By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Startup Facet Technologies plans to offer some independent competition in the portable navigation device (PND) map market, whose two lone competitors, Tele Atlas and Navteq, have been purchased by PND maker TomTom and GPS-cellphone maker Nokia, respectively.
Facet plans to complete a map database of the United States by the end of the year and hopes it will be included in PNDs by next year, said company president and co-founder Jamie Retterath. Many PND makers are currently evaluating Facet's regional maps, he said.
Facet claims to offer three competitive advantages over its established rivals: more details embedded in its maps, lower prices and ownership that is independent of rival PND makers.
Facet maps, Retterath explained, are accurate to 7 feet, compared with competitors' maps that are accurate to 30 feet. Facet maps also include more road "attributes" such as stop signs, traffic lights and even information on guard rails, he says.
Facet's ultimate goal is to supply maps so precise that they may be used in "autonomous" cars that drive themselves, he said. Such a car was demonstrated on a test course last year. Until then, Facet maps could be used with driver-assist features such as lane-departure warning systems and early-warning crash-detection systems. Facet's stop-sign database, for example, would help an early-warning crash detector "know" if a car is about to speed through a stop sign. Facet's road-curvature information helps a driver-safety system "know" if a car is approaching a turn too fast, Retterath continued. "Our database will be tailored for the maps-to-machine interface" as well as a maps-to-human interface, he said.
"We have a very precise guidance system on our [data-gathering] vehicle," Retterath said of the company's ability to offer so many details in its maps. The vehicle knows its location with an accuracy of 15cm so it can produce more accurate maps. "We use photogrammetry," he added, "to get the precise location of road center-lines, lights and signals. Our equipment, our software and our processors are more advanced." Photogrammetry is the use of "two different cameras to triangulate on the same location — kind of what your eyes do," Retterath explained.
Facet also takes 360-degree video footage of the roads it is mapping, so, in theory, a PND using its maps could show realistic roadside video footage. This feature would require too much memory to be resident on the PND, Retterath admitted, but in the future, PNDs might handle this video footage through a wireless connection to a server.
Facet also contends its maps will be less expensive than rivals' maps but would not provide specifics. All that Retterath would say was that "a PND maker who uses our maps can save millions of dollars."
Meantime, rivals are not standing still. Competitors' maps are beginning to display the outlines of buildings and landmarks either in 2-D or 3-D in certain sections of certain cities, and Navteq said it will offer this feature in 47 U.S. cities by the end of the year.
Navteq also said it uses 280-degree video, using multiple cameras, because it believes this configuration catches an optimal view of the roads. "We are in the early stages of deploying new features such as stop signs and traffic lights," the company also told TWICE. It already includes curve and slope information that can be used with driver assist systems, the company added.
Tele Atlas was not available for comment.
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