Pinpoint accuracy

Roger Payne, Navteq operations manager for the UK and Ireland, says: “Some people think that the map is just beamed down from a satellite but it is not – the car communicates with the satellite [for exact positions].”
Navteq has mapped 58 countries and 11 million miles of roads. It was the first to map Northern Ireland, driving and logging every single road. It has 550 “geographic analysts” in the UK and 2,000 worldwide. Each analyst is assigned an area and a car equipped with a GPS device on the roof. The GPS device is connected to the analyst’s laptop, which shows the position of the car on the road (down to two metres).
I sat with the analyst as she spoke into a voice recorder, noting roads on the left and right, traffic lights, one-way streets and turn-left lanes. The record is flagged up on the map on the laptop. The car also has cameras and a video recorder, to back up any notes taken. Back at the office the new information is transferred on to the original map.
Tele Atlas, which was founded in 1982 in the Netherlands, uses a similar method. It has 20 GPS vans driving around Europe, each with two cameras at the front, which take three pictures per second. The vans also have three cameras at the back so that the drivers don’t have to cover the same stretch of road twice.
Dirk Snauwaert of Tele Atlas says: “The big challenge is to stay tuned with all the changes in the road networks. About 15 to 20 per cent of all road networks change in one year.”
With so many changes to the networks, both Navteq and Tele Atlas maps are constantly updated. But despite this, it is up to each system manufacturer and supplier to keep you, the end-user, up to date. Navteq and Tele Atlas release updated information every three months but each GPS device company will have its own update cycle, which is usually once a year – this is something to take into consideration when buying your GPS device.
And regarding the prices of updates, again this depends. For Navteq, prices vary between E150 and E250 as an average, depending on the countries covered. Tele Atlas is in a similar position. You can pick up the latest map updates online – for example, Blaupunkt’s TravelPilot Lucca currently has Germany and major roads of Europe for £89.99.
Hopefully the manufacturers and suppliers will catch up with the mappers someday soon. Snauwaert says: “There is definitely a trend in the industry to have more updates a year.”
Another thing to note is that, however accurate a map may be, if the “routing” software is not up to scratch, you could end up in a ditch. Once the map data has been collected it is sold to GPS device companies. Roger Payne explains: “There is a gap between Navteq getting the data and the companies buying it. They may have different routing information and not have the right software to provide accurate [directional] data.”
And what of the future? According to Snauwaert, 50 per cent of all cars sold in Japan have an integrated GPS device. In contrast, out of the 17 million cars sold each year in Europe, only 12 per cent have an integrated GPS device. And most of the Japanese devices now have three-dimensional map images, something Tele Atlas and Navteq are working on.
Payne believes the future will mean that mapping information will become more instant. “Real-time delivery will be here soon so that people can download specific areas at the time they are travelling,” he says.
Snauwaert agrees: “I am sure that in a few years’ time we will provide updates every second of the day.”