Posts Tagged ‘tele atlas’

Online Maps: Everyman Offers New Directions (NY Times)

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

zooatlantabeforeatlantazooopenstreetmap[Editor’s note: As my music prof was want to remind, the only difference between amateur and professional is one gets paid and the other doesn’t. My hope is Google Maps starts offering user-generated geodata back to the community, like OpenStreetMap.org now does. Left image is before community edits, right is after. Thanks Nora!]

Republished from the New York Times.

SAN FRANCISCO — They don’t know it, but people who use Google’s online maps may be getting directions from Richard Hintz.

Mr. Hintz, a 62-year-old engineer who lives in Berkeley, Calif., has tweaked the locations of more than 200 business listings and points of interest in cities across the state, sliding an on-screen place marker down the block here, moving another one across the street there. Farther afield, he has mapped parts of Cambodia and Laos, where he likes to go on motorcycle trips.

Mr. Hintz said these acts of geo-volunteerism were motivated in part by self-interest: he wants to know where he’s going. But “it has this added attraction that it helps others,” he said.

Mr. Hintz is a foot soldier in an army of volunteer cartographers who are logging every detail of neighborhoods near and far into online atlases. From Petaluma to Peshawar, these amateurs are arming themselves with GPS devices and easy-to-use software to create digital maps where none were available before, or fixing mistakes and adding information to existing ones.

Like contributors to Wikipedia before them, they are democratizing a field that used to be the exclusive domain of professionals and specialists. And the information they gather is becoming increasingly valuable commercially.

Google, for example, sees maps playing a growing strategic role in its business, especially as people use cellphones to find places to visit, shop and eat. It needs reliable data about the locations of businesses and other destinations.

“The way you get that data is having users precisely locate things,” said John Hanke, a vice president of product management who oversees Google’s mapping efforts.

People have been contributing information to digital maps for some time, building displays of crime statistics or apartment rentals. Now they are creating and editing the underlying maps of streets, highways, rivers and coastlines.

“It is a huge shift,” said Michael F. Goodchild, a professor of geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “This is putting mapping where it should be, which is the hands of local people who know an area well.”

That is changing the dynamics of an industry that has been dominated by a handful of digital mapping companies like Tele Atlas and Navteq.

Google is increasingly bypassing those traditional map providers. It has relied on volunteers to create digital maps of 140 countries, including India, Pakistan and the Philippines, that are more complete than many maps created professionally.

Last month Google dropped Tele Atlas data from its United States maps, choosing to rely instead on government data and other sources, including updates from users.

“They have coverage in areas that the big mapping guys don’t have,” said Mike Dobson, a mapping industry consultant who once worked at Rand McNally. “It has the opportunity to cause a lot of disruption in these industries.”

Continue reading at New York Times . . .

Bikers, Pedestrians Seeking Better Web Maps (AP)

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

philla bike(Reprinted from the Associated Press’ Mobile News Network. Thanks Curt!)

By PATRICK WALTERS. Published: Jul 25, 2008

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — With the old gas-guzzler in the garage, you’ve got your bicycle ready and your sneakers laced up. Now all you need is a map of the quickest, safest routes for riding around town. Well, not so fast.

As more commuters consider ditching their cars to save money on gas, Internet mapping services, cities and community groups are being pushed to lay out the best routes for biking and walking — just like drivers have found online for years.

Technical and practical roadblocks stand between such a network becoming ubiquitous, but there are signs of progress in this world of $4-a-gallon gas.

Google Inc. just launched a walking-directions service. MapQuest is reporting more use of its “avoid highways” function and offering a walking directions service on cell phones. And some cities have developed detailed online maps to help walkers, bikers and transit-riders find the fastest routes.

“They haven’t yet reached the Holy Grail of ‘I want to go from here to there, show me my options,’” said Bryce Nesbitt, a walking and biking advocate in the San Francisco area.

The first challenge: how to account for factors that make bicycle and walking routes different from driving paths.

Pedestrians need sidewalks, but don’t have to abide by one-way streets. Walkers and bikers can cut through paths or trails not meant for cars, but they must avoid highways. Bikers, unlike walkers, need to think about whether a road is paved, and are prohibited from sidewalks in some cities.

All these variables mean the fastest, easiest route for a driver may not be the same as for someone on foot or riding a bike. And developing a comprehensive system for non-drivers requires a tricky step: collecting huge volumes of local metadata and getting them on national databases used by mapping services.

“In the U.S. we are primarily a driving country, or have been for a very, very long time,” said Christian Dwyer, MapQuest’s senior vice president and general manager.

Advocates believe making electronic walking and biking directions available on the Internet could help change that culture, especially in urban areas.

The technical challenge involves overlaying detailed information for walkers and bikers onto existing online maps, and then applying it to algorithms used to lay out the quickest routes. If some path, walkway or shortcut is on a map but not accounted for in the algorithm, it may be useless.

“There are some horror stories of the past of people being routed onto the Appalachian Trail or a couple driving off the ferry dock,” said Jay Benson, vice president of global strategic planning for Tele Atlas, an international mapping company that supplies data to Google, MapQuest and others.

But if these tweaks are done right, the Internet mapping services could tell a biker to use, say, a riverside trail to avoid congestion, while showing a walker to dart through a parking lot to cut off a corner — or at the very least to head against car traffic on one-way streets.

Some local efforts are already having some success.

In Atlanta, a nonprofit group set up a Web site last fall that lets people punch in whether they are walking, biking or using transit — and then get specific directions. New York also has a site that helps bikers avoid roads that aren’t meant for biking and make maximum use of roads with bike lanes and greenways.

In Broward County, Fla., planners are working on a project that would let users factor in things such as speed limits, traffic volume, lane widths and shortcuts.

The project, shooting for online launch by next summer, has programmers looking at aerial maps and punching key factors into the route-setting algorithms. They also incorporate things like where people or bikers can make left turns but cars can’t.

“I get a lot of calls from people, especially now with gas prices being up, looking for routes for how to get to work,” said Mark E. Horowitz, the county’s bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.

This week, Google Maps launched a feature that offers walking directions for trips shorter than 6.2 miles. That is being added to a feature already helping visitors find the best mass transit routes.

Mapmakers and route planners say they need to capitalize on existing community knowledge. That would be a change for companies like Tele Atlas, which typically goes out and test drives road routes itself. But it is open to accepting bike and pedestrian route information from cities and community groups if it can be verified from multiple sources.

In Philadelphia, for example, regular walkers and bikers know many shortcuts that save time. A bicycle commuter traveling from the northern edge of downtown to residential and commercial areas to the south knows he doesn’t need to meander through the congestion of Center City; taking a paved trail along the Schuylkill River takes time and heartache off the trip.

Such “secrets” could be shared with newcomers or tourists if they were added to online maps.

“The easier you make it for people … the more they’re going to do it,” said Joe Minott, executive director of Philadelphia’s Clean Air Council.