We have a serious problem brewing with GPS navigation systems for automobiles and even motorcycles. There are however problems with this devise as a high tech toy are more serious than you might think. Ask anyone in a metro area who has bought a new car with one of those cool GPS upgrades for their SUV or new sports car. We have had our customers complain (customers of the carwash business, which is my profession). Oh they love the gadget, but they are under whelmed by the lack of data and streets, which are not listed. You see we have been seeing incredible suburban growth in many cities. Places near large DMA metros are a problem out in the middle class suburbs. In many areas such as outside Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Nashville, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Columbus, Cleveland, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, DC Subs, etc. And in NJ, NC, NV, OH lots of other fast growing growth pockets.
When GPS devises for cars first hit the scenes at the CES and SEMA shows in 1996, they became increasingly more popular, powerful and better data. But like VHS and Beta, Apple and IBM, competition became increasingly greater causing much consolidation in the industry along with patent fights. Much of the technology was former Defense Contractors peddling their wares through subsidiary consumer level companies. But the tight market remained due to the costs. Meanwhile companies like DeLorme and others tried to flood the market with low priced GPS units, which made things even more competitive. And the bugs were not fully out of the system yet. Someday all cars will drive themselves and people can watch TV, do video conferencing and use their transportation as a portable office or entertainment system while they are being driven to the location they have punched into their computer. Some things will have to occur before this is a reality of course. But eventually your dexterity skills to actually pilot a car will be worthless and un-needed.
First the satellites will need to be laser aligned and use multiple satellites to get absolute locations of ground items and vehicles. The cars will need to have additional anti collision devises made up of networked sonar and optic flow sensors. All of which are now available and the technology is getting better and better. Many military applications today will be civilian tomorrow. Just like Radar, Microwave ovens, Nuclear Energy, Cellular Phones, Satellite Communication and Jet Aircraft in Commercial Aviation. The flow of transportation will be brought to the next generation to serve man better.
For the time being the incremental changes in these technologies has hit a slight road block even though Honda, GM, Ford, Mercedes, Daimler Chrysler and Toyota have invested billions in anti-collision and safety devices which they will add comfort and desirable options which they can sell to customers as upgrades. Smart Car Technologies can add Thousands of Dollars to the price of a car and consumers are glad to pay for them. A factory GPS system with display can cost up to $6,000.00 and they sell a lot of them on the higher end cars. It is a high profit item upgrade, although there are some, which only cost $1000. And if you wish to compare these, some are very incredible with many features;
There are many companies, which sell after market computer assist items. These companies are doing quite well and the systems work great. The big issue is just because you have a super duper incredible GPS system, does not mean the street you are looking for is even on the map yet. In other words it is like using an old map. If you are a studier of maps like I happen to be, you will see the problem with older maps. Even some companies keep printing old map data year after year without adding in new on ramps, city streets, infrastructure freeway improvements and ring-roads, it is aggravating for those from out of town. Even more aggravating looking for an address or street in a new housing tract, which you can see but the devise insists, does not exist? Then there are problems in areas like Cape Coral, FL and Tehachapi, CA or El Paso, TX and Knoxville, TN where the roads have been scraped and ready to put in or put in but do not connect or have nothing there yet. Of course it is very aggravating to see a road and try to go down it and find it is a dirt road that connects to nothing yet or an entire sub-division that does not exist? Is it a Mirage? If so where is the white Tiger Show?
Jack Dangermond of ESRI had set up entire networks of software makers who developed data for their awesome software products for GPS and GIS needs. Used by government, military, utility companies, transportation companies, private companies with GPS units to sell to the public, First Responders and school districts for buses. After the Dot Com crash those software companies were among some of the survivors, but had significantly cut costs. Thus without the proper data the GPS systems bought by the upper, upper-middle and middle class for their cars were not always good enough to support the price point for the newest technology. This is especially upsetting since the upper, upper-middle and middle class citizens who pay the most taxes live in the suburbs for the most part. The chances of a middle class American; who bought a home during the 3 years last housing boom; not being able to find their house or street on their new GPS devise is a higher probability then them actually finding it. We interviewed one man who bought a new Nissan Sports car.
Who lives in a newer developed area in the higher end Las Vegas, Clark County Suburbs, which only had the main streets on his GPS and had huge blank spots on his device? Some GPS devices allow the user to choose a satellite vendor and data vendor and software, but many of the Factory units do not. People think they are getting something really good and then find they cannot use it to navigate, which would really piss you off considering you may have paid as much as $6,000 for the unit. Even more dangerous is the information we learned from an EMT ambulance driver in Dallas area who told us of looking for streets for 15-20 minutes after battling through suburban gridlock to get to where they thought it might be. 3G cell phone technology may assist for those using cell phones to call in data to the dispatches. For all the training we are doing across this nation for first responders and on-going education of police, fire, Hazmat, etc. it appears that we have forgotten the problems of the system. Any time you build a system to serve humankind you must make it simple and make it work, that should be the first, the very first priority, then you can fix all the other issues.
With that said we interviewed a lady recently one evening who had a hell of a long day working for the Metro Police Departments Central Nervous System. The communications center and dispatch is to what we are referring. Although she was unaware of the problem at the center for bad data or missing data in the system, she could not say how they were able to get the information. Luckily serving a metro area they are probably connected to the planning departments computer, which they should be. And if the police department has the new data and no problem in this case, why have the software vendors not been able to access the data? It is a safety issue if someone with a GPS system pulls out a map and tries to read it while driving in an area they are not familiar with. It is guaranteed that in the history of the automobile in this country more people have been in serious traffic accidents from trying to read maps, than talking on cell phones, although cell phones no doubt a contributing factor in many lesser accidents will eventually pass this figure. Where the streets are, well frankly I cannot understand the need to keep this a secret unless it is the layout of Area 51, Prison, Power plant, Pentagon grounds, Military Bases, etc. If the emergency first responders divisions and contractors would share the data, there might be less accidents and they maybe able to get some assistance from the public being the eyes and ears
and also perhaps they could in fact use the idea of Smart Virtual Mobile Communities or FlashMob scenarios since budgets are strapped as the National Security “Red-Orange-Yellow-High-Risk-Danger-Days” come with high frequency, more police and first responders are on duty and that costs money. Without significant inflows the coverage of the Grid of a city is in jeopardy of slower response times. Fast response times are the easiest way to keep the peace, everyone, which gets away can cause problems another day and of course in case of International Terrorist Attacks.
It is essential to have the data for these devises and everyone is better served when communication flows. GPS units provide that and the data should be readily available and probably it is best to have the cities using the same formats as first responders and the same data can be used for utilities, consumers, military and even census data or academia studying urban sprawl and growth rates to have infrastructures ready during expansion. Things like water and energy, which has obviously been a major focus here.
There needs to be a nationwide coordinated effort to see that such data is filtered into the private sector, because as it stand the companies have been hammered in the industry and cannot perform the services to bring this stuff to market. Communication is important for government and citizen a like, increased efficiencies in business will save the government money and provide additional tax base and funds on the income of such businesses utilizing such data, as well as save money and time for all the government services discussed above. If we want a screaming economy we ought to be thinking how we can streamline and accelerate the flow of information to increase efficiencies and allow a small portion of the gain from the expanded pie to continue the growth. In other words, we make it easier for the Florist to deliver, the school buses to pick up more kids per hour and the soccer mom to take more kids to practice and still have time left to shop all of which serves man. The digital GIS divide is as important for our economy as the Digital Internet Divide. Kids in sports do less drugs, become more competitive, have higher work ethics and soccer moms can help keep the retail economy going. Every time you ease the flow, more things are possible. The exponential increase in American productivity is needed to offset the time lost in traffic and congestion. GIS-GPS systems can help in any emergency or simply driving around town getting things done to check off one’s list for the day.