By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Suppliers agree that dynamic rerouting combined with real-time traffic is the killer application for car navigation, but there is much debate on when and how this service will be implemented.
While the technology is available today to automatically reroute a driver around an incident, companies such as Clarion are choosing not to do so automatically. Instead the new Clarion JoyRide requires the user to select a detour option from a menu and then choose the distance of that detour. This is to circumvent liability problems.
Explains director of product planning, Jack DeBiasio, "There's a lot of issues with rerouting which are not technical. Who is responsible if you reroute someone to a bad area of town and they get taken out by gunfire? Where's the liability? Or if you say 'this is a good area and this is a bad area,' and the insurance companies get involved, that could be a problem politically. If you say 'this part of town is bad,' people get upset."
He continued, "Then there are issues with state and local governments over sending traffic into different areas. You typically want to send drivers on the quickest route, but maybe the state doesn't want a lot of traffic through a downtown area with heavy foot traffic. It's a bigger issue than just one company. We've been talking with Navtech and Etak and trying to figure out the best way to do this."
Clarion's detour option is only a temporary solution, says the company. As more and more drivers use navigation systems, the issue of how to divert traffic will grow more complex.
"On a grander scale, if everyone had the device the detour would be worse than the main road," added Kent Pu, president of Infogation, San Diego.
At present, in most areas, only the main highways are mapped and monitored.
"We may know the status of the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, but we don't know the status of the service roads, so we could send people into worse traffic. It will take time to refine it," said Lawrence Dunn, VP of connected map services for Navigation Technologies, Rosemont, Ill.
He notes that dynamic rerouting is still in its infancy and the time it takes to transmit the information to drivers is still too slow to make a tremendous difference.
"The lag times are not terribly faster than what you might hear on the radio, and it's fed by the same kinds of sources. So people often report they are in a place where a traffic jam was reported and its not there anymore. There will be a gradual improvement and the information will get more timely," said Dunn.
Many industry members expect to see a significant advancement in dynamic rerouting in approximately two years, as more detailed map data is available and as traffic incident information improves.
As more "attributes" or road characteristics (such as one-way streets, wide shoulders, no shoulders) are added to the map data, the traffic reports can become more specific. For example, with the present map data, a traffic incident may be reported at a certain intersection but it is impossible to determine if the car is pulled over in the shoulder or if it is blocking one or two lanes of traffic.
Tele Atlas, formerly Etak, Menlo Park, Calif., says it will be able to offer this specific level of data by January 2003.
At present, Tel Atlas readily admits that Navigation Technologies' Navtech maps are the leader in navigation systems because they are equipped with the specific attributes necessary for navigation. These attributes include information on one-way streets, or if no left turn is permitted between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., for example.
Tele Atlas, however, says it just launched a program employing 340 data collectors which will develop a data base by January 2003 that will use 300,000 location codes (for specific road information), making it the most specific map data available, according to the company. It will include information that will allow traffic providers to transmit whether a car is pulled over to the side of the road or if its blocking one lane.
Navigation Technologies is also continuing to expand its database and says that by the end of the year it will offer improved map data which not only covers cities and towns but also the back roads connecting the cities. In addition, the company recently announced that it now offers data to enable real-time traffic reports in the top 130 cities in the country (up from 60 cities last fall).
"By the time you get to 130 cities you are down to moderately sized cities that don't have a terrible amount of traffic. We have accomplished what we needed to do in order to enable all the traffic providers out there. They are as deep into the population of the country as they plan to be," notes Francesca Lendrum, director of marketing services.
Improvements will also come through the increased use of traffic cameras on the roads and pressure-sensitive devices in the roads which can determine the speed of traffic. Companies are also working on enabling navigation devices in the car not only to receive traffic data, but also to transmit. The cars on the road would become traffic monitors as they transmit their speed and location.
"Every car navigation device is, by definition, a transmitter as it has a GPS signal that transmits so it can autolocate itself," explains Monte Wasch, VP traffic sales development for Tele Atlas.
"We are talking to two kinds of organizations about collecting this information. The first group includes the OEM manufacturers building GPS-equipped vehicles [such as GM's OnStar] and the second group are those working on the E911process," said Wasch.
The latter group includes wireless service providers who are racing to comply with an FCC ruling that requires cellphones to automatically transmit their location in the case of a 911 call. "If you can measure where the cellphone is, we can determine if it's on a road and if it's in motion and it can therefore be used to determine speed and flow information," he said.
A concern in this case, however, is privacy. There is the fear that a government or some other agency would know where everyone is at any given time. But Navigation Technologies and Tele Atlas claim that all companies developing the transmission plan for car navigation systems are working on schemes that will deliver anonymous information that does not identify the car or device from which it originates.
"There are a number of companies experimenting with it," said Dunn, noting that this solution is less costly and more practical than equipping roads with traffic cameras and sensors.
Yet another issue is that in some cities, it is difficult to improve traffic, even with the use of dynamic rerouting. According to Tom Ross COO of InfoMove, Kirkland, Wash., "Chrysler has done some studies showing that dynamic rerouting would make an impact only in a handful of cities. There are many cities, such as Seattle, with the bridge, where you don't really have any other choice."
But Dunn says, even under those conditions, there is room for improving driving times, as there is typically more than one bridge.
"The road network in any city has its own special complications on how effectively you can reroute somebody. In places like Seattle or San Francisco that are highly dependent on a small number of bridges, there may be a level below which you can never remove the traffic," he said. "But even in those areas, by talking to the people who live there, if they knew of certain traffic conditions on one bridge, they might choose another bridge, and it might be a choice between waiting 30 minutes or 50 minutes in traffic."
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