August 20, 2007
Knowing the Road Ahead
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Knowing the Road Ahead

by Susan Smith

In late
June when I spoke with Kevin Thomas, vice president, Marketing for Intermap, and E. Ted Garlock, senior manager, Global Marketing Communications, it was obvious there was a lot of exciting stuff going on with that company.

At that time, Intermap and Microsoft announced the launch of Microsoft’s enhanced Virtual Earth (VE) 3D viewing platform based on Intermap’s elevation data for all of Great Britain. Readers may recall that Intermap gained attention from their creation of an accurate, up-to-date elevation data model for Great Britain, called NEXTMap Britain, and is also creating maps for the rest of Western Europe, to be completed this year.

This past month, Intermap has made three more exciting announcements that are noteworthy.

In the past year in particular, the news has pointed out situations that called for better off road data. Last December, the
James Kim family became lost in a remote region of Oregon, and all but one of the family were rescued due to the discovery of a faint signal from their cell phone.
Microsoft researcher Jim Gray disappeared while sailing in January of this year, and neither he nor his yacht, were ever found. Gray had on board his cell phone which was triangulated and an
EPIRB — an emergency radio beacon designed to broadcast a homing signal if it sinks, which stayed silent.

A high tech hunt was launched in each of these cases. What became glaringly apparent was that all the technology we had was either unavailable or insufficient to change the course of events. Part of the problem, at least in the case of the land-based tragedy, it would seem, is we don’t have sufficient maps and data for off-road.

Last week, Intermap announced a 3D map product called AccuTerra, which will provide existing outdoor GPS and PND devices with 3D maps and off-road points of interest (POI), including forest roads and trails. AccuTerra integrates maps integrated with interactive 3D rendering software. “We are creating a product for off-road that will go on any device, that will have a 3D off road network,” said Garlock. “Because of our elevation model, we’ll be able to put line of sight information, and safety features for being lost, or injured, to be able to tell if you have cell phone signals or not, and where to go to get them.”

The product’s 3D aerial maps and digital terrain model content also has overlaid route tracking information. Users will be able to do fly arounds, analysis and make wiser decisions whether mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding or driving.

AccuTerra’s map content is developed from Intermap’s highly successful NEXTMap countrywide 3D digital mapping program and includes data from other sources.

Thomas said that the recreational market is “huge.” “The consumer electronics industry reinvents itself every six months, and when you compare that to insurance and automotive, they sometimes make governments look like they move fast. The PND and GPS space is probably absolutely the fastest moving and we already have product on the shelf moving in California and the rest of the U.S. will have the recreational and off road. All the OEMs are taking a look at how we address the off-road recreation market.” Thomas noted that generally your device does not provide much mapping coverage once you leave the pavement.

In working demos of Moab and Yosemite, Thomas said that you can literally see all the road vectors, and all the lines where all the trails are. You can turn on a layer to display all your points of interests and campgrounds, and if you want to zip up and look over the edge of a hill, you can move your cursor around on a screen.

A mask layer will show public and private land. If you need cell phone coverage, all the cell tower locations are in the product with line of site analysis. You can turn that on to find out where to dial 911 if you have an emergency in the back country.

Thomas said that PND and GPS devices are now getting stronger and the processing chip powers are continuing to increase at a speed that can handle the data. “That’s a market that grows to 55 million widgets being sold by 2011, and another 20-30 million phones that are GPS PND-capable. It’s an $80 plus million widget market per year by the year 2011. It all has GIS data in it.”

On August 6th, Intermap announced the provisioning of a grant to Auburn University to “investigate and evaluate ways to save fuel using Intermap’s GIS 3D road geometries.” The focus of the project is on “achieving simulation results and designing a predictive cruise controller and automatic gear shifting algorithm to calculate optimal vehicle speed and gear selection that improve fuel economy and operating costs.”

The heavy trucking industry is in the limelight here, as fuel expense is attributed to changes in road slope. Auburn University has a heavy trucking simulation department headed by Dr. David Bevly, assistant professor in mechanical engineering at Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. In addition, Eaton Corporation, a world leader and supplier of heavy duty transmissions, serves as an advisor on the project. This ties in with Intermap’s own interest in finding out what knowing the road ahead can do for you and what can you do with that data. “When you look at the fact that we use a billion gallons of diesel fuel a year for heavy trucks, if you could affect all of
them, that is a huge impact, let alone affecting greenhouse gases,” Thomas pointed out.

The 3D road geometry and GPS-based control system is designed to reduce the heavy trucks’ fuel consumption. In the research, the designed system is tested with real commercial 3D road geometry, then the influence of the road geometry and sensor accuracy on fuel economy is studied. What the system consists of are vehicle state estimators, road geometry and an optimal control system.

GPS technology estimates the truck position, Intermap’s 3D road geometry identifies information about the road slope and an optimal control system is then designed to predict and achieve an ideal truck velocity and/or engine speed, according to Wei Huang, a member of Bevly’s research team. The optimal control system gauges automatically the best time to accelerate, or change gears going into and coming out of curves and slopes.

Although not yet announced, Intermap is working with the same concept of knowing the road ahead for managing fuel/battery performance in hybrid automobiles. “In all these cases we’re working either directly with the OEM or with the suppliers of the devices in the vehicles themselves. It varies by manufacturer and by country,” Thomas explained.

Automotive has yet another element of interest for Intermap: “ADAS” -- Advanced Driver Assisted System, for automotive safety, which enables vision enhancement, headlight steering, curve speed warning and adaptive cruise control.

In July, Intermap announced a joint development agreement with
Visteon Corporation, a well recognized automotive technology developer, and one of two major providers of lighting for automobiles worldwide. As part of the agreement, Intermap will provide Visteon with highly accurate 3D road geometries for the entire country of Germany. The data, derived from the NEXTMap Europe mapping program, will be incorporated into the development of advanced applications of a 3D road vector database. “The initial
application is what’s called predictive adaptive lighting, so it’s headlights that steer ahead of you because they know the curve in the road.” explained Thomas. “We provide that knowledge of the road vector so that the computers in the car can know what lies ahead before the driver knows. and that’s the key with all these automotive applications. The car can start making some intelligent decisions to assist and protect the driver.”

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