Mapping the Roads, One Off-Ramp at a Time

Have you ever wondered where the data for your favorite map-based GPS unit comes from? Who really does all of that work to make sure the road you are driving down doesn’t plunge you off a cliff? Meet Mark Vermeys, a geographic field analyst for Tele Atlas.   If you know anything about GPS devices, you’re probably familiar with Tele Atlas. This international corporation, which has its American headquarters in Boston, provides the GPS data for an array of device manufacturers, such as TomTom, Pharos and Navman, automobile makers including BMW, Ford, Honda and Toyota and Web sites like Google and Mapquest. As many GPS users know, the data available from these sources can quickly become out-of-date, frustrating drivers who turn down a wrong way and end up at a dead end.   Enter Vermeys and the Tele Atlas GPS Mobile Mapping Van.   The Tele Atlas GPS Mobile Mapping Van is a small, but very important part of the GPS data company’s mapping strategy. Drivers like Vermeys comb the United States in these specially equipped vans, hitting highways and side-roads in their quest to make sure you and I don’t end up in a ditch.      TeleAtlas Van
The Tele Atlas Van   A typical Tele Atlas GPS Mobile Mapping Van is a converted minivan which sports a roof rack like contraption holding a GPS antenna and four digital cameras. Inside the driver, in this case Vermeys, interacts with an IBM ThinkPad which runs several programs to help him in collecting map data. One program is the existing road data itself, with assigned roads for him to drive during a day. Another program monitors photographs which are taken by the four external cameras every ten meters.      Satellite Transmitter and Cameras
Satellite Transmitter and Cameras   Tracking System
Tracking System and Storage   Typical photographs taken by these cameras, explained Vermeys, might include lane counts, road signage and complex intersections. These photos, once taken, are later downloaded to other Tele Atlas employees who are responsible for using the data for updating the maps.   “Lane info is especially important,” said Vermeys. “By knowing how many lanes there are, the GPS system can tell you where to get into.”      Mapping Software
This LCD is Connected to a ThinkPad for Mapping   During an “urban survey” like Vermeys was recently on in Portland Oregon, he might drive 50 to 100 miles a day, whereas a rural mapping might encompass upwards of 300 miles per day. In this most current assignment, Vermeys was mapping freeways and their on/off and connector ramps as well as the adjacent streets. This type of mapping essentially required him to drive each and every ramp in the Portland Metro area, which is quite a tedious task.   “I’d spent 10 minutes on average per exit in the Portland area,” said Vermeys, who also normally does mapping for the rest of Oregon, Utah and Clark County up through Olympia in Washington. “We always try to get the freshest data possible.”

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