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Driving the data for navigation devices

Posted: 16 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:navigation system? digital map? mobile solution?

Blogs are still abuzz with the debate about the security implications of Google Maps' Street View, launched at the end of May this year. The feature enables users to view and navigate within 360-degree street level imagery of places of interest to the user. Originally available for major U.S. cities, the feature has been launched in Europe and Japanas well. And the debate has followed there as well.

On one side of the debate are those who fear the easy availability of image information of their streets and homes. On the other are those who are grateful for the advantages offered by the service.

This is a debate that hasn't touched digital map data pioneer Navteq. Hitting the road many years before Google's fleet of Streetview Camera Cars, Navteq's field vehicles collect much more information beyond pictures. Armed with digitized information from paper maps and satellite photos, the field personnel drive the roads to collect more data, including the slope and curvature of the road, the number of lanes, speed limits, landmarks that people would use in navigatinga total of 260 road attributes in all.

No privacy issue
The information that Navteq gets for their map data is in the public domain, but "What's unique to Navteq is the way we capture that data and catalog it. So there is no huge privacy issue about the data itself," explained Kelly Smith, senior VP of corporate marketing at Navteq.

Also, Navteq's database is licensed by partners who create the applications that process the data for presentation to the end-user. "One of the key differentiators for Navteq is that we provide technical consulting support to our customers to help them understand how to use our database because it is a very complex organism. So in the course of these conversations it is quite unlikely that we will not understand the business and how they would use the data. It's highly unlikely it would be used inappropriately," Smith clarified.

Navteq's field personnel drive cars to collect data in 73 countries.

Unbounded solutions
Navteq's market solutions are everywhere. "We're proud to tell you that Navteq maps are pretty much used everywhere. We're widely used in automotive, portable navigation devices, as well as Internet mapping and increasingly in handset applications as well as a series of business enterprise applications." Smith enumerated. "We've mapped 73 countries with our navigable database, and we are currently used by more than a million users everyday, and we drive about 18 billion map and routing transactions annually."

And those numbers are growing everyday as more applications are designed. Unique applications have been created to meet Navteq's Global Location-Based Services (LBS) Challenge, a competition to find the best applications created to use Navteq's map data.

Recent winners include JoikuSpot, a free location-aware mobile software solution that turns cellphones, laptops and Internet tablets into hotspots. GreenDrive technology helps drivers develop smart and safe driving techniques that lead to 10-25 percent fuel savings. And the On2Gether social networking solution provides communication, location information, security and entertainment in one package.

Another remarkable use of Navteq data was during Hurricane Katrina. Working with long-time partner Garmin Ltd, Navteq provided rescue workers with a means to navigate through roads they couldn't even see, since all the roads were under water.

Smith's own favorite Navteq application "is an application in San Francisco that is used to route and transport people who are blind to their medical appointments." So Navteq data is clearly used for the benefit of the people in the area.

Navteq collects data on a total of 260 road attributes, including road slope and curvature, number of lanes, speed limits and landmarks that people would use in navigating.

Refreshing the database
Going back to the debate, one blogger commented that the people who were afraid of Google Street View should realize that the pictures are not in real time. It isn't as if there is a stalker who can watch you live your day using Google's service.

For Navteq, however, the issue is precisely to keep map data current. They aren't stalking people, but they are following the roads, redriving them constantly to refresh the database, so that map users will never get wrong information.

This is particularly challenging in cities that are growing. "In a city like Dubai, where the rate of change is enormous, we're constantly having to redrive that," Smith said.

And beyond keeping data current, "one of the biggest challenges in keeping a map fresh is moving data down the value chain," Smith said. That is, having updated their database, Navteq has to ensure that their partners and customers, all the way down to the end-users, get the updated information.

However, the biggest challenge of all for Navteq "is that there is so much of the world that can be location-enabled. It's prioritizing what we're going to get to first," Smith shared.

In time, the Google Street View hubbub is sure to settle down. Meanwhile, Navteq is avoiding the furor and keeping its cars driving and redriving, up and down, more and more and more of the world's roads.

- EE Times-Asia

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