Tele Atlas Adds Human Element To Updating Map Data

One way Tele Atlas is expanding how it updates geographic mapping data is by asking people to provide feedback online.

Laurie Sullivan, Contributor

September 28, 2006

4 Min Read

Anyone who has hit a dead end or got lost on their way to a meeting after carefully printing driving directions from an online site may appreciate the difficulties in keeping track of changes to the world's roadways, toll ways and freeways.

Tele Atlas, a company that gathers raw data for use in navigation systems, and mobile and online maps, used by Google, MapQuest, Nokia and others, has expanded the way it updates geographic mapping data by asking people to provide feedback online.

When the site officially launches in October, it will allow users of Internet, personal navigation and wireless devices to report changes to roads. "We are trying to help customers report changes to the database because sometimes they're familiar changes we haven't encountered," said Kamron Barron, systems and training manager for Tele Atlas North America at Tele Atlas Inc.

The site will augment a fleet of 10 bright-orange vans equipped with cameras, servers, and computers running three software applications. Drivers cover every inch of U.S. highway digitally videoing roadways.

Analysts believe mapping data will increase in importance as more electronics rely on the information to support more emerging applications that integrate real time-and-location stamps, for example. "Mapping data is an enabling technology," said Marina Amoroso, senior analyst for U.S. wireless/mobile at Yankee Group. "There are many ways for location-based services to sit behind regular apps we use daily.

In the future, consumers could see location-based services embedded behind, cellular phone camera, instant message, and push-to-talk features on phones, Amoroso said.

At Tele Atlas, cameras capture digital images of speed limit and stop signs, number of lanes per highway, and other landmarks a driver sees on roadways. The collected video is analyzed and turned into raw data for use by government agencies, as well as public and private companies.

On the roof of each van sits a global positioning system (GPS) and four cameras. Two stereo cameras provide forward and intersecting pictures of the road to let Tele Atlas create three-dimensional digital video footage. Two fixed cameras collect data on road signs.

An inertial measurement unit and odometer sit on the van's breaking system, which records the distance traveled, accurate within 0.5 and 1 inch. The system maps every angle the vehicle turns.

The system stores data in two 250-GB hard drives that fill up about every two weeks, Barron said. "We collect between 15 and 20-GB per day," she said. "We're working on a project to survey more in depth some of the lower road classes."

When full, the hard drives are shipped to Tele Atlas's Lebanon, N.H., headquarters, where technicians analyze, export the video, and turn it into raw data.

From the data, Tele Atlas builds detailed mapping layers for lane information, speed, elevation, and more. If someone wants to know about every manhole cover on a particular road, Barron said Tele Atlas can access that information.

Google, MapQuest, Nokia, TomTom and others use the data as a layer in maps to provide turn-by-turn driving instructions via the Internet, mobile phones or navigation systems.

Subscribers to GPS location-based services (LBS) will account for 315 million, up from 12 million this year, estimates ABI Research

Earlier this week, Nokia said Tele Atlas will provide the digital map data and dynamic location content for the Nokia N95, a new multimedia device equipped with GPS functions launched. The handset maker calls the Nokia N95 a "multimedia computer" that offers consumers multiple ways to connect to information, entertainment and people. As part of the Nokia Nseries multimedia personal computers, the Nokia N95 features built-in global positioning system (GPS), WLAN, a 5 mega-pixel camera, HSDPA and dual mode menu.

The Nokia N95's navigation features will offer free, basic mapping and routing functions to initiate local searches for more than 100 countries, more than 15 million points of interest to help consumers easily find local attractions, and optional upgrades to full navigation features to let users quickly find routing information wherever they need to go.

Tele Atlas's 2,300 employees in 30 countries map out roads in 51 countries.

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