How crowd wisdom is changing the Sat Nav landscape


8 Aug 2008

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If you have ever been told by your Sat Nav device that it was okay to drive up a one-way street, or perhaps you’ve come across a newly sectioned-off route and wished there was some way you could tell others, then you’ll be one of the drivers eager to join in crowdsourcing.

Sat Nav manufacturer TomTom and its mapping partner Tele Atlas are using the wisdom of the masses to solve the problem that occurs when supplying the driver with an accurate updated device – ever-changing road structures.

TomTom owners can simply use the Map Share functionality to note when they come upon an anomaly: “Map Share in itself is a piece of software that sits on the TomTom – users can accept to be part of this, so if he or she is driving along and spots a data anomaly – for example a petrol station has closed down – they can then mark the coordinates of the station and hit the Map Share button,” a Tele Atlas spokesperson explained to siliconrepublic.com.

Once home, they can plug the device into a PC and upload the change they have experienced. If a significant number of drivers are noting the same anomaly, then this will be reflected by TomTom.

For accuracy, further cross referencing is carried out by comparing a report against data collected on traffic flow in the area. So if someone claims a road has been closed off, yet TomTom is seeing traffic flow from over 100 users past that spot, then this is clearly inaccurate.

And TomTom has quite a significant database to work with – all anonymous and all opt-in.

“TomTom has 20 million users around the world – in the EU alone it is covering the EU road network four times daily with over one billion GPS track points a day on people’s location, the direction they’re moving in and the speed of traffic, which enables it to gain a greater understanding of traffic patterns,” said the Tele Atlas spokesperson.

While crowdsourcing is a good solution, it should be there to complement existing information supplied to mapping companies by local authorities. However, getting information fast or getting it at all can be a problem, said the Tele Atlas spokesperson.

“In the UK, much of this mapping is public sector information, local councils, local authorities etc, so if a road is going to be changed to say one-way the local authorities will know in advance, but the process of getting this information is very slow, in some cases it doesn’t exist.”

Sat Nav is a relatively new technology and the problem is many authorities do not have any process in place to facilitate this mapping, the Tele Atlas spokesperson added.

TomTom users looking to participate in Map Share can begin by heading to http://changespotting.tomtom.com/.

By Marie Boran

Pictured: the TomTom Rider

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