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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
Community Data Informs the World’s Highways
By Susan Smith
Thanks to search engines, added to the collection of data accumulated by databases is “volunteer geographic information,” volunteered by citizens, consumer generated content in the specific context of geographic information. Other names for this are collective intelligence and crowd sourcing. What is significant about this content is that it does not come from an authoritative source, but from millions of private citizens who are not GIS experts and who know virtually nothing about geographic information, and receive no reward for collecting this data.
The acquisition of TeleAtlas by TomTom NV and the acquisition of NAVTEQ by Nokia have catapulted these companies into a whole new realm of data collection from a community of mobile phone users, launching capabilities that range from offering updated road geometry on streets as well as traffic conditions.
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TeleAtlas World Coverage Map
“By changing the geometry and in some cases this involved highlighting new geometry, we are realizing some of the initial benefits outlined when TomTom and TeleAtlas agreed to the acquisition of TeleAtlas by TomTom,” explained Jay Benson, vice president Strategic Business Planning at TeleAtlas.
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NAVTEQ Global Coverage Map
Benson said there are two different types of feedback they receive; one is active feedback where a user would use their device and to alert TomTom to the fact that they are missing the name of a particular street. If they receive notices from 50 different people who say the database has the same problem, the odds are high that there’s a problem with the database. The information is used to corroborate against existing sources. In the case of one way information, for example, TeleAtlas can look at highly detailed aerial imagery and see the direction of cars and validate it. There are many different ways they can corroborate that information against other sources.
“In the case of the GPS measurements, we’re literally receiving billions upon billions of GPS measurements,” said Benson. “We have algorithms that can go through and determine what the realistic geometry is, and then again, we can use third party resources to get validation of street names, direction of travel, etc.”
TeleAtlas produces one database which is then used by numerous vendors such as Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth. All community driven data enhances that database and the benefit extends to customers.
All feedback is added to a feedback library where it is processed. Obviously, a road that is travelled by many has the odds of getting more feedback than a road travelled infrequently. “There are a lot of different mechanisms to validate data,” said Benson. “You have people who are high volume feedback providers and you began to build a history on the ability to know that that feedback is good. You see how many changes are made in a certain area. Lots of times we might get many different tags, so we might get 20 people in a neighborhood all saying an address is off, it might be a different address, but from the statistical perspective that’s probably a good indication to TeleAtlas that there’s an issue in that area and we need to go correct it. We do have other partners that contribute feedback to us, and we’re trying to develop more relationships with other customers to get their feedback as well, because the power of the community is exponential as you get more feedback in.” This feedback in turn builds the internal systems with the capability to handle high volume and having the high volume to process.
The community provides feedback every day, according to Benson. TomTom users alone cover the equivalent of the entire European road network four times a day and the equivalent of the North American road network once per day. The bulk of the GPS measurements are coming from TomTom users that have opted into delivering data to the community.
All TomToms are equipped with GPS. When users plug their TomTom in at the desk to upload those GPS measurements, those measurements are cleansed to assure the data is private, etc., hence the billions of measurements that TeleAtlas receives. Map Share customers can make instant corrections to their maps on TomTom devices and share those corrections and routes with other users.
MultiNet 2009.02 makes it possible for TeleAtlas to identify changes in diverse geographical locations such as rural areas that are not as populated or well documented as other areas. Among the updates to TeleAtlas maps are changes from over 50,000 global sources that include construction companies, safety officials, government documents, truck drivers and companies, in addition to aerial and satellite imagery.
Primarily customers reside in Europe and North America, however, the Map Share community is also active in Taiwan and Asia Pacific. TeleAtlas does the statistical analysis to determine what roads are being used, direction of travel, and speeds of travel.
In addition, TomTom’s speed profiles database available for Tele Atlas calculates routes using real measurements instead of rough estimates. The speed profiles database is derived from almost half a trillion speed measurements accumulated and shared by TomTom customers in 25 countries for the past two years. Introduced last year, the speed profiles database offers accurate information about actual average speeds for every five minutes of the day any day of the week on all roads in 23 European countries plus 90 percent of U.S. roads.
NAVTEQ featured the Mobile Millennium pilot in 2008, which included NAVTEQ Traffic and employed data gathered from GPS enabled Nokia phones. This new technology increases the quantity and quality of traffic information beyond what is available commercially, and includes, side streets and rural areas that consumers frequent. NAVTEQ calls their technology traffic “probe data programs.” The data provided not only extends the availability of road data, it extends coverage for roads and times of day that consumers want to know about. Technological advances will keep consumers up to date with efficiencies and offer privacy protection for mobile phone users.
More than 10,000 handset owners agreed to provide mobile phone GPS data for the pilot. Coupling this data with proprietary technology gives NAVTEQ a very accurate picture of real world traffic conditions. Nokia’s Privacy by Design system, a proprietary privacy technology, monitors information and removes any data that could pinpoint an individual phone so that users can be assured sensitive information is not transmitted unwittingly.