the ‘official’ maps of New Zealand have a ‘computed road centreline’. In effect that means that they use a system which places the road notionally between property boundaries. This wasn’t a big deal when it came to road maps because a road map requires that you plan your rate based on a paper image and if it is not exactly right, you can interpret the map and get to your desired location. This data also contains ‘paper roads’. Paper roads are unformed roads that were draughted in Scotland in the late 1800’s and never constructed. Again if you were to see a road on a map and it physically isn’t there, no problem, you can work your way around it. Consumers Institute has a number of pages on this topic.

Whilst not an issue on a printed map, consider the problems if you tried to use this data for car navigation and routing. When GeoSmart made the commitment to develop a car navigation database, it was quickly realised that it was necessary to drive every road in New Zealand and also use information gleaned from its Orthophotography in order to create an accurate road centreline database. In doing so, we were also able to capture information including one way streets, dual carriageways, turn restrictions, speed zones, the actual name on the street signs (which were sometimes different to the LINZ data) whether a road was paved or not and much more. In doing this we were able to create a database suitable for car navigation (over 90% market share including TomTom and Navman)  and many other services including Fleet Management (around 80% market share including Navman Wireless, Astrata, Xlerate, Argus Tracking, Blackhawk).

Fleet management is even more critical. One of the key reasons companies buy Fleet Management solutions is because they can claim back Road User Charges (RUC) as they are not liable to pay taxes when their trucks are on private property. If they were to try to do this using the computed road centreline, they would struggle to pass a Tax Audit because using in accurate maps, they could often be calculated to be off-road, when they are actually on the road. You can best see this in evidence by using a map dataset which overlays aerial or satellite imagery with the cadastral map data set. Especially in rural areas you will find that there are major discrepancies between the photography and the map data.

So after that long journey, GeoSmart is now able to offer you access to the Web Mapping API, which can enable you to offer routing, driving directions and other tools including displaying map tiles on a mobile or PDA display. You can search for streets, numbers and businesses.

If you explore the many LBS applications being developed overseas (some of which this blog will cover in the near future, you will see that driving or turn by turn directions are a very popular feature of LBS applications. Whether it is a LBS game, a buddy finder, proximity based marketing, planning a run or cycle trip, routing has a part to play and is one of the major reasons that people internationally use LBS applications. If you don’t have a map book (we create the Wises and AA Maps you probably have in your car)  or folded map with you, you have less opportunity to interpret data that is inaccurate, so it is imperative that you use accurate information in your application.In countries where the Government provides accurate maps (such as the USA) this is very easy to do, but in New Zealand, to date only GeoSmart has a fully driven road centreline. And of course as you know from a previous blog, we are now re driving all of New Zealand in the RAPIDcV with around 20cm accuracy.

The RAPIDcV GeoSmarts hi-tech data capture vehicle

So if you want to create an application with accurate maps and directions, the SmartFind WebMap API is a key component. If you would like to check this out, we do of course have the ability to give you a Developer Agreement at no cost so that you can start creating your application.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | AA Maps, car navigation, cartography, driving directions, geosmart, gps, lbs, lbs games, maps, new zealand, proximity based marketing, satnav, tomtom, Uncategorized, web maps | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mapping New Zealand with the RAPIDcV

The car is the brainchild of our GM Phil Allen who says “This is the most advanced mapping car to drive New Zealand roads. We have driven all of New Zealand’s roads with differential GPS before, but this car has leading edge technology. New technologies demand superior quality data.”

While other cars are getting pretty good information and imagery, pretty good isn’t enough for today’s needs. This car is collecting up to a terabyte of data a month from five cameras catching lane information, street signs, turn restrictions and points of interest. We are capturing lane information, road curb and other information of value to councils, road maintenance, utility companies (managing roadside assets) and much more. We are also taking a 360 degree panorama photo every 50 metres.

So what’s leading edge? How about an IMU? This is an Inertial Measurement Unit as used in modern missile tracking systems and allows us to capture data with accuracy of 15 centimetres, even when the GPS signals are weak or lost. With traditional differential GPS accuracy is lost when the satellite signal is poor such as behind volcanic hill shadows and particularly in places in the South Island where the satellites are very low on the horizon or totally obscured from the GPS antenna.

The car is capturing valuable information including inclinometer (the rate of incline and decline of the hill which can be useful for all sorts of things beyond navigation, for example in data for cycling, training for marathons, car rallies. It is also measuring road camber.  By providing road camber information to services such as Fleet Management it may be possible to reduce truck accidents where they approach corners to fast for the height and load, based on knowing the angle of the road camber through corners.

Nothing has been spared when it comes to accuracy. The nature of the work means that we had to use a SUV and the trade off is body roll. To compensate for this we have sonic technology which measures the body roll and this is used in data calculation algorithms making sure that our data is highly accurate.

This unique vehicle is going to enable us to provide for the ever changing demands of new technologies with the best national data ever collected in New Zealand. It is part of our continuous ongoing driving program supporting a range of products including the leading brands in Car Navigation (brands such as Navman and TomTom) and Fleet Management (brands such as Navman, Xlerate, Astrata) as well as clients who will use the imagery to reduce the need to do their own driving.

GeoSmart has built a console to monitor the information and is also creating plug-ins to allow the visual data to be used in conjunction with GIS systems such as Intergraph and has the ability to pinpoint the location of street hardware such as power poles and transformers.

When people see the vehicle, we want them to know what we are up to, so they will understand that we are working to enhance the mapping products and services they use including websites like AA Maps and Wises, the Map Books they carry in their cars and the car navigation devices they use.

December 1, 2008 Posted by | car navigation, driving, driving directions, gps, lbs, maps, new zealand, satnav, Uncategorized, web maps | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments