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Tele Atlas Tour

Apr
10
2007

I’ve always had an obsession with maps. As a kid rather than putting up band posters in my room I was proudly displaying topo maps, with markers of places I’d been. So when one of the biggest mapping companies in the world offered me a tour, I jumped at the chance. After all, these are the maps that drive many of the GPS systems I talk about every day. So off I went to Tele Atlas.

So who is Tele Atlas? Most everyone has probably used their maps at one time or another, many without even knowing it.

So who is Tele Atlas? If you use a GPS device from Cobra, Harman Kardon, Mio, Navman, Teletype, TomTom, or ViaMichelin, chances are the maps your GPS has loaded come from Tele Atlas. Their maps are also used on RIM (Blackberry) devices, within the Google Maps API, as well as within many MapQuest products. Most everyone has probably used their maps at one time or another, many without even knowing it.

As with most things in live, everything is way more complicated than you could ever imagine it would be. I looked out over their offices and you can see hundreds of employees, each in front of multiple monitors, frantically adding content and updating maps. Some are referencing aerial photography to double check their field collected data, while others are referencing documents and maps from small local governments. In another section cartographers are reviewing video taken by the mobile mapping vans, double checking to see if the exit he was mapping was really exit “34c” based on the video the van had mapped. Finally in another section people were reviewing submissions from the Map Insight application which looks at submissions from end users like people who own GPS devices.

At the CTIA show a few weeks ago one of their mobile mapping vans was on display. As a computer geek myself, seeing the computer horsepower in the van was impressive. The van has a number of cameras capturing the view as they endlessly drive streets at the pace of a normal vehicle. The amount of data, and type of data collect is also impressive. Everything from the number of lanes, to where street signs are, the slope of the road, and lots of other parameters they didn’t want to talk about. 😉

Your GPS might just tell you “In 500 feet, turn right onto Maple Avenue just after the red brick building.” You could just about navigate without even needing a screen.

If you want to anticipate what features GPS devices might get in the future, look at the type of data being collected about our world today and then you can begin to develop a picture of what GPS devices might offer tomorrow. For example some of the data collected represents the type of buildings along a street, maybe their size, color, and construction material. What use would this be? Imagine driving to a new destination and your GPS tells you to turn right in 500 feet. If the street sign isn’t easily visible you might glance over to the GPS and see that the turn is just after the tan building. Or, this type of data could even be incorporated into text to speech. Your GPS might just tell you “In 500 feet, turn right onto Maple Avenue just after the red brick building.” You could just about navigate without even needing a screen. We might not have this type of feature in the immediate future, but I’m sure someday it will happen.

The number one question I receive is still “Why doesn’t the GPS I purchased last week have a street that was constructed several years ago?”. There are a few answers to the question. First, is that many of the discrepancies people find have already been updated in the Tele Atlas database, but those updates have not yet gone through the process of being delivered to your GPS manufacturer, having them compress the data into their own formats, then delivered as a map update.

Tele Atlas says that about 50% of the changes submitted to them have already been updated when they receive the user notification. I’ve experienced this myself where I’ve found an updated street or traffic restriction and when I looked in Map Insight to notify them, the street had already been updated. There is also a nice video/animation Tele Atlas has put together highlighting the mapping process, you can view it here. There is also a podcast available talking about “freshness” of maps which you can listen to here:

Thanks to Erin, Dan, Ken C, Ken A, Jay, and everyone else I met for the great tour. It was a fascinating experience!

One Response


  1. I need a portable GPS but my requirement is availability for that of maps (both cities and streets) of Europe. What can you recommend? From the plethora of GPS devices and their ratings it is impossible to find out what maps are available for them. Thank you for your help.

    Ludwik Szymanski - April 27th, 2008



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